Rodeo’s roots are firmly planted in ranching tradition, and the connection remains strong today among many of the sport’s top competitors.
In fact, for rancher Scott Guenthner, the current Canadian Steer Wrestling Champion, the pull of life at home led him to choose a rodeo route limited to only Canadian events. While that still involves considerable miles, it’s much less than what he did to achieve three qualifications for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR) in Las Vegas.
For Guenthner, the decision has not only has been better for family and business, it’s also proved to be a recipe for continued rodeo success. Not only did he claim the national title in 2022, but he gave a dominant performance at this summer’s Calgary Stampede to walk away with his first $50,000 bonus cheque. It was extra special because he’s a second-generation Calgary Stampede champion, as his father Ken won the event at Calgary in 1982, the first year there was a $50,000 bonus.
“I was going through a (memories) box the other day and I was in Grade 3 or something and I wrote that my goals were to win Canada and the Calgary Stampede. I’ve won Canada three times, so now it was like, ‘OK, Calgary, I have to do it sometime.’ So now to get to go in the books with my dad is kinda cool.”
It’s clear spending more time with his growing family (baby #3 is due in January) and looking after cows at the Guenthner operation near Provost has not made the 32-year-old rodeo rusty.
“I still practice before a rodeo in Canada,” says Guenthner. “I practice more now – I’m finetuning some of the skills I might have overlooked a bit when I was rodeoing hard. I’m enjoying it and I’m a lot happier in life. I was a little tired and stressed when I’d come home from rodeoing in the States. This way, I’m home all week.”
It wasn’t the easiest year on the ranch, with Special Areas #4 one of the drought disaster zones. But being in the northern part of the municipality, the family did get some hay and silage for winter feeding.
“There’s good years and there’s bad years. We were fortunate enough to get some crop. Some people didn’t get any, some got dried out and some grasshoppered out. Not the happiest year to come back to, but it is still a great time, and I get to be with my family and my kids.”
The rodeo event with the closest ties to the working ranch is calf roping, so it’s no surprise tie-down specialist Beau Cooper grew up with cows around.
“We’ve always been involved in ranching and had cows,” says the 22-year-old, who lives north of Stettler. “Our cousins and everybody around us have always had a lot of cows, so we help out there too.”
It’s been a breakthrough season for Cooper, who will be heading to his second Canadian Finals Rodeo (CFR) and his first NFR. A career highlight came in July with his big $50,000 win at the Calgary Stampede, as he became the first Canadian cowboy to win the tie-down roping title since 2014.
Whether it’s sizing up the calf he’s drawn to rope, or giving his horse a chance to do some pasture riding, Cooper values ranch experience for his rodeo work.
“You learn a lot of stuff out on the ranch, whether it’s just taking care of your horses or cattle or your calves, for that matter,” says Cooper. “Just learning to read a cow and what they’re going to do, that’s a huge asset that can help you in the arena and out of the arena too. Being aware of your surroundings and being a better horseman – there’s so many things that go into helping you. It’s not just getting on and swinging your rope and tying a calf down. There’s a lot more that goes into it than that.
“Growing up, my favourite time of year was branding in spring. That was a big deal. When I got old enough to finally get to rope, then I’d heel some in the branding pen and drag them, or wrassle a smaller one, or get to ride one. That’s where it all started for me, was in the branding pen.”
Along with feeding out his practice roping calves as they get bigger, Cooper has also started his own cattle herd, with around 30 head. It’s a good place to invest what he hopes will become significant rodeo earnings.
“I’m thinking about buying some land and having my own little place, so I can build up and have my own ranch eventually – a spot to run some cows. If we can take that $50,000 from Calgary and turn it into about $200, 250,000 from Red Deer and Vegas, that would be perfect!”
You’d be hard pressed to find a hotter saddle bronc rider than Ben Andersen this summer. And that’s no small accomplishment given the sheer volume of Canadian talented riders making their mark on the world standings.
Highlighted by a career-high 94-point ride on Calgary Stampede’s Xplosive Skies to win the Hardgrass Bronc Match in Pollockville, he was also runner-up at the Calgary Stampede Showdown round to his cousin Dawson Hay. He’s qualified for his second NFR, and near the end of the competition year, the coveted season leader title for Canada was well in sight.
In late August, just after a weekend posting back-to-back 87.5 marks to win both Lethbridge and Okotoks, Andersen was on the road to Eckville to gather and sort yearlings for sale. He was looking forward to getting back to ranch work.
“It starts to wear a guy out a little bit all the traveling. You get excited to get home for a bit,” says Andersen, who put 6,000 kilometres on his truck one busy rodeo week in August.
Like so many of his fellow bronc riders, the cattle herd size depends on available help and parents’ patience, since rodeo travels keeps them away so much.
Andersen, who’s 23, has already bought a place with his girlfriend Macy Auclair, running about 30 head of mother cows and some yearlings.
“That’s all I want right now anyways,” says Andersen. “Not being home enough, it’s tough to keep care of everything. I’ve got Dad to help me, and my brother and sister live around there, and I’ve got some good community around me, so there’s lots of people to help. It’s a lot of fun ranching cattle in that community.”
Like Cooper, Andersen feels ranch life is good for his bronc riding.
“Definitely the horsemanship side of it, being able to read the horses, and to know what they might need to help them perform.”
Auclair, a breakaway roper on track for her first CFR, can lend a valuable hand when it comes to roping calves. Growing up on an acreage in Ponoka, she didn’t have the ranching background Andersen did.
“It’s definitely a learning curve for her. This winter she pulled her first calf, so that was a new experience for her,” adds Andersen.
Rodeo earnings are already being put towards the cattle enterprise.
“I bought a bale truck last fall for the winter, so that was a pretty big investment. I’m just gonna keep picking away at it and by the end of my rodeo career hopefully I can just go right into it.
“I definitely wouldn’t trade that lifestyle for the world.”
You can watch all of these ‘rodeo ranchers’ compete at the Canadian Finals Rodeo in Red Deer, Nov. 1-5, 2023.
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