CHARLES TWEED/Ponoka News
It wouldn’t be a Wild Wild West Round Up trade fair without Wild West Willie.
The bull owned by Doug Rogers from Bentley is the definition of a ‘gentle giant.’ Rogers first bought Willie six years ago after he saw Willie perform in a movie in southern Alberta. At that point Wild West Willie had been trained for two years to be a bull that could be ridden and since that point Rogers said he’s put in a lot of time to make sure the animal is domesticated.
“He’s one in a million. He’s got a disposition that Wild West Willie has become a celebrity around the world you wouldn’t believe. We have to expose him to certain things too, during the summer before we go to Calgary (for the Stampede) I have to ride him quite a bit to prepare him,” said Rogers. “And in order to bring him to venues like this we have to socialize him. We have lots of people come out to the farm, the more people around him the better.”
The first year Rogers rode Willie in the Calgary Stampede was 2005. That year the duo won best western theme for the parade, something that didn’t happen without a lot of hard work and some apprehension.
“The first year I went to Calgary I wasn’t sure how that was going to turn out,” said Rogers. “I actually had a little CD player and speakers that I hung off of the saddle horn and I listened to everything from AC-DC to Red Deer Royal Marching Band, to sirens and balloon popping. Everything I could think of.”
Willie, who gets his height from being half Brahma and size from being half Angus weighs an incredible 2,800 pounds and recently became a world traveller.
Rogers and his bull travelled to Pasadena, Calif. for the 2011 Rose Bowl parade.
“The Calgary Stampede called me and asked if they could give out my contact information and I didn’t know what was going on and then the next night I get a call ‘I’m John Montgomery from the Tournament of Roses.” Yeah right, I called his bluff twice, you’re BSing me,” said Rogers.
The journey down to California took about three days, making stops along the way to let Willie out to stretch and move around. Rogers said a couple of times people offered to let him and Willie stay on their property for the night.
The parade route itself was six miles long but Rogers said they failed to mention the mile they had to walk to get to the start and the mile they had to walk back after the parade had finished. At one point during the ride Rogers contemplated pulling Willie out.
“He was tired. I was close to pulling him out because I could feel him fading underneath me and then the parade stopped because a float broke down. Well, my wife poured a drink of water in her hand and he licked that up and a little guy from the audience came out of nowhere and gave us a jug of water and a later brought us a bowl. He drank a gallon of water and had a 10-minute rest. Zoom, he finished,” said Rogers.
Another feature of the parade is that all of the flowers must be real. Rogers said the smell was unbelievable and Willie was draped with a Canadian flag made of 1025 carnations.
“The funny thing about it is the woman who made the flag works at the racetrack and she made a blanket and wreath for a winning horse named Secretariat.”
Made more fitting because just like Secretariat, Willie would pose for pictures at the trade fair. As patrons snapped photos he would stretch his neck out and puff out his chest to show off his enormity. As picture takers moved from side to side, so would Willie, making sure they got a good shot. Rogers said the experience down south was unbelievable but doesn’t think he and his gentle giant would ever go back.
“It was a lot of money and it was hard on him to go down. I don’t think we’ll do it again.”
One place Willie will be is the Ponoka Stampede where he thrills the audience with his size and demeanor.
“I hang float tinsel in the pens and one year for the Ponoka Stampede and Fat Cat (Service Credit Union mascot) was going to ride him so to get him used to Fat Cat I did chores for a week in the Fat Cat suit. I left the head off so he could still see me but I was bright orange and could still talk to him,” added Rogers.
The hard work has paid off and Rogers said one of Willie’s favorite events is the Rodeo Challenge — an event that pairs a cowboy from the Ponoka Stampede with a handicapped child to have fun learning about rodeo.
“He loves the Ponoka Stampede handicap rodeo and it’s great because the kids are all paired with a real cowboy. It’s not a guy who put a hat on and thinks they’re a cowboy so it’s nice and the kids smiles are unreal.”