Learn how world champion barrel racer Mary Walker went from tragedy to triumph in her 50s, and why she decided to clone the horse that stood by her through it all.
In 2012, horse enthusiast Mary Walker became the oldest woman in the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA) to qualify for the National Finals Rodeo (NFR). She and her bay gelding, Perculatin, nicknamed “Latte,” performed impeccably at the competition, taking home the title of world champions in barrel racing and a new earnings record of one million dollars.
This would be an incredible accomplishment for any 52-year-old – but for Mary, it was a miracle. Not long after losing her only son in a car accident in 2011, Mary was in a terrible riding accident. Latte fell on her, breaking bones and causing her to be wheelchair bound. With time, physical therapy and a great deal of persistence, Mary was able to work her way up to crutches, then to a cane, and finally back into the saddle. Less than a year later, she was the proud title-holder of world champ, and was inducted into the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in 2013.
On her road from tragedy to triumph, Latte became a constant in her life. As he began to show signs of aging, Mary made the decision to genetically preserve her beloved quarter horse’s DNA so that she could clone him. Her first cloned horse, Ditto, was born three years ago, and her second, Junior, just turned a year old.
Mary’s life has been a wild ride, and we were eager to learn more about it. Read on for the interview we conducted with the incredible woman herself!
EW: Tell us a bit about you! When and why did you get into riding?
MW: My Grandfather always had horses. From the time I was a little girl, it’s been a dream of mine to ride. My family always had them and so growing up I competed in Jackpots and high school rodeos. I rode in amateur rodeos after graduating high school where I was very successful. In 1983 I turned professional and got my WPRA card.
EW: You qualified and competed at your first National Finals Rodeo at the age of 52 — quite an accomplishment. Tell us about that experience.
MW: When I got Latte in 2011, our plans were to just season him and have fun. I lost my son, Reagon, in April of 2011 and then was injured in June. I was sidelined for the remainder of the year. So, in the beginning of 2012, my husband Byron and I set out to continue seasoning Latte. The winter was a little slow, but I did well. Throughout the year Latte kept getting better. We won some major rodeos and ended up qualifying for our first NFR when I was 52.
EW: What an incredible comeback for both of you! Is that why you decided to clone Latte?
MW: Latte for me was that once-in-a-lifetime horse. My husband knew about ViaGen Pets & Equine and decided to clone him, and Junior was born. I now have two cloned horses, Ditto and Junior.
EW: In what ways are Ditto and Junior the same as Latte? Did you expect that they would be so similar?
MW: We traveled with Ditto last summer and it has been crazy how they are so much alike. As Ditto gets older I see more of Latte in him. Junior is just a baby. Latte has a real sweet personality, but can get upset and just run over you. Both Ditto and Junior do the same. Ditto’s barrel racing style is also very similar. So, they’re alike in both looks and behavior and we just can’t get over it.
EW: What does the future hold for you, both personally and professionally? Will you be competing with Ditto and Junior?
MW: As of right now Ditto has not been in competitions. I will decide in the next few months if I will ride him this year or next. Junior is just a colt running and playing for now. By the time he’s of age, I will start him around the barrels but don’t know if I will compete on him.
Latte is 15 this year so his career is limited. I hope the longevity of Ditto is similar to Latte’s. Latte is one of the greats. I do know that thanks to cloning, I’ll have some of Latte with me for a long time to come.