Behind the Stampede: Cowboys ready to ride

·3 min read

The News is continuing to take you behind the scenes of the Medicine Hat Exhibition & Stampede, to explore what goes into preparing for, operating and cleaning up different aspects of the grand event.

This week, we’re getting an exclusive look into the event at the heart of Stampede: rodeo.

Rodeo has been a central part of Medicine Hat’s Stampede since its establishment in 1887. Originally a space for rural populations to showcase and compare their expertise in horsemanship and livestock handling, the rodeo quickly became a meeting ground of rural and urban who shared in the senses of wonder and thrill it inspired.

Even now, rodeo is one of the most popular aspects of Stampede, drawing competitors from across North America, experts in the field of livestock and crowds of hundreds.

Though the Stampede rodeo runs only a few days a year, preparing for an event of such scale requires months of effort.

“We always say, people don’t realize what it takes to put on a rodeo behind the scenes,” rodeo committee chair Wayne Webber told the News. “It takes a lot of dedication from people who love the sport.”

Collaboration is key, Webber says, as multiple groups and businesses are involved in organizing the event.

The Stampede’s 16-member rodeo committee is the primary organizer, tasked with securing the event’s stock contractor and necessary medical and veterinary professionals; scheduling rough stock and timed events; managing entry fees and prize-funds; setting up pens, gates and other infrastructure; carrying out animal feeding and waste removal; and confirming the judges and competitors who will be in attendance.

Beyond the rodeo committee, some organization falls on the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association, and U.S. counterpart the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, which sanctions professional rodeos, administers competitor draws, coordinates schedules and determines standings.

Webber says there is a bit of additional coordination required of his team since MHE&S is one of the few Western Canadian stampedes to work with pro rodeo associations on both sides of the border. But he says the effort worthwhile, as he believes it makes for a better show.

With Stampede less than a week away, Webber says he’s proud of all his committee and other rodeo bodies have accomplished in the past year. But he also recognizes the rodeo’s success is dependent on all those involved in the event, such as pick-up men, flank men, and especially competitors.

Jared Parsonage, a Maple Creek product and winner of the 2021 Canadian Finals Rodeo Bull Riding Championship, knows just how much competitors do to participate in each rodeo.

A professional bull rider since 2014, Parsonage says travel is a way of life for pro rodeo athletes.

“The Canadian Pro Rodeo (operates) from April until November,” Parsonage said. “This time of year, it’s really busy. I can pretty much guarantee on a normal day we’re driving to get to places like Medicine Hat or traveling. Sometimes it takes 12 hours, sometimes two hours; you just never know where you’re going or not going.

“There’s lots of work that goes into this, especially at professional level… preparing mentally and physically beforehand.”

Even after years in the saddle, Parsonage says he still feels a mixture of anxiousness and excitement before entering the bucking chute.

“There’s always nerves,” he said. “We know the consequences of what can happen (but) there’s definitely a lot of excitement too, because it’s something I love to do.”

Tickets for the rodeo, which runs July 28-30, can be purchased on the Stampede website.

KENDALL KING, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Medicine Hat News

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