If the Calgary Stampede gave out a buckle for the best one-liner, Scott Schiffner would have won it hands down.
“I love inflation,” proclaimed the bull rider and rancher from Strathmore as he held up his $100,000 winner’s cheque.
That sum was exactly double what Schiffner won in 2001, the last time he captured top honours at the stampede rodeo.
But the truth is that those sorts of paydays are rare, even for one of the country’s top rodeo stars.
A week after his big win, Schiffner was off to the Moose Mountain Pro Rodeo in Kennedy, Sask.
“That’s about an 8-1/2-hour drive from my place, and the top prize is about $1,000,” he said. “The organizing committees at these rodeos try real hard and we owe them all kinds of gratitude, but it’s difficult.”
But worth it, he’s quick to add.
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“The biggest reason why I promote rodeo is that I truly believe it is part of our heritage — it’s a lifestyle that’s dying and I don’t want to see it go away,” said Schiffner, who is as well known for promoting the sport as performing in it.
“Every night after school, kids go running home and pick up hockey sticks to play street hockey. I want to see kids come home and pick up a rope, or beg Mom and Dad for that horse, or have a buckin’ barrel in their yard. It’s our heritage and we don’t want to lose that.”
Schiffner — who with wife Brandy has 225 mother cows at their cow-calf operation at S Bar S Ranch — is also an example of how that heritage remains a foundation for Western Canada’s beef industry.
In 2011, he was asked by the Calgary Stampede to visit China and promote its upcoming 100th anniversary. He was such a hit — he jokes he’s never had his picture taken so often — that he was invited by the federal government to go again.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me that turned into a twice-in-a-lifetime one,” he says.
“I got the opportunity to go over to China with Stephen Harper and a bunch of other people, and we did a few press conferences and I got to promote the Calgary Stampede. It was great. It’s not too often that you get to go to a market of one billion people and talk about what you stand for and truly believe in.”
The response was overwhelming and Schiffner said he saw over and over again how deeply the cowboy lifestyle resonates with people on the other side of the world.
“For kids over there, a cowboy is like a ninja to us,” he said. “I grew up wanting to be a ninja and do backflips across the yard. Well, it’s vice versa for them. When I showed up, they were very enthralled with what I could do — and for me, it’s just my daily life.”
With more than 4,000 bull rides under his belt, Schiffner is taking his rodeo career one year at a time. It’s something that wouldn’t be possible without his wife, and her parents, John and Madonna Kalbhen, who have a 600-cow herd at Saddle Ridge Ranch, six miles down the road from S Bar S.
“We kind of run our operations together, so there’s always help when I’m gone — and I’m gone a lot,” he said.
“I also married a woman who can take care of things herself during calving and so on. I’m just very fortunate to be able to wear two hats — both of which I love.”