Justin Armstrong, Travis Kaiser and Tom Thorlakson display their winning buckles while Calgary Stampede staff present their winnings of $18,695 for team penning cattle. (Calgary Stampede photo)

Armstrongs golden in Calgary

Brothers from Armstrong, along with Vernon’s Thorlakson, clean up at Calgary Stampede penning

North Okanagan cowboys have rounded up some top spots at the Calgary Stampede.

The best of the best came to lay down smoking times in the elite Open Class Team Cattle Penning Championships at the Calgary Stampede Saturday night. The cattle, however, had other plans.

In the first run of the final, four of the top five teams posted no time after an animal crossed the penalty line, ending those teams’ Stampede journey. In the second run, four of the 10 teams suffered the same fate. But ornery cattle were all in a night’s work for penner Travis Kaiser, who ended the evening sitting pretty on the Champion and Reserve Champion teams.

“You want them to be challenging. That’s how we want them. You’ve got to get in there and get them. Staying behind your cow is the biggest thing,” said Kaiser, who hails from Wisconsin but is a frequent competitor north of the border. “You let the time work out for itself.”

Kaiser partnered with Tom Thorlakson (Vernon, B.C.) and Justin Armstrong (Armstrong, B.C.) — two members of 2016’s Open Class winning team — to take home the coveted Calgary Stampede Champion belt buckles and a cheque for $18,695. They posted an impressive aggregate time of 129.280 with 12 head penned.

Kaiser also got a slice of the winnings as a member of the Reserve Champion team along with Russell and Graham Armstrong of Armstrong, B.C., Justin’s brothers. Their time of 145.640 with 12 head penned earned them $12,463. An Armstrong rode on five of the top 20 teams.

“Thom and Russell usually decide who rides with who. I am the odd man out so I just go where they want me,” Kaiser said with a laugh out back of the Saddledome after the cheque presentation. Makes sense, seeing as each of the Armstrong brothers have at least one Champion belt buckle to their name. Saturday’s win was No. 3 for Justin.

In Team Cattle Penning, teams have one thin minute to separate three specifically identified cattle from a herd of 30 and direct them into a 16-foot-by-24-foot pen at the opposite end of the arena. It’s a fast-paced dance between the riders, their mounts and the cattle they’re aiming to pen. Teamwork is paramount, with all three riders working in harmony to cut out the correct cattle and drive them to the pen. The four classes in Team Cattle Penning are based on relative skill and experience — in ascending order from 7 Class, to 10 Class, to 14 Class, to the trainers and travelling professionals of the Open Class.

This year, a record 819 teams faced off over three days of qualifying in the Silver Slate Arena in Stavely for the 20 available spots in each class. That increase catapulted the overall prize money to $400,032. The Open Class, with 105 teams entered, boasted a prize purse of approximately $63,000. Consistency over the four runs is key to getting to the top 10, and Thorlakson said a bit of luck helped them along the way.

“We had some good cattle tonight. They wanted to run nice for us. Those cattle we had last night (riding in the 14 Class final) gave us so much trouble,” he said.

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