Having grown up in rural Alberta surrounded by farm animals, tractors, combines, grain fields and lots of cattle, you’d think rodeo would be in one’s blood.
Well, for this one, I was always fascinated by the fact some kids I knew growing up could get up on a steer or a horse, strap themselves in and hang on to something tantamount to riding in airplane turbulence while clutching the seat with one hand.
I never once tried any of the events – bull riding was too much, saddle bronc or bareback didn’t look like fun considering I knew what it felt when I rode on the farm and they weren’t trying to buck me off, didn’t quite have the coordination to pull off calf roping (yes, I know it’s not politically correct, but that’s what it is) and I certainly didn’t have the physical stature to even attempt wrestling anything bigger than a chicken.
All that said, I still loved to go watch the local amateur rodeo with a bunch of people from the area that I knew as well as take in all the sights and sounds. And quite quickly, I began to develop a fondness for the various events due to their artistry and the sheer athleticism they had to display to perform.
I guess that why this week is kind of special – my first Ponoka Stampede.
I’ve been to other big time rodeos – Calgary and Cloverdale, B.C. to name a couple – along with many other smaller events, both indoor and outdoor, throughout Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C. Though, there is something unique to what goes on here, a huge event that draws thousands from around the world and attracts many of the top competitors in rodeo simply due to the great times they have in conjunction with the excellent competition. In the past, Ponoka no doubt benefited from its being so close to the beginning of the Calgary Stampede, but I think that reason has long since disappeared for most.
One reason I believe Ponoka continues to be the go-to place for rodeo is the fact it’s still got that small town, rural, homey persona – the one that the majority of people involved in rodeo grew up with. It makes them feel like they haven’t really left home and that keeps them from thinking its just another rodeo.
Something else is the people that run it – operate every aspect of the event – are part of the community, part of the rodeo crew and truly have the best of intentions for the fans, the livestock, the competitors and for the sport overall.
In some respects, a lot of larger events have lost that feel, lost their way as it were, when it comes to staying connected with who and what rodeo is and should remain. Some of the people involved think of it with more of a business attitude – which, don’t get me wrong, it is and a big one at that. However, kind of like what’s happened to the National Hockey League in Canada, the business of rodeo and making money has triumphed over the idea that rodeo should be more about the people.
One only has to look at the fashion is which the Canadian Pro Rodeo Association (CPRA) currently finds itself in with respect to their flagship event – the Canadian Finals Rodeo (CFR).
In attempting to negotiate a new long-term deal for the CFR to stay in the home it has been for as long as I can remember – Edmonton – the quest for more from the partners that put out, by all accounts of those in the know, was a great deal for both parties, the CPRA rejected the offer. Then when earlier this year, they got no one else to come calling to host it, went back to those they rejected and asked if their deal was still on the table.
It wasn’t and now the CPRA is in a barrel with the bull bearing down on them as Edmonton will host its last CFR this November and there is no where to go for 2017. It’s gotten so bad in fact, that the CPRA is looking for new leadership and it seems like the ship is sinking without anyone working to bail out the water.
For the sake of those people that have dedicated years to working, volunteering and competing at the CFR, I hope the situation works itself out and the 2017 CFR goes somewhere.
As for the Ponoka Stampede, it looks to continue to be in good hands for the foreseeable future and promises to look at getting even better with some different events like the Ride, Rock & Roll last week.
Keep it up and – Yeehaw.
But that is…just an observation.