By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
A simple outing turned tragic this weekend, claiming the life of a local equestrian.
Nineteen-year-old Laceen Ophus, a Big Sandy native, college student and rodeo star, was killed during a horseback ride south of Havre Sunday. The loss of Ophus, described as fun-loving and energetic, has devastated friends and family.
"She lived so much in her not quite 20 years," her mother, Barb Ophus, said today. "She lived more than most of us do in our whole lives."
Ophus, a member of the Big Sandy Saddle Club and the Hi-Line Barrel Racing Club, loved animals and lived for rodeo, her mother said.
"She was definitely the life of the team," said Julie Strauser, Ohpus' rodeo coach at Montana State University-Northern. "She was always happy, always laughing. She was the life of the party, very outgoing."
Ohphus, a 2002 graduate of Big Sandy High School, was recruited for MSU-N's rodeo team following a distinguished early career. At the college level, she participated in barrel racing and goat-tying competitions, and earned the distinction of Academic All-American.
"It's a very big loss to Northern's rodeo team," Strauser said. "Not just as a competitor, but as a friend. The team is having a pretty tough time with it."
To honor Ophus, the rodeo team will lead the funeral procession from Big Sandy High School to St. Margaret Mary's Catholic Church on horseback, Strauser said. The team will ride bareback, Ophus' preferred style, and without hats. Ophus was known within the team for losing her hat during competitions.
"That's just Laceen," Strauser said.
Ophus was a hard worker with a zest for life, friends and family said. In addition to going to college and working part time at Big R Stores in Havre, she also trained horses.
"She was such a competitor," her mother said. "She had absolutely no fear. She was a hard worker."
Barb Ophus last saw her daughter Saturday morning after she spent the night at Laceen's Havre home. The younger Ophus had participated in a rodeo in Cleveland Friday night, an event her mother attended.
After her four-person team placed second in the event, Laceen proceeded to further prove her ability by winning a series of informal horse races on her beloved horse, Flicka. A male competitor bet Laceen $5 he could beat her and promptly lost, Barb said.
A rematch ended with the same result. After four attempts, the young man accepted defeat and paid Laceen $20, Barb said, adding that attending the rodeo was one of the best times she ever had with her daughter.
After the rodeo, Laceen participated in her other great love - dancing.
"She loved horses and she loved dancing," her mother said. "She danced every dance that night."
The two returned to Havre, where they stayed the night. In the morning, Laceen said goodbye as she went to work.
"She told me, 'Have fun shopping,'" her mother said. "That was the last time I was with her."
Laceen Ophus went riding south of Havre Sunday afternoon with a friend and two younger relatives. She was riding a horse that she was training for a client, her mother said.
While ascending a hill, the horse attempted to back down, lost its footing, and fell backward on top of Laceen, she said.
Ophus suffered head injuries and died at the scene.
The reality of her daughter's death hit home when the family returned to Big Sandy driving Laceen's pickup and horse trailer, Barb said. The family dog ran out to meet the pickup, running back and forth to each side of the truck, waiting for Laceen.