Education and Encouragement

Education is a key element of the Calgary Stampede’s annual Invitational 4-H Rodeo, with rodeo experts tutoring teens on everything from horsemanship to sports medicine to biosecurity. Credit: Calgary Stampede

Rodeo rapport. Lindsay Miller felt it at the age of 10 during her very first spin round the infield dirt at a 4-H affair in Hanna, Alta., and she makes sure it’s an essential part of the curriculum every time the Calgary Stampede Invitational 4-H Rodeo comes around.

“I always remember the hosting environment of 4-H Rodeos when I first started out,” says Miller, of Dalemead, Alta., who went on to show in high school and college rodeos, and currently competes in the Canadian All Girl Rodeo Association. “It was a great environment. Everyone always showed encouragement, and it was OK to be starting at a place where you didn’t necessarily understand the event.

“People were always willing to help walk you through it, and encourage you to keep working at it.”

Encouragement and education remain the cornerstones of the Stampede’s Invitational 4-H Rodeo, sponsored by Westcan Bulk Transport and Lammle’s Western Wear and Tack, which will hold its 13th annual edition under the Big Top on Saturday, Sept. 18 and Sunday, Sept. 19. In all, 104 youngsters, ranging in age from 9 to 20 and representing 30 4-H clubs across Alberta, are registered to participate.

Many a rodeo career has begun at the Stampede’s annual youth invitational affair, and this weekend’s 4-H Rodeo on Stampede Park will be no exception.

“Fundamentally, we’re trying to teach the kids the basic elements of rodeo. That way, they can participate in rodeo as safely as possible,” says Miller, who has been involved with the Stampede’s Invitational 4-H Rodeo through its entire lifespan — first as a competitor, then a stock contractor, and now an educator and committee member. “Not only for themselves, but also for their horses and the livestock they’re going to be using in the competition. We want to make sure the kids know how to properly prepare themselves.”

Adds Wayne Waddell, who chairs this year’s Stampede Invitational 4-H Rodeo: “Safety is a major component, and through our clinics we also want to help the kids improve in the events they’re interested in.”

In recent years, education has become a key element of the Stampede’s 4-H Rodeo. Afternoons are earmarked for competition under the Big Top, with timed events (barrel racing, thread the needle, and pole bending) on Saturday and rough stock events (breakaway roping, cow riding, and goat tying) on Sunday, but mornings are devoted to clinics and seminars conducted by undisputed rodeo experts.

On Saturday morning, Suzanne DePaoli, a professional barrel racer who’s competed at the Calgary Stampede and the Canadian Finals Rodeo, will discuss horsemanship, while Miller will hold a seminar in goat tying, Dr. Ted Shacklady will conduct a biosecurity clinic, Dessa Hockley will discuss horse personalities, and Calgary’s Mark Barrett, who operates Strong Cowboy Strength and Conditioning, will give a detailed talk on sports medicine.

Sunday morning, former Canadian rodeo star Dave Shields, who’s won the Canadian Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame’s Legendary Achievement Award, will lead a cow riding clinic, while calf roper and team roper Shawn Miller will lead a discussion on the finer points of calf roping and Miller will again teach the intricacies of goat tying.

“We’d love to see these 4-H members get their start in rodeo right here at Stampede Park, and come back one day as Stampede Rodeo stars,” says Stampede agriculture program co-ordinator Sharon Yeast, who notes many competitors use the Invitational 4-H Rodeo as a stepping stone to the Wrangler (junior high), high school, and college rodeo circuits. “And the people we bring in to conduct our morning clinics are the best in the business — extremely skilled in their craft.”

Barrett will lead a particularly important discussion on sports medicine, which includes topics such as strength, conditioning, flexibility, and nutrition.

“It’s hard to compare rodeo events to other sports, but in a lot of cases, you’re being pushed into positions whether you like it or not by a larger animal,” says Barrett, who’s the exercise physiologist for the Canadian Professional Rodeo Sports Medicine Team. “You’re not going to overpower a 1,200-pound horse or a 1,600-pound bull, but you need to manage your body in spite of that. And if you are more flexible, stronger, more powerful, or all of the above, you’re going to do a lot better than if you just go into it cold turkey.”

Afternoon competition gets underway under the Big Top on Saturday at 1 p.m. and Sunday at 1:30 p.m.

Miller also expects there’s more at stake than ribbons and prizes. “It’s a great opportunity for kids to forge friendships with other kids from all over the province,” she says. “I’m still quite close with a few people thanks to friendships I made at 4-H Rodeos, and I wouldn’t have otherwise had that opportunity.”

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