For Greg Cassidy, being a rodeo cowboy wasn’t a choice or a random career path, it was his calling. He started out riding steers just like his dad, and it wasn’t long before he was competing in the timed events at pro rodeos.
Four times he won the Canadian Steer Wrestling Championship (1985, ‘87, ‘88, 2000), and he claimed the Canadian High Point Championship twice (1987, ‘88). He’s still the only man to win a Calgary Stampede bonus in two separate events and he did it in three different decades. He won the tie-down roping in ‘84, and steer wrestling in ‘90 and 2001. At the Olympic Rodeo in 1988, Greg won a Silver medal in the tie-down event and a Bronze medal in the steer wrestling. The only goal he says he didn’t achieve in his rodeo career was qualifying for the National Finals Rodeo.
“I had always gone down (to the U.S.) and had some success, but I could never spend that much time doing it,” says Greg. “The year I was going to go, I tore my knee out.”
In 1989 — right at the height of his career — he tore his ACL while steer wrestling in Denver, Colorado. “I had a big steer and heavy ground — I was out for a year.” His knee was never the same.
As if being a full-time competitor and family man wasn’t enough, Greg also spent seven years as a calf roping director and six years as president of the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association, now known as Pro Rodeo Canada.
Greg was raised on the family farm a few miles south east of Donalda, Alta. A quiet farming area where three generations of the Cassidy family have trained to become rodeo champions. Greg’s dad, Charles “Spitz” Cassidy was the Steer Riding Champion at the 1951 Calgary Stampede and his mom, Aleta (Smith), is the sister to NFR saddle bronc rider, Lyle Smith.
“He grew up right here. He lives in Reno, Nevada now.” (Greg’s Uncle Lyle won a round in the saddle bronc riding at the very first NFR in 1959, and Greg’s son, Curtis, won a go-round buckle steer wrestling at the 50th NFR.)
His main influence has always been his father. “Dad roped calves in the arena in the summertime,” says Greg. “I always wanted to be a calf roper.”
Greg and his wife of 38 years, Margaret, operate a feedlot throughout the winter. Their home is virtually a rodeo museum filled with bronze trophies, championship halters and buckles from all the major rodeos across North America. Their sons, Curtis and Cody, and daughter Kirby all live nearby and are raising their families within a few miles of the Cassidy home spread.
By the mid-1990s Greg was becoming road weary, but when the boys started competing it renewed his vigour. He laughs and says it was “hard on his ego at times” when he didn’t make the Finals beside his sons.
In the last round of the CFR in 2000, Greg had to beat Curtis to win his last Canadian Steer Wrestling title. He says there was never a competitive struggle between them. “The only thing that really mattered was that one of us was ultimately going to win that competition,” says Greg. In 2003, the three Cassidy men made history when they all qualified for the Canadian Finals Rodeo.
“I loved doing it,” says Greg. “It was a challenge, you’re always trying to get better, you’re working with horses, which is great. It’s a little bit like gambling, it just gets into your blood and you want to keep going. It’s very satisfying when you can go win and beat the best in the world.”
It’s now been a decade since he retired, but watching his boys achieving their rodeo goals has been really special, especially when a practice horse named Rtr Little Willy a.k.a Willy, was starting to shine on the world’s stage. Someone in the Cassidy clan knows a thing or two about horses, but Greg humbly says, “We had no idea that he was going to turn into anything.” What Greg saw at the time was a skinny Easy Jet bred 3-year-old race horse at the Lethbridge track.
“He was just one of those horses that just kept on getting better and better. Once we started to use him as a rodeo horse, that’s when he really started to blossom.”
Willy is known as one of the greatest steer wrestling horses of all time and won close to $3 million throughout his career. Four different World Champions won their title riding Willy. When he retired in 2011, he had claimed six Canadian Pro Rodeo Horse of the Year awards, and the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and American Quarter Horse Association Horse of the Year titles in 2008. Now 29, the retired champ still has a shiny coat, a spark in his eye and a spring in his step.
Few cowboys get the chance to have one really great horse in a lifetime, but the Cassidy family has owned a whole pen full of them, Digger (1984 Canadian Tie- Down Horse of the Year), Crown (1996, 1999 Canadian Steer Wrestling Horse of the Year), Wrangler (2008 Steer Wrestling Horse of the Year), Deuce (2010 Canadian Steer Wrestling Horse of the Year) and Stick (2010 Canadian Tie-down Horse of the Year).
Greg says it was a privilege to be able to pass the rodeo legacy onto his sons. Curtis is, so far, an eight-time High Point Champion, two-time Canadian Steer Wrestling Champion and five-time NFR qualifier. So far Cody is a three-time Canadian Champion and a NFR qualifier.
Looking back, Greg says he feels fortunate to have been very successful but now he says he’s enjoying living life with his family and remembering his good old rodeo memories.
“We always had horses,” says Greg. “I always wanted to be a cowboy. I have no regrets, that’s for sure.”
Sitting on his front porch watching a bank of rain clouds roll in from the west, he sets his grandson Clyde on his knee, and says it’s hard to imagine what life would’ve been like if he hadn’t rodeoed.
“I’d be a lonely old farmer out here I guess,” smiles Greg. “I loved being a part of this sport, but I don’t miss the road. I really like just being home with the family.”
That family will no doubt gather for the banquet this fall when Greg is inducted into the Canadian Professional Rodeo Hall of Fame.