Celie Salmond Chasing History
By JOE KUSEK
September 27, 2023
Celie Salmond is chasing more than gold buckles and championship saddles.
Salmond is chasing history.
When the Northern Rodeo Association Finals presented by nuWest Builders begins Oct. 26 in Kalispell, the Choteau cowgirl will be trying to become the first woman to win three consecutive breakaway roping year-end titles.
“I didn’t know that,” said Salmond when told what is possible. “It would be one of the coolest things if it happens.”
The NRA Finals are Oct. 26-28 at Majestic Valley Arena. The event showcases the top 10 qualifiers in each event and will crown year-end champions in nine disciplines and the all-around cowgirl and all-around cowboy champions for the 2023 Mountain Health Co-op Tour.
Salmond is the reigning two-time all-around cowgirl champion for the Northern Women’s Rodeo Association.
She will also be trying to become only the third cowgirl to win three or more uninterrupted all-around titles. Her mother Mary won four in a row (1987-90) while the record is five by Lisa Scheffer of Hamilton (1982-86).
The 27-year-old Salmond earned $13,634 competing in breakaway roping, barrel racing and team roping. It is the most money won by any competitor, male or female.
“It’s been fun. It’s been a great season,” said Salmond. “I enjoy going to NRA rodeos. They are well put together and they pay well.”
She doubled her fun at Conrad, Polson, East Helena, Superior, Darby and Boulder.
Salmond collected checks in all three events at Hamilton.
“It’s just everything you worked for,” she said of her day in Hamilton. “It’s really cool, honestly.”
She also placed in team roping with her father Mark at East Helena.
The only competitor with a mathematical chance of catching Salmond is her younger sister Molly who also qualified for the Finals in two events. Molly Salmond trails her sibling by $5,850.
Salmond has a trio of younger ropers chasing her in the breakaway roping. Hailey Burger of Helena trails by $467, while Helena’s Haven Wolstein is $508 back and Payton Levine of Wolf Creek is $1,398 behind. Burger won the state high school goat tying title while Wolstein competes for Montana State University. Levine won a season-best five events this summer and won state high school titles in breakaway roping and barrel racing.
Salmond will be aboard her veteran horse Hot Shot as she tries to rope history.
“He is super athletic, super quick,” she said of the 16-year-old sorrel gelding. “But he has a lot of anxiety. Hot Shot has to be around Molly’s horse Truman. If he’s not, he gets nervous.”
But Salmond anticipates no problems at the Finals. “For whatever the reason, the more noise, the bigger the crowd, the better he is,” added the owner.
And while Salmond is trying to put her name in the record books, there is one crown she craves a little more than the others.
“I would say barrel racing. That would be the one I want the most,” she admitted. “After finishing 12th twice, it was definitely one of my bigger goals.
“I finally got to the top of the standings and the horses are running well.”
Salmond is third in the barrel racing standings, behind Gayleen Malone of Pray and Gardiner’s Alexis McDonald. Malone leads Salmond by $985.
Riding two different horses, Salmond had eight top-four finishes, including wins at Polson, Big Timber and Superior.
“I got a younger horse and mom let me ride her horse,” she said of her barrel racing summer. “I can say it’s an accomplishment to be able to develop young horses. The work paid off.”
The young horse is Jef, a 6-year-old bay gelding. The pair won at Big Timber and Superior.
“My father started him as a two-year-old,” said Salmond. “I rode him in jackpots last year and did well last fall and in the spring. Why not see what he can do at rodeos. He’s very fast and is aggressive.
“And he likes people a lot. He’s a break from Hot Shot,” she finished with a laugh.
Salmond also rode Goat, a 10-year-old sorrel. The two won at Polson and placed high at Eureka and Hamilton.
“I don’t know which horse I will ride at the Finals,” she said. “I’ll go up on Thursday, practice and see which one I like best.”
Like previous years, the game plan remains the same.
“The Finals, just trying to win the average,” said Salmond. “Make three clean runs in barrel racing, catch three calves in the breakaway roping.”
But she does have a new perspective. While Salmond is chasing history, the next generation is chasing her.
“It’s kind of weird to think about,” she said with another chuckle. “It’s fun being pushed by them.”