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Young Albertans show what rodeo is all about in TV doc

Most people don’t know about all the training and work done by rodeo cowboys and cowgirls.

But now you can find out from the comfort of your own living room.

Two Albertan and two B.C. rodeo families are the subject of a one-hour documentary called “Cowboy Up!”

“I thought it would be pretty cool to be in a documentary, just to show what saddle bronc and rodeo is like, and how we live on the farm,” said Wyatt Simpson, a 16-year-old saddle bronc rider and fifth-generation rodeo cowboy from Consort.

“It was pretty wild,” added his brother, Tyrell, 18 and also a saddle bronc rider. “I’ve never been in that kind of situation before.”

The brothers say it was weird having a camera crew following them around, but they got used to it.

“They were really good at letting us do our thing and not getting in our way,” said Tyrell.

Wyatt, Tyrell, and parents Darren and Kathy Simpson, all appear in the documentary, which follows the brothers as they compete in the Alberta high school provincial rodeo championships in Grande Prairie and try to qualify for the National High School Finals Rodeo.

“We want rodeo to be mainstream,” says Jake Burwash, an 18-year-old saddle bronc rider from Black Diamond featured in a CBC documentary called “Cowboy Up!”

“We want rodeo to be mainstream,” says Jake Burwash, an 18-year-old saddle bronc rider from Black Diamond featured in a CBC documentary called “Cowboy Up!”
photo: CBC

The American event is known as the “World’s Largest Rodeo” because of the size of its field — more than 1,500 competitors. But the competition is fierce, with 12,000 competitors from the U.S., Canada and Australia vying to get there.

The Simpson family felt strongly about the documentary.

“We felt like we should educate people who don’t really know anything about rodeo about all the cool parts about rodeo, where it comes from and how kids start out,” said Tyrell, who is currently on the college rodeo team at Lakeland College in Vermilion.

“All of us have a starting point, and it’s not always the easiest.”

Jake Burwash, an 18-year-old saddle bronc rider from Black Diamond and parents Robin and Sue are also featured in the documentary. Robin is rodeo royalty, having been ranked second in the world twice, third three times, and twice winning the $50,000 purse at the Calgary Stampede.

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Jake had top points in Alberta high school rodeo circuit and is now in Douglas, Arizona, on a rodeo scholarship, competing on the college rodeo team, and studying business administration at Cochise College.

The Burwashes chose to participate in the documentary to show their passion and dedication to rodeo, western heritage, and animal husbandry.

“Rodeo is becoming more and more popular all the time as a spectator extreme sport,” said Robin. “But inside that, there’s a western heritage that goes along with it.”

“We don’t want rodeo to be outcast,” said Jake. “We don’t want it to be any different than any other sport. It’s an extreme sport. We want rodeo to be mainstream; we want people to know that we’re not here to harm. We just want people to watch it on TV like they do football or anything like that.”

Both families were with the filmmakers for about three weeks and more than 1,000 hours of footage were shot and edited to make the one-hour movie. The film features beautiful western landscapes and intense rodeo action shot at competitions.

“It took a lot to get used to the cameras to start with, especially down at Nationals,” said Jake. “You’re trying to figure out what to do for the rodeo and they’re following you around.”

The filmmakers didn’t shy away from showing the challenging aspects of rodeo. All of the participants revealed their intense training schedules, and Jake participated in both competitions while healing from a broken wrist.

None of the participants were allowed to see the documentary until it aired on TV, but they liked the final product.

“The main point of this documentary was to educate everybody and tell people about how it is,” said Jake. “People get so confused about how animals are treated and stuff like that. That’s what gives rodeo a bad name.

“We’re so happy about this documentary, and that they wanted to see it from our side and change that perspective.”

The documentary aired on CBC last month, and is now online on the CBC website.

About the author


Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."



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