By Terri Mason
Saskatchewan has a new school, and if the stars align, it’ll be the birthplace of some of the great bronc riders of the West.
Every Wednesday night in the sleepy little cowtown of Maple Creek, the clang of the bucking chute latch echoes across the plains as another athlete in training tries to stay with and “hang a ride” on an experienced bronc.
Sometimes, they make it to the pick-up man, and sometimes they don’t, but the sport, the horses and the athletes are all in good hands.
The idea for the school, now officially known as Cowtown Roughstock Group, was formed at the Canadian High School Rodeo Finals in Brandon, Man, last August.
“There’s a bunch of young guys around here that want to be bronc riders, so we thought, ‘If we’ve got them all here, we’d better be trying to help them out,’” said former CFR bronc rider and one of the founders, Al Bandy.
“We knew that there’s enough old bronc riders around this place that everyone should be able to pitch in and give these guys the right stuff that they need,” said Al.
A man of action, Al wasted no time, and a few days later, when the Bandy trailer pulled out of the Brandon grounds, it was followed by a practice bronc from Jimmy Lawrence.
Rapidly, the Cowtown Roughstock Group was created, but the group needed more than one old trustworthy bronc. Within days, locals brought in their sentimental favourites and a small herd of proven, mostly retired broncs was formed, donated by locals such as “Dirty” Moorehead, Travis Portz and stock contractor Billy Richards, among others.
So now, every week, not only do the young men get hands-on instruction in riding broncs, but also in how to safely get off them.
One evening, I watched a young hopeful getting trained in how to get off the bronc and onto the pickup man’s horse. The bronc rider was mounted on a saddle horse led by an instructor, and repeatedly, the pickup man (one of three in the arena) rode up alongside and step by step, he was taught when to reach out, where to grab and how to get off the bronc — safely. That crew made about three revolutions around the famous High Chaparral Arena, and I lost count of how many dismounts he practiced — first at a walk, then confidently, at a gallop.
“I don’t know if they teach that at other bronc riding schools or not,” Al said.
“We said at the beginning, ‘proven, experienced horses only.’ These kids are not getting on colts. Never,” he stated emphatically.
“I don’t like tryout horses for kids,” he continued. “These horses here are mostly in their 20s and have been around. They don’t fight in the chute, and you can pretty much predict and tell the kid exactly what that horse is going to do, like if they go straight across the arena or go to the right.”
Once the weather cooled and fall set in, the crew moved indoors, where there were lights and seating for parents, grandparents, girlfriends, and local fans.
Far from being a “for-profit” venture, not one person owns the school or horses, and not one person is on the hook for costs. To help pay for it all, the idea of a bronc riding match was spawned, and on December 29, the group held the Last Dash Bronc Match — a complete sellout to the bronc riding-hungry town.
Tom Bingham, Bobby Maines, Shawn Orr and Jeff Yule complimented the Cowtown Roughstock Group of broncs to fill out the roster.
The judges were professional champion bronc riders Dan Black and Canadian All-Around and Bull Riding Champion Jared Parsonage, who was also booked to give an encouraging “talk” to the future stars. The arena was packed, and as the local voice of seven-time CPRA Announcer of the Year, Joe Braniff, boomed over the crowd, the first chute latch clicked, and it was on! Spectators enjoyed a full evening of Junior Bronc Riding, Ranch Bronc Riding and Open Bronc Riding. The champs were awarded, and the evening ended shortly before sunup on the next day after an enthusiastic dance in the dirt.
Said Al, “The bronc match was to raise some funds to keep the practices going — and to pay for everything that we need. I said to them, ‘Guys, if we’re going to do this, I don’t want it to cost any of us a bunch of money.’ So that’s what this is all for — to supply the feed and the upkeep on the horses. A lot of them horses are going to need a little bit of extra TLC because of their age (regular vet care, minerals, good hay, etc.,) so that was the whole point of the bronc match.”
Said another organizer, “It was a big job, but it’s all about the kids.”
Another benefit from this ongoing bronc school is long range.
In this part of the country, you can’t throw a rock without hitting someone who earned a college scholarship with a saddle or lariat. The high school rodeos are regularly scouted for the best of the best — and that’s exactly what is being developed deep in southwest Saskatchewan — a lineup of confident, talented bronc riders who will be able to measure their bronc rein against the best of them.
For more, visit Cowtown Roughstock Group on Facebook.
Does your community host bronc riding practices? Let me know! Editor@cowboycountrymagazine.com