A skilfully thrown loop glides around a steer’s neck; another comes from behind to capture his two hind legs; and then two ranch hands on the ground hold the steer down for treatment.
If this was out in the middle of a pasture, the cowboy or cowgirl would likely give the calf an injection, perhaps to treat a foot rot or pink eye problem.
However, this time the ranch hands are under the lights of the Edmonton EXPO Centre with a crowd of spectators filling the seats on each side of the arena. They are competing in the team doctoring event at the Heritage Ranch Rodeo and the clock is ticking.
And all the while, the familiar voice of longtime ranch rodeo announcer Gord Colliar booms over the sound system.
“It is the only event that brings the working cowboy to the spotlight,” Colliar said in an interview.
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The Heritage Ranch Rodeo consists of events that simulate the work done every day on many of the country’s working cattle operations. Contestants must perform the events in a controlled manner that is humane to the horses and cattle involved, while also racing the clock in the team sorting, branding, doctoring and wild horse race, or being judged in the bronc riding.
The events provide heart-pounding, edge-of-your-seat excitement while showcasing the traditional methods of the working cowboy that are still in use to this day.
Teams from 16 working ranches from across Western Canada will compete Nov. 4-6 at this year’s rodeo, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary.
Colliar, Vern Lonsberry, Dave Fiddler, and Wilf Robson were instrumental in getting the rodeo started at Farmfair International to celebrate Alberta’s centennial in 2005. They chose to make ‘heritage’ part of the name to honour the cowboys and cowgirls of years past.
“In that initial year, the ranch rodeo was an invitational event where ranches with a brand that had been registered for a minimum of 100 years were invited to put together a team of hands from their ranch to compete,” recalled Colliar.
“It was an extremely high honour for a ranch to be selected to compete in the Heritage Ranch Rodeo and the ranch hands worked hard all year to be selected for that honour.”
Colliar has been the voice of the rodeo since Day 1. A cattle, dairy, and equine industry specialist with Zoetis, he had announced the Medicine Tree Ranch Rodeo in Nanton for 10 years prior, so announcing the Heritage Ranch Rodeo was a natural fit.
The rules have been loosened to allow other ranches to compete, and many of the bigger, historic operations have dropped out because the event coincides with weaning, selling and shipping of calves. But that hasn’t affected the level of competition and there has been a continual improvement in the horsemanship of the contestants, said Colliar.
Although the rodeo is the premier showcase of traditional ranch skills, it’s also much more than that, he said.
“The social aspect of getting together with old friends and educating people about our industry — I am very passionate about that,” said Colliar, adding that’s what brings him back year after year.
It is a showcase of skills both the seasoned cowboy and first-time urban spectator can enjoy — and a glimpse of a world most people don’t get to experience.
“There are lots of working cowboys left in the world,” said Colliar. “They’re just hard to see from the road.”