Where Legends Begin…

Khloe Holeha of Medicine Hat, Alta., looks fabulous as she salutes the crowd and races her unicorn across the finish line in the Stick Horse Barrel Race at the 12th Annual Reno Rodeo in Consul, Sask. PHOTO BY KATE WINQUIST

The advice for performers in vaudeville was always to “never follow kids or animal acts” because you will be upstaged. This is blatantly evident at any rodeo that has kid’s events, including the venerable Calgary Stampede — which now closes its multi-million-dollar rodeo not with bull riding, but with the kid’s Wild Pony Race.

While the big arena is grand, it’s the local rodeo and the small, dusty corral where future champions get their start — because they all had to start somewhere.

One example is 1983 World Bull Riding Champion, Cody Snyder. He got his start in 1968 in tiny Walsh, Alta., in calf riding. [Canadian Cowboy Country, Feb/Mar 2008.]

Another is two-time World Champion Saddle Bronc Rider, Mel Hyland, who got his start on his dad’s back — literally. “He had a little bareback rigging that he made and strapped on his back,” said Mel. “Me and my brother Wilf started right there. Then I got to spurring him in the ear, so he entered me in steer riding at the 1958 Calgary Stampede.”

Today, there are schools and organizations that help kids learn the skills to compete in rodeo. From timed events to rough stock, most rodeo schools occur early in the new year, and many will be listed in Canadian Cowboy.

World Champions are not born, they are made, and no matter the pinnacles they reach and the successes they enjoy, they always remember their first rodeo — and who supported their dreams. Long live small-town rodeo.