10. Cowboy Challenge

IMAG1397We had chatted to the owner of an interloper horse, Brooks. He turned up at the ranch the day we’d been to Chilliwack. Jessa had been given him by someone who had bought him at an auction but not ridden him in the year so she could have him or he could go the same way as all the other unwanted horses! Ben (the son here) was trying him out and found him very responsive so by the end of the first evening she was on him so he’d escaped a canine delectation future. She was telling us about her other horses, one of whom was a barrel racer and I just mentioned in passing that I’d not seen that. “Come to Langley Riders on Saturday” she said, there’d be a cowboy team challenge.

We’d arranged to have the weekend off, stating that we’d go to Vancouver but were struggling with what to see and even found a website called ‘bored in Vancouver’. This sounded much more interesting and  more unique to this part of the world so it was fortuitous that we hadn’t actually made any transport or accommodation plans. Isa had been trying to organise us to go Friday evening (after feeding) rather than Saturday morning, which would cost us an extra night. I think she thought we were going to do as we were told because when I mentioned the event to her she said we couldn’t go! I pointed out that we could go to Vancouver any time and suggested that we ride the bikes one way if she would give us a lift the other. She agreed to pick us up and even come for the afternoon, which would be great as i think she needs to get out more.

We hadn’t got to ride (Dunner) again after the initial session a couple of days previously so weren’t too saddle sore. We set off just after 9am on Saturday for the 12km ride. The weather had improved again and we were due another scorcher so didn’t want to leave it to late. We allowed an hour although the programme had started at 9 we thought 10am would be time enough to arrive, not missing much but not have to get up too early. When we rode in the event was under way but not too busy and just as we approached the awning by the concession kiosk over-looking the arena ,some people very conveniently got up and left a picnic table free for us to collapse onto. Unfortunately we did have to sit on a wooden bench for the day after enduring the bike saddle for the journey but at least our bottoms would get a reprieve on the return.

Penning was the discipline in action when we arrived. It seemed to involve separating a steer from the rest of the herd. We weren’t entirely sure how things were working at this point with missing the start, but it was interesting to look around and observe this alien but close knit and well established community. There was a specific uniform, jeans and boots, with or without spurs, plaid shirt and Stetson (appears to be plastic!) for the men. The women wore boots, dusty and well worn with jeans for the riders, sparkly and ornate with shorts for the fashionistas. Belts and their buckles seemed to make quite a statement, studs and sequins decorated the former, large, silver and engraved displayed the latter.

The clothes were different as well, jeans touted fancy pockets on the women, just the sort that many in Europe would avoid. Sequins adorned the tops, usually in a fleur de lys pattern, the significance of which I must discover. Those competing wore decorative shirts, long sleeves worn down and buttoned up to near the neck. They looked particularly hot. I found Gaylene and Ben’s shirt cupboard back at the house one day when I was looking for the loo, it was an explosion of colour. They are either in highly patterned material or plainer fabric but with intricate embroidery, both styles looking very elaborate.

Mangy mongrels seemed to be the essential accessory, most sporting the strange yellow/golden eyes which we have seen so many times since we arrived in Canada. I think they must have all had the same father and that would include the manky fox I spotted lurking in a field en route. I checked with Roger that he actually thought it was a fox as I could perceive no discernible red at all, just dusty brown. Most articles are dusty brown at the moment as it is so dry and has been the hottest summer for a long time with the lowest rainfall. Even this morning (Sunday) we passed a vehicle perpendicular to the pavement. A man stepped out from behind it to inform us that the driver had gone to get some gas. I’ve never seen someone so dusty, he was covered in it, monochrome from the top of his cap to the tips of his boots and everything in between including his face and glasses! I’ve no idea how he could see through them.

IMAG1368IMAG1367Barrel racing was up next and whilst this was a pure speed and manoeuvrability on horseback event, only girls took part. Three 360 degree turns were involved as they circumvented the barrels to the left, right and top end of the arena before charging back across the finish line in 17-20 seconds. I only noticed 3 of the 15 competitors wearing hard hats, the others just wore a Stetson, so no protection there then. The Stetsons didn’t seem to have the same security as the hard hats and were flying off frequently but, quite surprisingly, mostly from those girls with untied blond hair which would flow out behind them along with their horse’s mane and tail. No points for style from the judges but perhaps they wanted to be judged by other individuals!

IMAG1369Between disciplines the tractor would come out and rake the arena, until it broke down and had to be towed away. He would compete for the space with the guy with the fire hose watering the surface to reduce the dust, marginally. Barriers had to be erected and de-constructed, depending on the event, when a team of weekend cowboys would emerge in boots, jeans, plaid and Stetsons. Monday to Friday they were probably estate agents (a lot of them!), bank managers, policemen, firemen, insurance brokers etc fulfilling their passion of playing at westerns at weekends.

IMAG1376IMAG1377The next skill to be demonstrated was sorting which is basically cutting a beast from the herd and putting it into a pen. Just to make it more complicated 11 steers were numbered 0-9 and the team of 2 had to cut the given number from the herd and get it into a large pen with a gate width opening, followed by the others in number sequence from that point in one and a half minutes. The skill was ensuring that no other one sneaked in behind the guard. There was a lot of luck in this as well as skill as much depended on the disposition of the steer. Number 6 had a lot of attitude and was always difficult so if 7 or 8 were called as the starting point you had a better chance. 6 steers in sequence was the winner.

During this event one steer lay down and declined to get up until actively encouraged. At this point all the animals were taken out and sprayed with water to cool down. There was quite an emphasis on explaining the animal welfare measures as there is a significant lobby of objectors to the rodeo type activities but I’m, in no way, qualified to voice an opinion after 1 day’s viewing. The breeding programme for reining also has its inherent weaknesses which Gaylene explained to me, pretty much like Crufts. When this animal was replaced its stand-in didn’t have a number so this made it a little harder for the cutter to identify the correct beast in sequence as there were 2 without numbers; the new number 8 and the ‘dirty’, the 11th steer so that the 10th could be separated from another. 10 being the maximum.  

The compare was quite a character with a soft accent and deep voice, the sort used for TV commercial voice-overs. He was fairly entertaining in his own right and had quite a few gaps to fill. He seemed most impressed with his comments when there was the welfare interlude as the previous ‘dirty’ was also suffering so the call went out ‘we need another dirty’! He admitted to never having to say those words before over a PA system and probably would never again.

We had occupied the side of the bench looking over the table onto the arena. I did wonder if we should change sides in case someone sat in front of us on the other side but thought that it would be more comfortable leaning onto the table rather than resting our backs on it and surely no-one would plonk themselves directly in front of us. Well yes, they did, 2 people, but we managed.

After lunch Isa arrived to watch the afternoon’s performance and take us back, putting the bikes in the back of the truck. She sat beside us initially and then she too moved across to sit in front of us before declaring it too hot and deciding that she wanted to leave then, about 2pm with the programme not due to finish until 5pm, the final relay and roping discipline still to be played out. We declined, knowing that it meant a return 12km ride in the dusty heat of the late afternoon. She also informed us that we could ride Dunner that evening after 8pm, when it had cooled, along with Fabio. He was another workawayer who had arrived on Friday evening from the other ranch at Dawson Creek (where he was riding 3-4 times a week) with Gaylene and  a trailer load of hay. Only our second opportunity to ride a horse and after 24km on an excruciating bike saddle!

IMAG1380IMAG1378IMAG1379The roping was quite quick, they either lassoed the animal on the first run or there was little prospect of a clean catch – both horns and both feet. Teams of 2 charged out on either side of the steer as it was released from the shute type gate wearing a little hat which transpired to be an ear protector. One had to rope the head first whilst the other would catch the hind legs afterwards. There was a 5 point penalty if they only caught one horn or leg. One pairing withdrew as the first rope went right over the torso and hooked a front leg as well so in the interest of animal welfare, they didn’t continue. They had 3 throws between them but trying to organise the rope after a miss throw proved quite difficult as they were stiff and not always yielding. They had 3 runs each and the winning pair had the best, third and forth fastest times which considering one was only 13 years old, was quite an achievement and I guess that he will go far in the roping world in the future.

IMAG1381The final event was a relay which would incorporate all the disciplines apart from barrel racing, that member just ran in at the end and dabbed the steer with a yellow blob to finish, highly skilled then? Bet it would have been more taxing if males had been involved. However, before it started the teams were ‘sold’ by auction and the owner of the winning team would receive half the pot with the other half going to the Little Britches Rodeo fund. It took us most of the bidding process to determine this precisely as it all seemed very confusing. Understandably it appeared that some people didn’t pay for their team but I suspect that they had no idea that they’d won the auction. This sale took best part of an hour with all the riders and horses standing out in the sun. We were so glad of our shady spot.

IMAG1383We departed the event after the final team completed the relay and remounted our saddles, which were not quite as excruciating as expected although the wooden bench had done little to soothe us. The journey back seemed much shorter though in reality was of similar length but assisted by my chain not coming off twice as it had done on the outward leg. As we rode back into the ranch the first thing we spotted were 2 horses in the paddocks next to the cabin. Closer inspection revealed them to be Lacota and Doc. It was unusual for the former to be out of his stall at this time, he usually only had a couple of hours out in the morning either in the exerciser or just in a paddock whilst his stall was cleaned. Isa came over to tell us that he would be there overnight as it was too hot in the barn, his first night in the open! This was fair enough on one hand but on the other he was right outside our bedroom window, the only one that opened, it was very hot and he was very loud, great! She also told us that it was too hot for Dunner to have 3 riders that evening so Fabio would ride him and we would ride the following morning, ready for 8am before it got too hot. Another day off where we end up having to rise earlier than a work day! Heyho! Still it was a lovely sunset out of our bedroom window.IMAG1364

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