Mike Lee’s trademark celebration after riding the bull for eight seconds is to run around the ring.
It’s more of a jog at the Calgary Stampede with the infield’s size.
But the victory lap is worth it all the more when you score 87 and pocket the $5,500 top go-round money to kick off the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, as Lee did Friday aboard Moe, a Calgary Stampede Ranch beast.
“This is one of the biggest ones that I run,” Lee said after having had time to catch his breath. “There’s a couple more that are big, but this one’s probably the biggest, yep.”
Lee has had his share of celebratory jaunts in Calgary, the biggest coming in 2008 when he won the championship.
And he’s already on a roll this year, tuning up for the event by winning the second night of the Ranchman’s Renegades Charity Bullbustin’ on Wednesday.
“It’s relaxing and it’s easier to ride bulls for me here,” said the rider from Forth Worth, Texas. “I ride better outdoors. You get to see more of God’s country.”
Aaron Roy, of Yellow Grass, Sask., finished second on the day by posting an 85 score on Shots Fired to win $4,500, while Black Diamond’s Tyler Thomson carded 83 on El Hombre and won $3,500.
Dakota Buttar, of Kindersley, Sask., pocketed $2,500 for his fourth-place score of 82.5 on Shakedown, and Chad Besplug, of Claresholm, was given 82 points after riding Teen Spirit and won $1,500.
While the mercury pushed the 30C mark, it didn’t affect the stock. Or the riders, apparently.
“I was born in Texas, so it don’t bother me, but those bulls buck better. But when it’s cold and raining, they buck good, too,” Lee said with a grin. “He was pretty muscled up that little yellow bull. He looked pretty athletic so I figured he could buck.
“It felt real slippery and was hard to get a hold of, but he backed up a lot so I had to stay real small. I just stayed there until the whistle blew and then celebrated for the fans.”
The way things are going for Lee these days, expect more celebrations. He’s feeling confident, and that’s a good sign for any athlete.
“Anxiety and fear is the opposite of faith. I just choose not to believe it,” Lee said. “I choose not to doubt and choose not to have any fear, just turn it into faith. There’s no sense being afraid of life, you might as well embrace it and look it straight in the eyes.
“It’s not easy making a living riding bulls, but God gave me the talent to do it. I’m truly blessed because there’s a lot of people wanting to do this for a living.”
-- Randy Sportak
Being a winner at the Calgary Stampede is nothing new for Jim Berry.
Well, except for actually winning in his event.
Berry, the saddle-bronc rider from Rocky Mountain House, finally changed that in Friday’s opening day of Pool A competition at the rodeo.
Berry took advantage of a re-ride on Maiden Chick to score 85 and matched the standard set by two-time Calgary Stampede champ — and two-time world champion — Cody Wright, the star from Milford, Utah.
“I’ve been second a couple times. To split the go-around with Cody is pretty unbelievable,” said the affable Berry as he looked forward to earning a bronze statue and $5,000 in day money.
“The open bronc riding is the only thing that’s eluded me here. I’ve won the wild horse race, the novice saddle bronc, I got lucky enough to win the Guy Weadick here one time. This is the only thing I’ve got left to do.”
Well, maybe not the only thing. After all, there’s that matter of reaching the finale and putting a $100,000 cheque in the pocket of his Wranglers.
“Yeah, any time they’re writing cheques it’s a good thing. Whether they’re big or little, I’ll take them,” Berry said with his trademark wide-as-the-open-spaces grin.
“Hopefully there’s a couple more this week and hopefully there’s another next weekend.”
Berry wasn’t the only bronc rider with a smile.
In fact, Wright had a couple of reasons to relish the start of this year’s stampede. His 19-year-old son, Rusty, is here competing in the open competition for the first time in his career, just a couple of years after winning the novice title.
Being around a young’un has to keep you young, right?
“I hope so, as long as those horses don’t jerk me apart,” said Cody, 38. “Their enthusiasm helps me to get up and be happier every day.
“It is refreshing. There’s something about it when you’re a young bronc rider. From the time you enter the rodeo, to wishing what you’re gonna have drawn, to getting the draw then what you’re gonna do, it’s new to them. I still remember how fun it was. I’d enter and I just couldn’t wait to see what I had. Then I couldn’t wait to get on it. Now, it’s kinda — not old hat — but I don’t think I’m anticipating as much as I used to.”
Yeah, but the elder Wright, whose family is synonymous with saddle bronc, still keeps winning.
“It’s good to come and get on good horses,” said the competitor who’s back on his game following shoulder surgery. “Good horses make you feel like you’re young again, even if you’re not.”
-- Randy Sportak
Fallon Taylor and her prized mare, Babyflo, blazed around the barrels Friday at Stampede Park.
Believe it or not, the bubbly cowgirl from Collinsville, Texas, might have been moving even faster as she headed to the stage to collect her shiny prize.
“I told myself to go ahead and win this first round because I’ve got a place in my trailer I cleaned for that bronze,” Taylor said with a grin. “I wanted to set it in my trailer soooooo bad, so I did that. I accomplished that.”
Taylor set a sizzling pace in Friday’s afternoon show at the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, completing the cloverleaf pattern in 17.65 seconds and collecting the $5,500 first-place payout.
And with three more days of barrel-racing action in Pool A, the 32-year-old assured she has space for more hardware in her home-on-the-road.
“I told the border agent if I win the big cheque, it’s going on the front of the trailer so he’ll know which one is me,” Taylor said. “Not that the tie-dyed horse-trailer won’t give it away.”
Known for her flashy outfits, it’s usually pretty easy to pick the former runway model out of a crowd.
Fans in Calgary might have also noticed Friday she’s added a new item to her ensemble, becoming the biggest name in barrel-racing to don a helmet.
Taylor suffered a serious spinal injury and fractured her skull in four places during a training accident in 2009, but it wasn’t until the third round of the National Finals Rodeo last December in Las Vegas that she replaced her cowboy hat with a protective lid.
“I knew I wanted to wear a helmet to promote safety and when I did the very first time, I felt how, I guess, liberating it was. I didn’t know that my head injury had played that big a part in my confidence,” Taylor said. “I’m still a cowgirl. I still believe in the tradition of a hat. But for me, and for a lot of people I know, (wearing a helmet) feels good. I can hear more, I can see more and I don’t fidget with it, so I feel like it’s a huge advantage for me personally.
“There’s been a tidal wave of really good, good, good feedback from parents and families,” she added. “A huge number of bullies have come out to kind of attack me, which is so much fun because it takes a lot of heat off those kids coming up that either their association rules say that they have to wear a helmet or their parents want them to wear a helmet or they’re just doing it for safety.
“I’m catching that flak, which is my goal.”
-- Wes Gilbertson
From the sky to the stage at Stampede Park ... and with very little time to kick off his boots in between.
Hunter Herrin technically earned $5,000 for only seven seconds of work Friday, but it was hardly an easy day at the office for the talented tie-down roper from Apache, Okla., one of a handful of rodeo contestants to arrive on an early- morning charter from St. Paul, Ore.
“We got on a flight this morning at 6 a.m., got here at 11:30, got to the grounds at 12, showered up, saddled and here we are again — roping,” Herrin said matter-of-factly.
It’s tiring just to think about, but Herrin showed no signs of fatigue in the opening go-round of roping action at the Calgary Stampede, finishing his assignment in 7.0 seconds and splitting the top pay-slot with another Oklahoma cowboy — Comanche’s Ryan Jarrett.
“Once you get out in front of people like this and you’re roping for this type of money, it doesn’t matter — you’re focused, you’re dialled in and you’re ready,” Herrin shrugged. “Everything else is going to take care of itself.”
Jarrett can usually take care of some bills in Calgary. He was crowned the Stampede champ in 2009 and set an arena record the following summer with a 6.3-second clocking, a mark that still stands.
So it’s really no surprise he’s off to another solid start.
“I just feel comfortable. I really do,” Jarrett said. “I enjoy coming here and getting to hang out for four days and not ripping up and down the road ... It’s always good to feel relaxed and enjoy yourself.”
-- Wes Gilbertson
The horse’s name is City Sites.
With how high the beast jumped in the infield during Friday’s bareback action at the Calgary Stampede, Jake Vold must have had a great view of the city sites from over the rest of the grounds.
“I can tell he’s got lots of timing, so that definitely means he’s getting in the air,” said Vold, the pride of Ponoka and now Airdrie resident. “Other than that, it’s just an electric feeling and that makes a guy look good.”
Good as in a score of 89, which has Vold in line to win the opening go-round top prize ($5,500) pending how Ty Taypotat fares in a re-ride Saturday.
Not bad for a horse Vold admitted he didn’t know much about.
“I’d seen him at Sundre with Jessy Davis and he got a good cheque on him there,” Vold said. “I just went with it.
“I was pretty ticked off the other night from Ponoka and kinda cooled down, got grounded a little more and tried to make a good solid ride. Going through the middle there, it felt pretty wicked.”
Oh yeah, Ponoka. After dominating the bareback competition through the first 12 rounds of this week’s Ponoka Stampede, Vold’s buckle hopes ended in the showdown round when he was bucked off by Special Delivery, son of Grated Coconut.
Vold had ridden Special Delivery the other couple of times they were paired, so …
“I figured he just owed me one anyways. Hopefully, I’ll draw him again here later this week,” said the cowboy who became engaged this spring. “He’s awesome, he’s one of the best. He’s won Canada, goes to the NFR every year. It’s a humbling experience, but that’s rodeo, it’s a roller-coaster ride. This spring was pretty slow for me but these last few weeks for me have been picking up again.”
-- Randy Sportak
Tanner Milan started with a bang.
Then he held his breath.
Milan was the first guy to saddle up for Friday’s steer-wrestling session at the Calgary Stampede, but after finishing his business in 3.6 seconds, the broad-shouldered cowboy from Cochrane worried his speedy run would only spur on his bulldoggin’ buddies.
“I don’t count my chickens ‘til she’s done,” Milan said. “I think it gets everyone going. Nobody backs off. They take a better start at the barrier ... It just seems when the first few guys out make good runs, it kind of carries on with everyone else and gets everyone else going.”
Turns out, nobody was able to get going this fast, with Milan collecting a shiny bronze and tucking $5,500 in his jeans.
“That was excellent,” Milan said. “Can’t ask for a better way to start off Day 1 of Stampede.”
Bulldogging has been a family affair for the Milans.
Murry earned several invites to the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, while his three sons — Baillie, Tanner and Straws — have also spiked steers at Stampede Park. In fact, Straws won the top prize in 2011.
Tanner is already a two-time national champion, but winning a Stampede bronze is something the 31-year-old has been dreaming about since he was a wee lad.
“It’s just one of the best rodeos in the world,” Milan said. “You don’t get much better than the Calgary Stampede.
“It’d damn sure be a big checkmark off my bucket list to win this.”
-- Wes Gilbertson