Professional bronc rider Kitty Canutt grabbed a stick of wood lying next to a horse stall at the rodeo grounds in Spokane, Washington, and smacked champion relay racer Donna Card in the mouth with it. The incident occurred in early September 1918 and was the start of a feud between the cowgirls that would continue until their passing.
Kitty, wife of famed Hollywood movie stuntman Yakima Canutt, was upset with Donna over the way she behaved in the women’s relay race at the Spokane Rodeo. She claimed Donna fouled her in the third lap by crowding her into the fence. She complained to the judges and after investigating the charge they determined Donna had run a clean race. Kitty was furious over the ruling and confronted Donna about the perceived indiscretion. Not only was Kitty disqualified from riding in any other event at the rodeo, but she was fined $25 for her violent outburst. Donna went on to win the trophy as top relay racer.
Missoula, Montana-born Donna Card was a horseback riding phenomenon. She was an expert trick roper and fancy rider who won numerous championships, but her expertise was the women’s relay. Often associated with the Drumheller Company, a respected ranching firm that raised thoroughbred horses used in relay races, Donna was considered by rodeo enthusiasts to be one of the best women riders in the field.
The relay race required riders to make three laps around the track, changing horses at the end of the first and second laps. It was compulsory for riders to touch the ground with both feet when making horse changes. Early on, the relay race was considered a man’s game because of the danger and physical effort necessary in changing mounts. Donna was one of a few who proved women could become as good in the ranch sport as the men.
Donna frequently competed against accomplished relay racers Vera McGinnis and Mary Harsh. The women’s relay was considered by most rodeo attendees as the most spectacular of the events. Vera and Donna generally finished first and second in the contest, with Donna beating Vera for the top spot most of the time.
In 1918, Donna’s big win at the Spokane Rodeo made headlines. “Among the most interesting races of the day was the women’s relay, in which three strings were entered,” read an article in the September 3, 1918, edition of The Spokesman Review. “Miss Donna Card, clad in blue and white silk, was the winner, negotiating the two miles in three minutes, forty-seven seconds.”
Donna defeated the world’s champion relay racer, Mabel Strickland, at the Spokane fair in September 1922. She took a commanding lead in the first lap and held it throughout the race. Not only did she outride Mabel at the event, but Kitty Canutt, who was also participating in the competition.
In addition to being recognized for her efforts in relay racing, Donna was also a fashion trendsetter. The blue satin riding skirt, white jersey, and patent leather slippers worn at the Yankee Stadium Rodeo in New York in 1923, was duplicated by clothing designers in attendance and sold to the public.