To finish first, first you must finish. It’s a time-worn adage in the world of auto racing, but it’s also just as relevant in rodeo’s roughstock events.
The Calgary Stampede’s 14th annual Invitational 4-H Rodeo wrapped up its two-day run under the Big Top on Sunday afternoon, after more than 100 youngsters aged 9 through 20, hailing from 30 4-H clubs across the province, descended on the Stampede City.
One of the cornerstones of the Stampede’s 4-H Rodeo, sponsored by Westcan Bulk Transport and Lammle’s Western Wear and Tack, is top-notch education — courtesy of undisputed rodeo experts. And the advice doesn’t get much more big-league than former Canadian rodeo star Dave Shields of Okotoks, Alta., who recently earned the Canadian Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame’s Legendary Achievement Award, and qualified for 10 Canadian Finals Rodeos from 1979 to 1990.
On Sunday morning, Shields presented a roughstock clinic to young 4-H Rodeo cowboys and cowgirls, using the same livestock simulator that he designed himself a quarter-century ago, propelled his son Davey Jr. to bareback fame, and was used at Shields’ Ridin’ High Rodeo School by every Canadian professional bareback rider who competed at the 2011 Stampede.
As Shields explained to young rodeo minds on Sunday, the dismount determines everything.
“It’s about properly setting your rope, setting your hands in the rope, what to do with your feet . . . and how to get off. And that’s probably one of the most important elements in roughstock,” says Shields, who chairs the Stampede’s 4-H Rodeo committee.
“A lot of people don’t think of that. They concentrate so much on how to get on, but they don’t give any thought on how to get off,” adds Shields. “It’s so important, especially if they’re riding steers or bulls. If they’re taught right off the bat how to turn their head and look backward, they’ll roll over and land on their hands and knees, rather than their backs or hips or head.”
For many who entered the ring this weekend, the Stampede’s youth invitational affair was their first taste of rodeo. Some will go on to participate in Wrangler (junior high), high school, college, amateur, or even the pro rodeo circuit, while others are merely seeking some weekend enjoyment.
That’s why Stampede 4-H Rodeo organizers not only stressed the didactic component . . . they also emphasized fun.
“Hey, I’ve also coached minor hockey for 20 years — and the first part of the word ‘fundamentals’ is spelled F-U-N,” notes Lorne Lausen, owner of Lausen Indoor Arena south of Strathmore, who conducted a calf roping clinic on Sunday morning. “We teach the kids how to swing a rope, but it’s fairly easygoing, and it’s all about fun.”
Adds Shields: “If they’re going to do it, they’ve got to have fun. The only reason to be doing this is because you enjoy it, not because someone else wants you to.”
Under the Big Top arena, timed events were held Saturday afternoon. Desirae Jackson of Sundre, Alta., had a big day Saturday, winning the barrel racing event in the senior (15 to 20) age category with a time of 14.85 seconds and following up with victory in the senior pole-bending event — which involves head-to-head runs, combining slalom racing and straight-out speed — in a time of 19.88 seconds.
Jackson had competed Saturday aboard her 14-year-old quarter-horse gelding Frosty, and on Sunday she earned yet another red ribbon — this time in senior goat tying, a roughstock event — on her cousin’s 12-year-old quarter-horse gelding Bush, laying down a nifty time of 11.67 seconds.
“I’ve been barrel racing and pole-bending most of my life. This year, I’ve been working hard at it for high school rodeo, which I just started this month,” said Jackson, 15, who’s been competing at the Stampede’s 4-H Rodeo since 2006. “It’s really tough competition, but I’ve been placing Top-10 against fields of 70 girls. This weekend, I think, gave me a lot of confidence to take back to high-school rodeo.”
Also Saturday, Breanna Macklin of Sundre won the senior thread-the-needle event — which sees competitors negotiate a tight corridor, circumscribe a pole at the end of the course, and return down the same corridor — in 11.73 seconds. Dayna Powell of Onaway, Alta., was the thread-the-needle champion in the intermediate (12 to 14) age category in 11.63 seconds, while Megan Rawn of Millarville, Alta., was the junior (9 to 11) thread-the-needle champ in 12.63 seconds. Miranda Hartung of High River, Alta., won intermediate barrels in 15.16 seconds, while Madelyn Schauer of Halkirk, Alta., prevailed in junior barrels by stopping the clock in 15.05 seconds. Karlyn Janssen of Lacombe, Alta., earned the intermediate pole-bending title with a 20.553-second run, and Deshann Valentine of Sundre emerged atop the junior pole-bending category in 22.05 seconds.
Sunday afternoon, the roughstock events took over the Big Top infield, with M.J. Wowk of Myrnam, Alta., earning a pair of championships — senior cow riding, with a score of 69, and senior breakaway roping, with a formidable time of 6.42 seconds.
“I ranch rodeo, so I do stock saddle-bronc riding and ranch roping. This is my first year riding broncs, and I really like it. I’d like to do more bronc riding, and see where it takes me,” said Wowk, 16.
Nicole Lausen of Carseland, Alta., and Powell won the Stampede 4-H Rodeo’s inaugural steer daubing contest, Lausen claiming the senior category in 1.31 seconds and Powell winning intermediate in 1.49 seconds. Wace Pallesen of Strathmore, Alta., was intermediate cow riding champ with a 71-point ride; Ashton Ewasiuk of Elk Point, Alta., won intermediate goat tying in 12.99 seconds, and followed it up by emerging atop the pack in intermediate breakaway roping in 6.29 seconds.
After it was all over Sunday, Wowk talked about skills accrued, lessons learned, and new friendships gained. “You leave here today and you have to say goodbye,” he noted, “but you also know it’s not the last time. That, to me, is the biggest thing — the people you meet, and the places that’ll take you later on in life.”
Adds 4-H Rodeo committee member John Finn: “Every year, after it’s all done, we have kids and parents come up to us and thank us for what we’re doing. And that’s when the point is really driven home to us that we’re doing something special. That’s what really makes it all worth while.”
And for the young cowboys and cowgirls who felt this weekend was the start of something special, Shields notes there’s also a large, tangible reward potentially waiting down the trail. Like their counterparts in the world of hockey, lacrosse, and soccer, high-school-aged rodeo athletes can reach out and pluck American college scholarships, he says.
“There’s a full four-year college education available through rodeo, if these kids do it right,” says Shields. “I never finished school. To this day, I wish I would have known about high school rodeo (and its springboard potential to U.S. college). I always try to push that, whenever I can, through my rodeo schools.
“College coaches in the States are looking for Canadians all the time, because the Canadians are the tougher cowboys in the roughstock events. Kids here are used to getting on bucking horses. And our kids who do end up on the U.S. college rodeo circuit, they go down there and shine.”