Buckalena Babe, a 2006 bay mare known as “Lizzie,” overcame the odds to carry Bryana Lehrmann to the CNFR Championship in both breakaway roping and the women’s all-around—and she did it in record time.
Once they made it to Casper and broke in cattle, Lehrmann and Lizzie set to inking their name in the collegiate history books. She hung in the middle of the pack in Round 1 with a 2.7-second run, then decided to unclick the safety.
“I was disappointed in myself in the first round,” Lehrmann said. “I was overthinking it, and I tend to do that. I was second-guessing whether I wanted to throw. I kind of leaned out and told my horse I wasn’t certain and took another swing. I was annoyed with myself. I decided I wasn’t going to do that anymore that week.”
Round 2 brought a tie for the win with a 1.7-second trip. In the third round, a tie in the fourth-place position with a 2.2-second run set Lehrmann up with a sizeable lead going into the short round, where her 2.6-second run extended her lead and secured the win.
[Note: Lehrmann’s aggregate time is a record for the CNFR location in Casper, but it is the third-fastest aggregate time in CNFR history: In Bozeman, Montana in 1988 and 1989, only Southwestern Oklahoma State University teammates Donelle Kay Kvenlid and Shannon Lord were quicker. Kvenlid was 8.9 seconds and Lord was 8.4 seconds on four head to log the two fastest aggregate times in CNFR history.]
Lizzie’s story with Bryana starts when Bryana’s father, Robert Lehrmann, purchased the then 7-year-old mare out of a sale filled with cutting rejects. Shane Winkler and Robert started her in the tie-down but decided after a year that she needed to go to Justin Maass to get stepped up to the next level. It wasn’t a pleasant pairing.
“She can buck,” Lehrmann said. “She bucked Justin and Trenton Smith off. Justin sent her back and wanted no part of her. I never got on her. I’m not big on buckers, so I drew the line and never wanted to ride her.”
The Injury: Round 1
“About two years into training, Lizzie hung her front left foot in a wire in the pasture,” Lehrmann said. “She severed all those tendons, completely tore her foot up. I think it took a year to completely heal. She chilled in the pasture for about two years while she healed up. One day, we decided that she looked pretty sound in the pasture and pulled her back out.”
They sent Lizzie to a family with lots of experience, Lehrmann said, emphasizing that her father was intending to help them out, not get the child or father in a wreck. They had a hunch that Lizzie didn’t care for spurs, so they took them off and she never threw a buck with them. The boy took her to junior rodeos and other events until she quit working the rope well. At that point, the family was encouraging Lehrmann to try Lizzie—she scored great and came across the line quickly—so they, along with Robert, still thought Lizzie would be an ideal breakaway mount. But, Lehrmann refused. Then, one day, she didn’t have much of a choice.
“I had plenty of horses going,” Lehrmann said. “Then, I decided to do kissing spine surgery on the horse I won third in the nation on at the CNFR in 2019, so he was out for six months. During that time, I had sold my mare, so I was down to two. Another one got an infection from a coffin injection, and Lizzie ended up being my only option. I said ‘Okay, maybe I’ll give her a try. But if she bucks once, I’m done.’”
So, Lehrmann drove to pick Lizzie up and made a plan.
Sacrificing the Bulldogger
“Neither of us wanted to run any on her, so I made my boyfriend–who is a bulldogger and had never roped a live calf—get on her first,” Lehrmann said, laughing.
On the sidelines, she and Justin Maass were watching to see how Lizzie would do, and if the bulldogger would have to make any quick exits from her back.
“He goes out there on the first one and ropes it around the neck,” Lehrmann said. “We thought it must be luck. So, we had him run two more, and he roped both almost perfectly.”
The mare never offered to buck with Lehrmann’s boyfriend. At that point, Lehrmann decided that she was ready to try Lizzie.
“I got on her and never looked back,” Lehrmann said. “She was just so easy, from the first few calves I roped on her. The way she carries her head, gets across the line, it’s just easy to see and easy to rope on her. I think I won $20,000 the first few months on her, and I’ve wanted to run every calf on her since.”
The Injury: Round 2
Things went smoothly for Lizzie and Lehrmann until November 2021, when she was warming up at a rodeo and stopped to put on the mare’s boots, and noticed Lizzie was lame. Not one to panic, Lehrmann hopped on a younger horse that she had on the trailer and waited to see if that lameness would resolve itself. In the following days, Lizzie alternated between lameness and soundness on the leg she had injured years before. Lehrmann, tired of not knowing what was going on, contacted Dr. Cody Johnson of Elgin Veterinary hospital, —not to be confused with country music star and team roper Cody Johnson— who recommended an MRI.
“The radiologist informed us that the deep flexor was torn so badly, she didn’t think Lizzie would ever be a performance horse again,” Lehrmann said. “We were pretty upset, but my vet and I started thinking. She wasn’t that lame—I mean she was off, but she wasn’t just three-legged crippled—so we decided to be optimistic about it and decided to do surgery.”
Surgery to help repair a deep flexor doesn’t actually involve repairing the tendon, as Lehrmann went on to explain.
“In that surgery, they go in and basically open it up to make more room for the tendons, because they are enlarged, inflamed and extremely painful. It gives them room to be inflamed so that they aren’t putting pressure on anything else.”
That operation took place in February. Afterwards, Lizzie was very lame for a few months, then steadily improved. Working closely with her veterinarian, Lehrmann began to slowly leg the mare back up, with the goal of competing at the CNFR—if it would be 100% safe for Lizzie.
A few short weeks before the CNFR, Lehrmann had the opportunity to take Lizzie to her first rodeo back in Fort Smith, Arkansas.
“I was ready to cry before I even backed in the box there,” Lehrmann said. “I was just so excited to be on that mare. I don’t even know what I did there. I think I was 2.9, but you would have thought I won the world. I was psyched. We went to one or two other rodeos, and then it was time for the CNFR.”
The rest is history now.
Post-CNFR, Lizzie and Lehrmann are criss-crossing the United States as they chase after ProRodeo dollars and a Resistol Rookie of the Year Title. On the podcast, “The Breakaway Breakdown,” Lehrmann checks in from Reno Rodeo in Reno, Nevada, and discusses Lizzie’s detailed story, how her mental training helped her through each round at the CNFR and her summer plans. As a former NIRA Student Director in the Southern Region, Lehrmann also shares some helpful tips on surviving college rodeo in the arena, classroom and social scenes.
Coverage of the horses of ProRodeo will be brought to you all summer long by our friends at Biozyme.