They’ve already started handing out the cash on the rodeo trail, and a central Alberta cowboy has been lining up regularly for his share.
Jim Berry is one of the most consistent saddle bronc riders in the rodeo world today. He’s been to the Canadian Finals Rodeo in Edmonton eight times. And the 34-year-old has already made a good start towards qualifying for this November’s event, with $3500 already in the bank.
It all started for the Rocky Mountain House cowboy when he dusted off his saddle and managed to win the very first pro rodeo of the year, in Medicine Hat in March. He did that despite being injured.
“I hurt a knee practicing, so I wasn’t a hundred per cent. The horse got a lot of the points,” said Berry.
You could say the horse owed him anyway, since he and Berry had been matched up the year before, and the horse had bucked him off.
It took several more rodeos this spring before Berry had a true test of his knee, finding, to his relief, it was healed and back in prime working shape. He placed next in both Drayton Valley and Stavely before heading west on the long weekend. There, he tied for second place in Falkland. But it was the next stop that netted him his biggest individual payday ever.
Berry was one of the cowboys invited to Cloverdale, which is now an invitational rodeo instead of being part of the Canadian pro circuit. The lineup only features barrel racing and the riding events. Berry, and his traveling partner Lane Cust of Bluffton, both managed to put together two good rides in their pool, to qualify for the Finals. There Berry had to nod his head on a relatively unknown horse owned by the Flying 5 Rodeo company, called Spring Tunes.
“It sucked being the first guy out,” admitted Berry. “I had to sit and watch everybody else.”
Despite his 87.5 point mark, given the caliber of the cowboys and the horses following him, Berry was just hoping he’d still wind up with a decent cheque.
But rodeo isn’t always predictable, and as rider after rider fell off, Berry’s earning hopes kept climbing. When champions Dustin Flundra and Cody DeMoss both hit the ground early, the deal was sealed, and Berry won his first Cloverdale championship.
“Those are a couple of tough guys who don’t buck off very much.”
“That meant only three of us rode, so that meant Lane was getting a good cheque, and I was getting a really good cheque, and a set of spurs I’d wanted for a long time,” smiled Berry.
While the ceremonial cheque showed $20,000 for first, organizers also paid ground money, so his total take-home pay from Cloverdale was closer to $26,000. It marked the veteran’s biggest single rodeo weekend, outside of the Calgary Stampede and the CFR. While Cloverdale doesn’t count towards his Canadian standings, it will spend well, and Berry has it earmarked for business, rodeo and a little fun.
Then this past weekend, the journey was north to Grande Prairie, where Berry placed yet again, to keep him in the top end of the bronc riding race, where he’s keeping company with the likes of Flundra and Sam Kelts.
“It’s good to see us old guys still being able to win good cheques in Canada,” he chuckled. “Because there’s a bunch of young wolves coming from Canada, and within a couple of years there will be no more (money) for us! Pretty soon they’re going to start having the lion’s share of it.”
As Berry’s own two youngsters get busy with their mutton busting careers, he knows the time will come when his priorities change.
“I really enjoy rodeo. It’s my kind of getaway. I’ll rodeo as long as I can, and am competitive, and having fun.”
The only glitch in this rosy picture right now is the fact Berry won’t be able to ride in front of his hometown crowd. The Rocky Pro Rodeo, which usually runs this weekend, has been cancelled this year.
“It was a tough decision, and we talked about it and we talked about it,” explained Rocky Rodeo Chair Lance Strom. “But when it looked like we couldn’t make it go, we had to make a decision. It’s no one’s fault. It’s just the way it is.”
Alberta’s stressed oil economy is evident in a resource dependent community like Rocky, and the level of business sponsorship to support the rodeo just couldn’t be found this year. The encouraging news is the pony chuckwagon races, parade and midway activities are all still going ahead.
“I was disappointed,” said Berry. “But it might be really good for the community to see what the rodeo did bring in, and maybe some of the smaller businesses will (get involved). Maybe we should rally around this thing and support it.”
That’s exactly the message from Strom.
“We’ve cancelled the rodeo just for his year,” he insisted. “How can people help? Come out and support what is happening this year.”
The pony chuckwagon races start Wednesday night at 6:30. That’s also the running time Thursday, then they start at 6:00 pm Friday and Saturday, with the finals Sunday at 4:00 pm. Entertainment runs nightly, with the midway opening Friday, and the parade Saturday morning. The local drill team and mutton bustin are part of the program.
But the Rocky committee, which has overcome plenty of challenges in the past with its rodeo event and facilities, still has an eye to the future. It’s putting a hundred percent of the admissions from Wednesday and Thursday nights towards its Raise the Roof fund, a campaign that hopes to earn enough to eventually cover the Rocky grandstand.
Also on the calendar this week, the Innisfail Bucking Stock Sale has been revived by Kyle Daines. It goes tomorrow (May 31st) with the animals to be bucked at the Daines Rodeo Grounds starting at 1:00 pm. There’s a dinner at 5:30, followed by the sale.
Other local winners from the weekend’s Grande Prairie Stompede included: Ponoka’s Luke Butterfield, who won the saddle bronc riding ($2989) with an 85.5; Cody Cassidy of Donalda in the steer wrestling ($2826) in 3.4 seconds; and Lacombe’s Cranna Roberts in the barrel racing ($3448) in 16.026 seconds.
This weekend is the Wildwood Bronc Bustin, the Leduc Blackgold Rodeo, and the 100th edition of the Hand Hills Lake Stampede.