Not only did 22-year-old Diquita Cardinal stick to the saddle for a full eight seconds during this ride in Nanton, but she did so one-handed. As a Ranch Bronc rider, she was able to have two hand holds during her ride, but the horse pulled the reins out of her hand and she completed the ride with one arm in the air. /COURTESY JD PHOTOS BY CYNDA DIDIER

By Andrea Arnold

Diquita Cardinal has grown up around horses on her family ranch in Tete Jaune, but the idea to get on a bucking bronc was not one that she entertained—until this past summer.

The 22-year-old has been riding horses since before she was born.

“I think I was about 10 before I really got on a horse to ride alone,” she said.

Cardinal started training horses when she was eight years old.  She started with a pony. By the age of 10, she had graduated to a full-sized horse. As she grew up she knew she wanted to be her own boss and her draw to horses led her to found her business Diquita Cardinal Horse Training, where she buys, trains and sells horses.

As a trainer and rider who gets on colts at varied stages of training, Cardinal admits to wondering what it would feel like to get thrown, but hadn’t had an opportunity to find out.

This past summer that changed. While attending a private exhibition convention rodeo in Kananaskis, Alberta, she seized an unexpected opportunity to ride in the Ranch Bronc division.

Ranch Broncs differ from traditional bronc events in that riders sit in a regular saddle and are allowed to have two holds—the reins and either a rope or a nightlatch, a device attached to the saddle to provide a hold to help them stay seated in the saddle. Cardinal prefers the rope as that is what she is used to using while training her colts. Often the saddles will have bigger swells and the stirrups will be located further forward along the horses side. Riders can also use bronc spurs. In the past, regular breed bucking horses were used for the event, but there is a switch in progress, and more often, Ranch bronc specific horses are being used. These horses buck with less predictability, and less rhythm.

Cardinal rode the first horse for about six to seven seconds, just shy of the eight second ride requirement, before she was sent soaring through the air. 

“I didn’t plan on getting on another one,” said Cardinal. “But, when I was bucked off at six-seven seconds it really bugged me. I thought to myself, I can do this. I had no idea what I was getting into.”

Diquita Cardinal didn’t quite make the required eight seconds on this ride before being ragdolled into the air. She claims being thrown doesn’t hurt in the moment. /COURTESY MARY DURANT PHOTOGRAPHY

In the Woman’s Ranch Broncs event at the Ponoka rodeo she was persuaded by Canadian director of the Women’s Ranch Bronc Association, Pearl Kersey to give it a go. She quickly discovered the horses were bigger, stronger and ranker, and she was bucked off right away. 

“I decided that if I was really going to give this my full attempt, I needed to learn some skills,” she said. “I signed up for a few smaller exhibition type events.”

At another small event in Kananaskis, on her fifth ride attempt, she successfully completed the full eight second ride.

Ranch Bronc was started through small ranch rodeos. It was an opportunity for ranch hands to compete with a focus on stockmanship. This year, due to complications caused by COVID, many of the regulars that attend the big rodeos were unable to compete. The number of riders in both saddle bronc and bareback events was limited, so in many cases the empty spots were filled with Ranch Bronc.

Cardinal hadn’t set out to compete, but she did enjoy it. Surprisingly, she says that getting tossed and even the impact of the ground doesn’t hurt because of the amount of adrenaline coursing through a rider’s body.  

“I got kicked, but I don’t actually remember any pain,” she said. “However, the next day, that is when you feel the soreness.” 

The experience of riding each horse was a rush for Cardinal. She says she was never really scared of what could happen. As she started her very first ride she said she wasn’t nervous at all. However, as she prepared for each consecutive ride following that first one, she became more and more nervous. 

“I was building a healthy respect for the horse’s strength,” she said. 

She may compete again next year, but she hasn’t yet decided. She holds a 50 per cent success rate on her rides, completing eight seconds on 10 out of 20 attempts. She sees a lot of value in the experience as she is now more confident and relaxed as she mounts her colts during the training process. 

“When the rider/trainer is more relaxed, the horse is more relaxed,” she said. “I wanted to gain the experience of being thrown from a horse in case I got thrown while I was training a colt, but now it seems less likely.”

Cardinal is now headed to work at a facility in Arizona for the winter where she will continue to train and eventually sell some of the horses she has started working with. 

Cardinal continues to live her dream, to run her own business and be able to work with her favourite animal.