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Cariboo Calling: Rodeo’s humble origins

Horse racing and bucking bulls bring entertainment in the thousands, where every year, people gather to watch competitors defy previous records, set new ones and walk away champions. It’s an event that’s been going on for over a hundred years in Canada.

Horse racing and bucking bulls bring entertainment in the thousands, where every year, people gather to watch competitors defy previous records, set new ones and walk away champions. It’s an event that’s been going on for over a hundred years in Canada.

While other renditions of rodeo occurred, and the practice dates back to the 16th century, with Mexican herders roping in cattle, the first Canadian rodeo took place in Raymond, Alberta, in 1903. In 1912, the first major rodeo took place in Calgary. Williams Lake held its first stampede in 1919.

The Williams Lake Stampede was also the first to take place in B.C. and was organized by Jo Fleiger. By 1921, the one-day event had turned into three, with more than 3,500 people attending. During the stampede’s infancy stages, saddle bronc, bareback and steer riding took place.

Throughout the years, more rodeos and stampedes have popped up, from big to small, including the Little Britches Rodeo in 100 Mile, where young participants can begin their rodeo expeditions. Along with competing, contestants learn about caring for their animals, sportsmanship and hard work.

The word “rodeo” means “to go around” and comes from the Spanish verb “rodear.” Here are some of the events that make up the rodeo today.

Bareback Riding

Much like it sounds, a cowboy will ride a bronc (an unbroke horse) with no saddle. The rider must hold on for dear life using only one hand, which holds onto a leather strap tied around the horse. As for the free hand, it dare not touch the animal or equipment, or they’ll be disqualified. The rider must endure this for eight bucking seconds.

Bull Riding

Similar to bareback riding but on a bull and much more dangerous. A rider must hold on with one hand to the braided rope fastened around their hand and the bull, with a weighted cowbell hanging on the other end, which allows the rope to fall freely once the ride is finished. The ride lasts eight seconds, and the rider’s other hand cannot touch the bull, himself or any of the equipment. Once the cowboy is off the bull, bullfighters interfere, distracting the bull until the rider is safely out of the way. Bull riding is incredibly dangerous and is known to cause fatalities.

Ladies Barrel Racing

Cowgirls circle three barrels spread out in a cloverleaf pattern, competing against the clock, which starts when the rider crosses an electric beam of light, finishing once returned. If a barrel is knocked over, an extra five seconds is added. The rider with the lowest time while successfully completing the course wins.

Saddle Bronc

A cowboy rides an unbroke horse, this time with their own saddle, though with no saddle horn. The rider will hold onto a rope attached to the halter on the horse, with no bit and a wider nose strap to distribute the pressure. For the horse’s first jump out of the chute, a rider’s boots must be over the break of the horse’s shoulder. The cowboy spurs from the neck of the horse toward the rear of the saddle. If the rider touches the horse or any equipment with their free hand or is bucked off before eight seconds, they’re disqualified.

Steer Wrestling

A steer will run out of the middle of three chutes before two riders (a wrestler and a hazer) will exit out of theirs. The hazer will try and keep the steer running straight. The wrestler rides left of the steer, jumps off their horse and grabs the steer’s horns, using their right elbow from below around the right horn and the left hand above the left horn. The rider swings the steer a quarter to the left, laying it down on its left side with all four legs and muzzle pointing in the same direction. Time is called once the steer is flat on its side with all legs extended.

Team Roping

A steer runs from the middle of three chutes. A rider (the header) will then throw their rope around the head of the steer to make it turn a quarter circle. Another rider (the heeler) will then rope the hind legs, with a five-second penalty if only one leg is roped. The clock stops when there is no slack in the ropes, and the two horses face each other.

Tie-down Roping

Once a calf crosses the scoreline, a rider must rope the calf. Next, the cowboy will throw the calf by hand and tie any three of the calf’s legs with a string. The tie must remain for six seconds after the cowboy has remounted their horse. During this time, the rope must have slack.

Information gathered from the Canadian Encyclopedia.



Kim Kimberlin, Local Journalism Initiative

About the Author: Kim Kimberlin, Local Journalism Initiative

I joined Black Press Media in 2022, and have a passion for covering topics on women’s rights, 2SLGBTQIA+ and racial issues, mental health and the arts.
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