The Canoe Mountain Rodeo Association hosted another High School Rodeo on May 25th and 26th.

I spoke with Rachel Kerr, Student president of the BC High School Rodeo Association (South) after her barrel run on Sunday, May 26, at the Canoe Mountain Rodeo Grounds. Rachel is in Grade 11, so she won’t be in the group grad photo taken later in the day. It’s her first year being student president, and she would love to run again, if someone nominates her, because she has learned so much this year. “It’s a big job” she told me, “but I really enjoy it.”

Actually, even being involved in the Rodeo is a big job. Rachel tells me it’s a busy schedule – they are away every weekend from April to June, and they miss school every Friday because they are traveling. But she explains that they have to keep their grades up, because they have to have their principal sign their entry forms for each day of competition, and they have to submit their marks to the BCHRA as well.

The High School Rodeo season actually starts with the school year, and September and October were filled with weekend events as well. At Finals, this weekend in Quesnel, the students compete for prizes and scholarships, and the top competitors in each event can go to the National Finals in the US in July, and the Canadian Finals in Manitoba in August. Rachel told me that the Nationals last year in Rock Springs, Wyoming is the biggest youth event in the world, with participants from Canada, the US and Australia.

And if you think that a weekend away is all fun, you don’t know these kids. Not only do they work every day looking after their animals and keeping their grades up, they also help with the competitions. Girls running the barrel racing and pole bending were helping place the barrels and poles after or before their run; contestants and younger siblings help herd the cattle; one competitor brings her own goats along with her horses, and rents them to the competition – she earns enough to cover her entry fees, and the goats get to hang out eating fresh grass under the bleachers (and be fed more grass by young spectators).

I spoke with Jason Churchill, the president of the BCHSRA (South), who explained to me just how much of a family event the rodeo is. He says they love coming to Valemount, because they can stretch out around the rodeo grounds, and because the people are so friendly. He says the parents help out with the competitions because they “realize that economic times aren’t good, it’s hard to get volunteers, and we know the animals.” They spend every weekend doing this, and they bring the whole family along. I watched about 40 people help to raise the parachute canvas roof so the families could have a potluck dinner on Saturday night, and Rachel told me that after the dinner, they had an impromptu “iPod dance” – they hooked up an iPod to some speakers and rocked out to some old country favorites.

Rachel said that people often ask her if she is worried about hurting the animals, like the goats they tie up and the young cows they wrestle, but they have strict rules about not hurting the animals. I asked if she got nervous. “I only get nervous for my horse, because I don’t want to let him down.” When I asked how she did in the barrel race, she said she doesn’t really pay attention to her times, “because you are really racing against yourself, you are not worrying about what other people are doing.”

The other amazing thing I noticed is that in every event, for every run, kids and parents are cheering for each other, shouting encouragement, lending support. When an unfortunate accident occurred with one of the horses resting near the trailers, they stopped the events to see if they could help. The girl who lost her horse ran her last event on someone else’s horse, after a moment of silence, and the Canoe Mountain Rodeo Association is erecting a memorial. This is definitely a close community, a big family really.

There are no competitors from Valemount in the BCHSR this year (Kelsey Griffin graduated last year) but about 60 contestants made the journey from as far away as Langley, Williams Lake, Houston, Fort St James and Kelowna for their last chance to earn points towards finals. Lots of locals came to enjoy the free admission and great action, and the rain mostly held off. And there were some spectators who just happened to see the excitement, and decided to stay in Valemount for the weekend.

By: Korie Marshall