'Before girls were allowed to do anything in rodeo', Phyllis Dahl won steer riding competitions

As a kid, Phyllis Dahl was the only girl to enter a High River steer riding competition. She passed herself off as "Phil," pulled her hat down low over her eyes — and won.

"I managed to win it, and when they were going to hand out the award, which was a little buckle, they found out I was a girl," Dahl told the Calgary Eyeopener.

"They didn't know what to do. So they had a little meeting and decided to give me the buckle. And the next year, the rodeo program read … 'Boys Steer Riding' and in brackets 'Absolutely no girls allowed.' It was quite funny."

Dahl went on to win the title of Miss Rodeo High River, and then Miss Rodeo Canada in 1959, which launched her into a whirlwind year of celebrity. She travelled to Las Vegas, she met actor Clint Eastwood and she became the runner-up to Miss Rodeo of America.

This weekend, Dahl will by celebrated at the Guy Weadick Pro Rodeo in High River.

But it all started long before girls "were allowed to do anything in rodeo," she says.

"So then it changed over the years, and the girls were able to compete in barrel racing, which I did in Canada when I was 12 years old," she said.

"You know, growing up I was kind of a tomboy a little bit, and I liked to ride and do the things the guys in the area would. On Sundays, we'd gather at a ranch and get the cows in or whatever, the steers, and we would try and ride them and I would, too. I enjoyed that."

Once Dahl started winning titles, she continued blazing a trail. She says the High River merchants invited her to run for rodeo queen there, and that the only difference between a beauty queen pageant and a rodeo queen pageant would be the horsemanship.

"I went to a few rodeos and so on, and then over the year, the Miss Rodeo Queen Canada contest was held at the Medicine Hat rodeo. And so of course that's where I gave up my title after a year. But in the meantime, the biggest thing was going to Las Vegas to compete in the Miss Rodeo America contest."

That's where she met Clint Eastwood.

Phyllis Dahl

"That was quite an event, we were all dressed in our western outfits, they were beautiful western suits and so on, but they weren't cool. They were warm," Dahl said.

"So we were out around the pool at the Flamingo Hotel when Clint Eastwood came striding up to us and started talking to us, at the age of, he was 26, and I was 18. So we were all excited to meet him and he was just such a gentleman and so nice, and so good looking, and and we were all standing around there, talking to him, when all of a sudden I had a faint feeling and I actually fainted."

Dahl says that when she woke up, she looked up and saw the actor.

"He had had somebody take his handkerchief and put it in the pool and get it wet, and when I woke up he was dabbing my forehead with his wet handkerchief."

Dahl wrapped up her celebrity role but never gave up the ranch life. She went on the senior pro circuit in her 40s.

"I had a really nice rodeo rig made. I designed it and had it built and new truck and everything and I hit the road for five years. I travelled from Texas to northern Alberta and everywhere in-between competing on that circuit."

Dahl married, became a mom, worked a ranch and launched a career in real estate.

Her last barrel racing competition was in 1997.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.