March 15 through 17 is the start of the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association (CPRA) season with a three-day rodeo in Camrose.
I cannot be happier.
Chasing motorsports is a time-consuming, planning nightmare. There are flights to book, extensive amounts of camera equipment to pack, clothes and toiletries. I love chasing racing, but as soon as the rodeo season kicks off, I know my Sundays will be busy until at least November.
I grew up in Airdrie, and have been here for more than two decades. I played hockey in the Airdrie Minor Hockey Association (even won a city championship playing for the Rainbow Salvage Warriors) I competed in BMX, and dabbled in soccer and baseball in my younger years.
I spent no time on a farm, learning to rope and ride. I tossed not a single hay bale, and typically spent my Saturday mornings at a hockey rink, or watching cartoons. A very city slicker upbringing.
But once every year, this city would become a rodeo town for five days in July.
If you grew up in, or around Calgary, you know what rodeo is. You have an appreciation that drives you to grab a cold one, and sit and watch an historic sport unfold in front of your eyes.
My dad enjoys rodeo, as it a very exciting sport. My earliest memory, and only real memory from the Airdrie Pro Rodeo before I began attending the event on my own was when I was somewhere in the eight to 10-year-old range.
I recall making my way around every single fence that keeps fans out of harms way from the livestock and the hustle and bustle of cowboys and cowgirls getting to where they needed to be to compete.
I climbed my way up to the chutes, and found myself enjoying my first real, raw rodeo experience with full-grown cowboys and thousand pound bulls.
I was eventually sniffed out as a city slicker behind the chutes, and was quickly lifted over the fence and back to dad, who must have been enjoying the competition too much.
Things have changed today, as security has been heightened to the point where only folks who need to be near the arena are there.
Today, at 24 years old, I sit back and think maybe being a photojournalist was always my calling. I get to attend the events and go just about wherever I want to snap photos and share my stories. It’s a pretty awesome gig if you ask me.
But as I grew older, and wiser, I started to gain an incredible love for the sport. Maybe is was the five days each year I spent out at the Airdrie Rodeo grounds, or maybe it was the fact that family from the U.S.A. would come up each year and treat me to a day at the Calgary Stampede (rodeo included).
I have made some incredible friends within the rodeo world, and now look forward to the season just as much as the racing season.
So, I ask all of you reading this, will you be attending any rodeos this year?
I hope to hit more rodeos this year than any other, recording the ups and downs, and wins and the losses. I look forward to seeing the people I have met along the way, and make new friends as well.
Former Miss Rodeo Airdrie, now Miss Rodeo Canada Gillian Shields will be at a ton of these events. CPRA Photographer Mike Copeman, who spent a day with my class during photojournalism school always has fantastic stories to tell.
If you are considering venturing out of the Airdrie area for a rodeo, let me make a few suggestions for how to enjoy the sport.
Bring an umbrella. That is the most important tip I can give. I nearly ruined a felt hat last year when the skies opened up and dumped an astronomical amount of rain on the Sundre Pro Rodeo.
Look for a picturesque locale for your first out of town rodeo. The prior mentioned Sundre Pro Rodeo is one of the prettiest locations I have seen in Alberta for rodeo grounds. Despite the weather last year, I hope I get a chance to get up there this season.
Lastly, don’t forget your boots and your hats. Us city slickers are extremely easy to spot when we show up with our Calgary Flickers (I mean Flames) hats, and a pair of skateboarding shoes on. Nobody will treat you any differently in this crowd, but I strongly feel that everyone looks great in a cowboy hat.
There are more than 50 rodeos on the CPRA schedule, and they start this month. Get out of the house one weekend, and check one out. Heck, I might just run into you.
The Airdrie Pro Rodeo runs June 27 through to Canada Day on July 1.