Stampeders Touchdown Riders
Photo courtesy of Calgary Stampeders/Tricia Bennett
It started off with Calgary alderman, Don Mackay, riding a horse into the lobby of Toronto’s Royal York Hotel. The year was 1948 and the Calgary Stampeders had just capped off a perfect 12-0 season with a Grey Cup victory. Along with a few other special activities taking place at the same time, that hotel scene would become responsible for transforming the Grey Cup championship game into the week-long spectacle it has since become.
The Calgary Stampeders’ football club continues its tradition of pageantry to this day. Even if conversions, sacks and slotbacks mean nothing to you, there’s still a good chance you’ve heard of the Calgary Stampeders’ Touchdown Horse and Rider: the electrifying pair that charge down the east sidelines of McMahon Stadium every time the Stampeders score a touchdown during a home game.
The well-known and well-loved tradition of the Stampeders’ Touchdown Horse and Rider got its beginnings a remarkable four decades ago. Twylla (McLean) Bruhn and her palomino quarter horse, Stormy, became the original Touchdown pair. “I used horses that I professionally rodeo-d on and everything I did was wide open,” says Twylla, a professional barrel horse trainer who has been involved in the horse industry all her life.
Rogers Lehew, the general manager of the Calgary Stampeders club and the McMahon Stadium Society at the time of the Touchdown Horse and Rider’s inception, says, “I am very proud of this tradition.” And while Rogers admits that he would love to take credit for coming up with the concept, he says, “It was Twylla’s idea, in fact.”
Photo by Ken Marcinkowski
Twylla says that being the Touchdown Rider has been one of the highlights of her equine career. “The roar of the crowd was phenomenal,” she exclaims. “It was a lot of fun because I went places, I met people, and I did things with the football team. I have some very good friends who are retired football players.” Twylla and her husband, Greg, own a ranch outside of Strathmore, Alta.
In 1980, Twylla’s younger sister, Coraleen (McLean) Jones, took over the reins to become the Stampeders’ second Touchdown Rider. One of the horses Coraleen rode was a registered quarter horse that Twylla had raised called Itsy, a name that is fondly remembered by many Stampeder fans. The chestnut mare accompanied Coraleen to two Grey Cup championships: in 1991, when the Stampeders lost to the Toronto Argonauts in Winnipeg, and in 1992, when the Stamps defeated the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in Toronto. Itsy’s accidental death in 1997 quickly made headlines in Calgary.
The third and current Touchdown Horse and Rider team is Karyn (Scott) Drake and her horse, Quick Six. In 1993, the former Stampede Queen and Miss Calgary received a phone call from the Stampeders’ administration asking her if she would be interested in taking over the responsibilities of the Touchdown Rider. “Let me think about it —yes,” says Karyn, laughing as she retells the story. “I absolutely love my job,” says the long-time football fan and mother of four young children. “It’s an adrenaline rush, both for me and my horse.”
Photo courtesy of Coraleen Jones
So what exactly happens on game day for the Touchdown Horse and Rider, anyway? Karyn took me through the routine. During home games in Calgary, Karyn begins the day by exercising her horse. Quick Six, a flea-bitten grey quarter horse, is then thoroughly washed and groomed. Karyn’s older children eagerly pitch in whenever they can. About three hours prior to game time, the gelding is loaded, and Karyn makes the 45 minute trip from Kathryn, Alta., into Calgary. If she needs to, then she’ll wash the country dust off her truck and trailer before finally pulling into McMahon Stadium.
Karyn parks her outfit inside the southeast corner of the stadium, saddles up Quick Six, and warms him up prior to the game. She carries the Canadian flag atop Quick Six along the east sidelines for the singing of the national anthem. During the game, Karyn and Quick Six wait, allowing nearby fans to meet her horse, until the roar of the crowd signifies a potential Stampeders’ touchdown. When the referee raises his arms to confirm the result, that’s when the real excitement begins…
Photo courtesy of Andrea Tombrowski
If ground and weather conditions are favourable in the open-air stadium, then Karyn will give Quick Six full rein to the other end of the arena. Once in the end zone, she and her Touchdown horse will wait for the single point conversion. After the kick, the duo will then gallop back along the east sidelines to the spot they started from. “The louder the crowd gets, the faster he runs,” says Karyn.
Dave Bronconnier is proud of his city’s well-known Horse and Rider. “Every time you see Calgary’s favourite horse go racing down the sidelines, you know we’re one step closer to a win,” says Calgary’s mayor. “The Touchdown Horse is a true Calgary original — a symbol of the talent and excitement which the Stamps put on the field play after play, and a symbol of our young and vibrant city.”
This year’s 97th Grey Cup championship will be hosted by Calgary on Nov. 29. If the defending champions, the Calgary Stampeders, make it into the finals, then come game time, you’ll know exactly what Karyn and Quick Six will be waiting for.
The 97th Grey Cup championship game will be played Nov. 29, 2009 at McMahon Stadium in Calgary, Alta.
Formerly from Hairy Hill, Alta., Andrea (Toma) Tombrowski is a freelance writer and photographer living in Calgary.