A Wet’suwet’en-Gitxsan-Dutch cowgirl from Glen Vowell is turning heads on the B.C. rodeo circuit.
Marika Van Tunen is the British Columbia Rodeo Association (BCRA) 2019 junior barrel racing champion finishing first with a time of 16.95 at the Polaris Championship Finals in North Thompson Sept. 2, a result that would have given her third place in the Ladies division.
Van Tunen was also the Juniors All Around season champion with winnings of $3,178 in 20 events.
She said it was very exciting to come out on top and she is proud of the accomplishment especially considering the challenges to her training.
“It’s really hard without an indoor arena, so the only option I practically have is riding out in the snow to get my horse [Frenchie] fit,” she said.
The 16-year-old will be doing that again all winter this year to prepare for her graduation to the ladies circuit in 2020.
“Frenchie, I think, is fine with it,” Marika said. “She’s used to it.”
Marika’s parents were extremely proud of Marika’s accomplishments.
“Keeping a positive attitude, being determined, hard-working and an open mind really helped Marika get through the season,” said her mother Jenelle Van Tunen via email. “We are amazed with Frenchie’s athletic abilities and her drive to succeed for Marika. They are a great team together. Frenchie is all heart and determination. This duo continues to make us cry tears of joy to see them do so well together.”
It is an improbable story. There is the less than ideal training situation. Also, Indigenous cowgirls are not exactly a common fixture in rodeo circles.
But furthermore, Marika is the very first person in her family to ever catch the rodeo bug.
“There are a lot of people that were surprised with me not being in a big rodeo family with grandparents that went to the NFR [National Finals Rodeo] or parents that went to the NFR,” she said.
“I was just the one who got a horse and started doing the rodeo circuit and just started doing good and a lot of the rodeo world was pretty shocked about that, especially being First Nations.”
While Marika may be the first in her family, she might have some competition coming from behind, however.
“Marika’s youngest sister Annika, who is nine years old is getting into barrel racing as well,” said Janelle. “Annika wants to beat her sister one day, she said.”
Annika competed in around five rodeos in 2019, Janelle said.
Marika gives a lot of credit to the people around her for her success, noting particularly that her supporters got her to 20 of the 21 2019 rodeos.
“That really helped me bump up into the standings and keep my number one place this season,” she said.
“My sponsors helped me out a lot, and same with my family, they helped me a lot. My grandparents [Tony and Myrtle Sampare] helped a lot and they’re one of my biggest sponsors.”
While the immediate goal is getting ready for the Ladies circuit in 2020, the ultimate goal is simple enough.
“I want to be a pro barrel racer,” Marika said.
But it goes beyond just being a professional, Marika has her heart set on eventually going all the way to the Canadian Finals Rodeo (CFR) at the Calgary Stampede and the NFR in Las Vegas.
And she’s brimming with confidence she will make it.
“All I would have to do is get my new horse trained and ride it every day and keep it healthy and keep myself healthy and I think we’ll get there,” she said.
That new horse is a two-year-old named Dynasty, who is currently being trained by Marika’s dad to eventually replace the 12-year-old Frenchie.
“[Frenchie] was really good for juniors and, for Ladies, she’ll be competitive, but the new horse I have will probably be the one I’ll use for the NFR and CFR,” she said.