While the riders, horses and bulls are the stars captivating those watching from the stands, the ones working behind the scenes are the real heroes of the rodeo, said Denny Phipps. He’s the general manager of the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association (CPRA) and a recently retired bareback rider.
These heroes include veterinarians, paramedics, farriers, rodeo committees and more. They’re the people working before, during and after the rodeos, ensuring the animals’ and riders’ health and safety. This also includes the caretakers of the animals, who treat their animals like equal partners, ensuring their health and well-being 365 days a year.
“We consider ourselves stewards of the animals. We look out for their health and their safety,” said Phipps.
The CPRA manages professional rodeos from B.C. to Manitoba, ensuring the highest standards are met for a successful and safe rodeo. These standards include the treatment of animals, the safety of riders and abiding by the CPRA’s rule book (which, again, largely provides animal care standards and rodeos requiring veterinarians and paramedics on-site, including members from the Canadian Pro Rodeo Sport Medicine team (CPRSM)).
Phipps — passionate about animal care — compared the treatment of rodeo animals with one’s own pet.
“I feel that it’s a kinship with the animals, and that’s one of the best parts about rodeo, is that kinship … [Some] people associate with cats and dogs as a companion animal. Well, I associate bulls and horses as companion animals.”
This means members of the CPRA are waking up at six in the morning, year-round, rain, snow or shine, to feed their animals and ensure they’re happy, said Phipps.
For example, a bucking horse may only work two minutes a year; the rest of the time, they get to enjoy grazing the fields, running wild and free. If they don’t enjoy bucking, the horseman will simply “figure out what the best job is for that horse … Just like a human, everybody’s got their skillsets and what they love to do … These animals love what they do.”
As for the riders, it’s no surprise that rodeos can be dangerous. Phipps himself sustained many injuries during his career as a bareback rider. Still, with the help of sports medicine teams — from massage therapists to chiropractors — they ensure riders have the tools to take care of themselves so they can rodeo for as long as they want.
“You want to give those riders the best opportunity to enjoy life both in rodeo and after rodeo,” Phipps explained. The CPRA is one of the funders of the CPRSM, ensuring sports medicine resources are readily accessible during and after their rodeos.
“I like to shine a light on those people that are unsung heroes because, to me, they are the heroes of the sport. They should be sung.”
The CPRA, in its earliest days in 1944, began with a bunch of cowboys, each putting in their own money to form an insurance fund for participants. Today, they are one of the groups leading rodeos with safety. Even with amateur rodeos not affiliated with the CPRA, they are more than happy to provide their knowledge and insight.
“We feel that if they succeed, we succeed.”
This includes the individuals who put countless hours of time and energy into rodeos, whether big or small events. Without the support offered by those working behind the scenes, rodeos would cease to safely exist.