While ice melting and flowers popping their heads out of the ground might be the signs of spring for many, a number of Cariboo residents hold off on celebrating until rodeo season starts.
The Williams Lake Indoor Rodeo at the Cariboo Recreation Complex is traditionally the first event of the British Columbia Rodeo Association (BCRA) season, so all the athletes and fans of the sport mark it off in their calendar and wait in anticipation.
As of this weekend (April 26-28), the wait is finally over.
For two of Quesnel’s top bull riders, the event will have even more significance.
Denton Spiers is looking to build upon a successful winter season, where he won top honours at the college rodeo finals, and Lane Cork will be looking to grab that elusive Bull Riders Canada (BRC) championship.
Both riders are no strangers to the event. Spiers has been competing at it for years, first, as a team roper and then later on the rough stock side of things, riding steers and eventually bull riding.
“It’s a pretty good rodeo,” he says. “Everybody’s pretty excited because it’s the first one of the season. After a long winter, it’s nice to see all your friends and what not.”
For a sport like bull riding, it can be a difficult event, as many take the winter off from the sport to heal up injuries, so those first couple rides can be a jolt to the system.
“It’s a little tough when you haven’t been on in that long, but I’m feeling real good coming into it.”
Spiers competed for his school over the colder months, so he is definitely still in rhythm.
Cork made sure to get in an event last weekend (April 20-21). He travelled east with fellow Quesnel bull rider Lane Paley to Alberta and Saskatchewan to ride some bulls at a couple events out there.
“I felt I was a little bit rusty, so got on the practice bulls and went over to Alberta and bucked off, but it was in 7.5 seconds, so I felt like I did knock the rust off in the practice pen a bit,” he says.
He enjoys the vibe of the Williams Lake Rodeo immensely.
“They pack the arena there and it’s pretty high-energy for an amateur rodeo,” he points out.
Cork has had some success there, having finished third in the bull riding event last season. It is a significant rodeo, so he will be looking to better his placing this year.
“It’s BRC co-approved, so it makes it that much more important. There’s some incentive to win,” he says.
“There’s BCRA standings and money, as well as BRC standings and points too if you place.
“It’s kind of a goal of mine to not be second or third in BRC but to actually win it, so I need as many points as I can get.”
While he wishes the best for his fellow Quesnel rider, Cork is not interested in being beat at the upcoming ride.
“Denton beat me last year at the BCRA Finals,” he says. “He broke my streak, so I’ve got my eye on him.”
Spiers and Cork will both compete on Sunday. Also making the trip from Quesnel will be Lane Paley, who will ride on Saturday, as well as Elijah Gordon and Eric O’Flynn, who will both ride on Friday.
Although Kira Stowell might be young, she is no stranger to high-level rodeo competition.
The 13-year-old, who is one of 13 barrel racers making the trip down Highway 97 this weekend, guesses she has competed at the Williams Lake Indoor Rodeo seven times now.
“It’s a fun rodeo,” she says. “There are lots of activities going on.
“I like the ground there, and I like that it’s indoors and the music is loud and there’s always a huge crowd.”
Stowell will be looking to improve upon her best result at the event, a second-place finish two years ago.
She will riding her newest horse, Amigo, for the first time at a rodeo. Stowell says he feeds off of a good crowd, so she thinks he will do just fine.
Before racing, she plans on following a strict game plan to ensure a high chance of success
“I focus on what I’m trying to do,” she says. “I stretch my horse and massage him and clean his feet out and saddle him up and warm him up.”
“Then I usually just focus on how big the pattern is and what the dirt’s like and what I need to do.”
Fans can come cheer Stowell and Amigo on when they compete in the Junior Barrel Racing event on Saturday (April 27), starting at 1 p.m.
Wild Horse Race
As the B.C. representative for the Canadian Wild Horse Racing Association, Quesnel’s Al Puhallo will be organizing the exciting and chaotic event at the rodeo this weekend.
For those who have never seen wild horse racing, it is a team rough stock event where squads of three compete, with up to eight other teams in the arena at the same time, to subdue and then ride a bucking bronco.
After a horn is blown, the shankman is responsible for slowing the horse down by pulling on a rope attached to a bridle around its head. It is then the mugger’s job to grab the horse and cover its eyes in an attempt to calm it down. Finally, the rider tries to saddle the horse, mount it and ride to the opposite end of the arena, where he will attempt to ride in between the far fence and a barrel set up 20 feet away to qualify a time.
The sport would be difficult enough to do one team at a time, but with up to eight horses and 24 people wildly attempting to subdue them, it is that much more dangerous and burdensome.
“It’s not usually your horse that hurts you,” Puhallo says, while chuckling.
In addition to organizing, Puhallo competes. He has done so for 15 years now and was ranked third overall in the Canadian standings last year.
The adrenaline keeps him coming back.
“It’s one of my last vices,” he says.
“I’ve won at the Indoor twice over the years and I’ve won five times at the Williams Lake Stampede,” he adds, “The Indoor is one of my favourite rodeos, as it’s always packed and everyone’s enthusiastic.”
Wild horse races will be held every day at the rodeo. The team with the best average score will take home just over $500, Puhallo guesses.