Real cowboys show their everyday ranch skills at Heritage Ranch Rodeo

Rodeo participants don’t have to hold practices — 
their roping, riding and cattle-sorting skills are honed every day at work

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If you want to see real cowboys in action, head to the Heritage Ranch Rodeo at Edmonton Northlands.

Sixteen teams of genuine cowboys from across Western Canada will showcase their roping, milking and sorting skills during the Farmfair International event held Nov. 3-5.

The rodeo, in its ninth year, features six events — team sorting, team branding, team doctoring, wild cow milking, wild horse racing, and bronc riding. Each team participates in three events the first night and three more the following night, with the top teams going on to the finals.

“It’s pretty well attended and is gaining popularity,” said Amanda Frigon, Heritage Ranch Rodeo event manager with Northlands. “It’s nice because it’s in cohesion with Farmfair, and Canadian Finals Rodeo is right after it, so that works well.”

The event helps keep western heritage alive and showcases real-life ranching skills, she said. Participants range in age from 16 to 60 years.

Kirk Thomson is team captain of last year’s winning team — the North Fork Grazing Co-op — along with Nolan Pharis, Bruce Christie and Mike Nelson. They hail from north of Pincher Creek and have competed for six years. Last year they won handmade silver bits, coats and other merchandise.

“Our team is made up of local guys who all have cattle in this grazing co-operative,” said Thomson. “It’s all friends and neighbours.”

Team members bring horses that are best suited for each event.

“Everybody on our team specializes in different events and we have horses that we use in different events,” said Thomson.

Pharis is a skilled horseman, while Thomson’s and Christie’s strengths lie in roping. Nelson rides the broncs and milks the wild cows.

“Every year, it’s a big reunion,” he said. “We get to see guys we know from all over Western Canada and rekindle friendships. It’s a real social thing, as well. It’s very competitive, but it’s friendly.”

All the skills featured at the rodeo are used in everyday ranch work, such as branding and treating cattle.

“It’s mostly riding and roping skills and cattle sorting. This is all stuff we do every day,” said Thomson. “We just get to go to town and show people what we do.”

It’s a good idea for the public to get to see the way things are done on a ranch, he said.

The “perception is that everything is done with quads in feed pens, but it isn’t,” he said. “We like to show people how stuff is done out on the open range, and how we treat cattle, sort cattle and brand cattle.”

Branding is the most challenging event, he said.

“You have to know your cattle, work the pen properly, and be able to rope as well,” he said. “It’s horsemanship and cowmanship and you have to take everything that you know to be good in the branding pen.”

Team members develop their skills by helping each other out in their regular operations throughout the year.

“All the guys on our team work together on and off all year round,” Thomson said. “Just neighbours helping each other out more than anything.”

Most of the teams that participate in the event come from larger, heritage ranches. The North Fork Grazing Co-op has been in existence since the turn of the century. For ticket information go to http://farmfairinternational.com/event-info/tickets.

About the author

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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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