For ranchers, times have rarely been tougher. Drought conditions across the province this summer left many facing huge challenges, and on top of that there has been the ever-present threat of COVID-19.
What better way to bring much-needed cheer to the industry than a ranch rodeo?
Such was the thinking of local ranchers Chris Sanderson and Lindsey Harrigan, who had long talked about putting on a ranch rodeo in Maple Creek.
Saturday saw their vision realized with their first Hill Country Ranch Rodeo, which was blessed with blazing sunshine and temperatures in the high 80s.
An estimated 250-300 people filled the High Chaparral Arena to watch ten four-person teams compete in six ranch activities: branding, sorting, trailer loading, stray gathering, doctoring, and cow milking.
Points were awarded for each timed event: 10 for first place, going down sequentially to 1 point for 10th place.
One of the more testing events proved the trailer loading; each team had three minutes to load three designated cattle and horses into a trailer, before getting seated in the cab, ready to depart. Only when the cab doors shut would the clock stop.
Before rodeo action started, there was a Calcutta auction at 3.30pm, giving people a chance to bid on a team.
Most bids were around $1,000; one or two were higher.
The rhythmic auctioneer’s pitter-patter was delivered by Gordie Cameron, who would later take on announcing duties.
By the time the final events took place – doctoring and cow milking – floodlights had come on to replace the setting sun.
Evening darkness cloaked the arena, and the crowd had thinned, although queues still lined up outside Mama T’s food truck and people milled about the beer gardens.
When the dust had settled at about 8.30pm, CK Cattle Co (Scott Culligan, Steve McKnight, Bo Smith, and Mike McKnight) were declared the winners with 45 points and received spur straps by Jim Parsonage.
Second was Diamond D Land & Cattle (Greg Delinte, Logan Delinte, Hagen Brunson, and Travis Hewitt) with 37 points, while FA7 (Cody Wakelam, Braden Russell, Ryan Wakelam, and Lindsey Harrigan) came third with 35 points. The top three teams also received cash prizes: $2,000, $1,200; and $800.
Top hand prize went to Bo Smith, from CK Cattle Co, who received a headstall with handmade silver conchos by Kusler Silver Design.
Meanwhile, one lucky man from Duchess, Alberta, won more than $7,000 for backing CK Cattle Co in the Calcutta auction. Although unable to be in Maple Creek, he got Sanderson to bid on his behalf.
The man does not wish to be identified, but the name of the entity that bought the team was Southern Alberta Livestock Exchange.
Cameron thanked the crowd for coming out to support the rodeo, which captured the ranching spirit of the community. “It’s a great way to celebrate our passion,” he said.
Sanderson and Harrigan drew inspiration for the event from watching another ranch rodeo, which gave them the confidence that it could be replicated successfully in a town like Maple Creek with a strong ranching tradition.
The concept is to put on activities that are done regularly on a ranch.
“Obviously, it changes with competition,” said Sanderson. “When there is a stopwatch, everything happens a little faster, but overall, it’s basically what you do on a ranch.”
While Sanderson took on the role of a judge, Harrigan was part of the FA7 team.
The pair said they were delighted with the way their first rodeo went, and they could not have asked for better weather.
“There have been ranch rodeos in the past, but this is the first one we have done,” said Sanderson.
He added: “It’s very possible that this will be an annual event. I think we got a pretty good reception today, so I think there’s a good chance we will do it again. We had a really good crowd, and how can you beat the weather? I was also happy with the Calcutta.”
Sanderson said that ranchers had shown a lot of interest in competing.
“We filled our teams in under two days, and even had to turn people down. Yes, an event like this takes a lot of organizing, but once you get rolling it’s really quite simple.”
Sanderson was keen to thank the sponsors.
“Thanks to the businesses that supported us and covered our costs. Kudos to them; without sponsors the rodeo doesn’t happen.”