South Cariboo rodeo stars are disappointed with the cancellation of the high school rodeo circuit this year.
COVID-19 restrictions mean the annual event, along with the Williams Lake Stampede and rodeos in the Interlakes and Clinton have been nixed for the second year in a row. It’s not known at this time if the Little Britches Rodeo will go ahead.
“I was very disappointed. I practice a lot and put a lot of effort into it so when it’s cancelled, it’s just a big bummer,” said Clinton’s Skylar Brown, 16. “I’ve roped all winter and rode my horses every day, so when you hear it’s cancelled, all that work is down the drain.”
Tyler Kosick, president of the High School Rodeos of BC, announced the cancellations in a letter to members last week, saying “we cannot ask our members to disobey a direct public health order.” He said in his letter is was frustrating to see rodeo allowed to continue in Alberta, but not in B.C.
“In the end, everyone agreed this was not our sword to fall on,” he said. “The media attention, the possibility of fines and the future inability to host rodeos, the black eye it could give us with our national provincial and regional sponsors could be long lasting.”
The cancellations are even harder for rodeo competitors. Despite competing against one another, the youth say the rodeo is like their second family, bringing everyone closer together. The cancellation is particularly frustrating for Canim Lake’s Cooper Lafreniere, 18, who will graduate this year and no longer be able to compete at the high school level. Last year he was lined up to go to provincials before the pandemic hit.
Lafreniere said he’s loved animals since he was a child and jumped at the chance to learn how to ride and rope. He got into competing in rodeos at Peachland’s Chevallier’s Arena, when he was 14. He usually competes in team roping as both the header and the heeler, though he remarked he hasn’t quite developed a talent for the latter. He also does calf roping and has tried steer wrestling.
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“I enjoy being able to ride different horses and practice with people that have the same pastimes as me. Rodeo is pretty much like a big family so I enjoy being around them,” he said. “Rodeo’s a competition but it’s bigger than that. You’re training with everyone else and trying to get better, not just beat everybody.”
Brown, whose father is a cow boss on the ranches where he’s worked, got her start by riding on an old horse. She now competes in barrel racing, pole bending, team roping and breakaway roping, all of which are a lot of fun, she said. Her two horses are Tequila, whom she rides for barrel racing, and Rainy for roping.
Brown maintains the actual rodeo competition is COVID-safe and hopes it’s allowed as the year goes on. Beyond horsemanship, she said the sport teaches young people responsibility and commitment as they care for their animals. She’s looking forward to the chance to compete again when the time is right.
“Rodeo and youth in rodeo are super important. With COVID it’s hard and I understand that a lot of things aren’t happening but it’d be really nice to promote this sport more and make it happen,” she said.
Lafreniere, who has kept up his riding skills during the pandemic, agreed. While his high school rodeo career may be over, he said he intends to stick with rodeo and the cowboy lifestyle.
His family recently moved to a property on Canim Lake where they’re in the process of setting up a small working ranch and farm. He’s been keeping his horse Gunner fit by hauling logs and hopes to buy some farm animals in the future and attend farrier school. He also intends to get a membership in the BC Rodeo Association.
“When I grow up, I want to set up a ranch for myself and run cattle and horses.”
Kosick encouraged members to organize small, local events for youth events allowed under current health rules.
Katie McCullough, secretary for the Clinton and District Agricultural Association, said plans for Clinton’s Little Britches Rodeo are postponed until at least late summer. They were able to hold it last year because youth sports were allowed, the current restrictions don’t allow it.
“We held out hope we’d still be able to hold kids sports this year. So we had organized a High School Rodeo for the end of May which we had to cancel and we were hoping to have a Little Britches Rodeo this summer and maybe we still will,” McCullough said. “I think the kids were positive in the spring they were going to participate in their sport but at this point, it’s just unknown.”