SUNDRE — With the Sundre Pro Rodeo’s organizers upping the ante for cash prizes, there were more contenders than usual competing in the local arena this past weekend.
There were from Friday to Sunday almost 530 cowboys and girls from across Canada and the world at the Sundre Rodeo & Race Association’s grounds. That’s up significantly from an average of around 450 contenders, said Shane Crouch, the association’s president.
“It’s huge,” Crouch told the Albertan.
“I can’t remember the last time we had that kind of numbers at our rodeo, or ever,” he said, largely attributing that substantial increase to a big $1,000 jump in the cash prize payout offered to competitors, courtesy of sponsors.
“We’ve upped our prize money to $6,000 in each of the major events,” he said, adding the association also managed to secure the cash payout for the added break-away roping competition that over the last two years has become part of the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association’s recognized events.
Last year, there were about 30 break-away ropers, but there were 62 registered this year, he added.
To boot, the weekend boasted the “largest draw of ladies barrel racers we’ve ever had in Sundre,” he said.
Last year had been a record with a little more than 120, whereas most years see about 100 barrel racers. But the 2022 lineup had 145 cowgirls on the docket, he said.
“I think it just goes to show that the ladies barrel racers really enjoy coming to Sundre,” he said.
All of the additional contenders in the running for buckles, prize money and bragging rights, meant there was a large overflow in the slack, he said.
In a nutshell, that means splitting up a large bulk of competitors into other performances to accommodate the extra contenders.
“If not, we’d be having a five-hour long rodeo and nobody wants that,” said Crouch.
Having overflow in the slack generally happens annually, he added.
“It was just way bigger this year than it has been in the past just because of the amount of contestants we got this year,” he said.
The massive contingent of cowpoke competitors delivered to local rodeo fans plenty of adrenalin-packed thrills and spills throughout the weekend’s performances.
“We reached capacity and had to close our gates again on Saturday for fire regulations,” he said, adding that’s only every happened once before during last year’s Saturday afternoon performances when more than 2,000 people came out.
“We got very lucky with the weather on the weekend,” added Crouch, referring to sunny blue skies following weeks of on-and-off rainfalls.
Unfortunately, there were no fireworks this year as a result of liability issues of setting them off from Chinook’s Edge School Division property.
“I should have been on it earlier and we couldn’t get it done on time,” said Crouch. “For 2023, we’re going to really work with the school board. We got to have fireworks at our rodeo – it’s just one of our main staples.”
Roughstock was supplied by Macza Pro Rodeo Company, Pengelly Rodeo, Lazy 2 Rodeo as well as the Calgary Stampede, while timed-event stock came from Darren Shaw.
As for other crowd-pleasing acts in between performances, rodeo entertainer Dennis Halstead was unable to attend this year.
“He got invited to go to Reno, Nevada this year,” said Crouch.
But there were several other acts lined up to wow spectators.
Demonstrating a blend of elegance and balance on horseback was the Diamond Willow Vaulting Club, followed throughout the rest of the weekend by performances from the Wildrose Cowgirls Trick Riding Team as well as Noémy Coeurjoly, from Québec, a trick rider extraordinaire.
There were of course also traditional staple events such as mutton busting, wild pony racing, and junior barrel racing, as well as BS bingo with the Cowboy Cabaret on Saturday night.
Additionally, the Sundre Rodeo & Race Association endeavours to continually upgrade and add to the rodeo grounds, and this year was no exception.
“We do have brand new bucket chutes in our arena,” said Crouch, adding they were sourced locally in Alberta from 2W Livestock in Nanton.
“We replaced all eight of them,” he said. “We’re pretty excited about that.”
The association also invested in improving all-around accessibility.
“We enclosed our entire main grandstand with concrete, just to be more wheelchair friendly,” he said.
There was also live, outdoor musical entertainment on Saturday night on a stage that was rented for a concert in the arena, with Lyndsay Butler performing an opening show for Drew Gregory.
Meanwhile, members of the McDougal Chapel once again returned to man the Family Fun Zone during day-time performances.
After being cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic, the Sundre Pro Rodeo made a delayed return late last season with a record turnout for Saturday performances, but there was no parade or pancake breakfast.
However, both of those Saturday morning events were back this year, with Freson Bros. picking up the torch of hosting the pancake breakfast that was previously held by the Mennear family who for many years ran the IGA.