Calgary – Ranch hands tackle their demanding work in all kinds of weather, in all kinds of situations, from drenching downpours on the open prairie to seething snowstorms in the foothills of Alberta. On Friday, however, a select group of veteran cowboys showcased their skills in a decidedly more comfortable setting: the Agrium Western Event Centre at the Calgary Stampede.

Four teams of working ranch hands faced off in the inaugural Ranch Rodeo, taking part in a series of competitions that mirrored the day-to-day tasks that take place on operations across the West. The demonstration event was organized by the Stampede’s Western Performance Horse committee.

“The Calgary Stampede is all about heritage, so we are tremendously excited to have these teams come and show what real ranch work is like,” said committee chair Bill Fraser. “And we try different things all the time. For example, cattle penning has really evolved. When it started, we had 25 teams enter the entire event; this year we had 818 teams.”

The 20 competitors — representing Alta Bar Ranch (Rimbey), Bent River Ranch (Drayton Valley), Meadow Springs Ranch (Mountain View) and R Bar Ranch (Bluffton) — took part in five events:

  • Sort and Pen: each team cuts numbered steers out of a herd and move them to a pen at the opposite end of the arena in this timed event.
  • Bronc Riding: just like in professional rodeo, riders must hang on for eight seconds in the judged event; but in ranch rodeo, they use a regular riding saddle, mount the horse in the ring and hold on to the saddle and a rope.
  • Sort and Rope: this timed event demonstrates how designated cattle are cut out of a herd, roped head and heel, and then administered a dose of medicine, such as when they’re being treated for pink eye or foot rot.
  • Team Roping: teams split into two-rider groups to simultaneously gain control of two steer loose in the arena in this timed event featuring a “header” who ropes the front feet of a steer, and ties off the rope on their saddle horn, and a “heeler” who ropes the hind feet of the animal.
  • Load and Tie: each team rope two steers that are loose in the arena. One is tied down and “doctored,” while the other is led into a trailer parked in the centre of the arena in this timed event.

After an hour and a half of competition, R Bar and Bent River were tied at the top of the score board. Although no belt buckles or oversized cheques were handed out, the sport of ranch rodeo was the winner, said Bent River Ranch’s Alton Wood.

“This is where modern-day rodeo got its start. It’s cool to take it back to the fans. A lot of people have never seen this kind of work,” said Wood, who is treasurer of the Ranch Rodeo Cowboy Association (RRCA) of Alberta. “The Calgary Stampede is such a huge part of Alberta’s past and heritage. For our RRCA members, it really means a lot to be here.”