Layton Green of Meeting Creek, AB, Canada, rides Robin Hood for 79.5 points. Photo by East Oregonian
In one of the most American sports, a Canadian could conceivably ride away with a trophy at one of its premiere events.
An increasing number of rodeo cowboys from the Great White North are climbing the national leaderboards and the Pendleton Round-Up features plenty of Canadian competitors.
Across the Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association’s 10 events, nine Canadians are ranked in the Top 15 — the cutoff to make the National Finals Rodeo. If they all keep their positions, it would be the most Canadians in the NFR since 1997.
Canadian cowboys tend to excel in the bronc riding events, with 156 Canadian qualifications in saddle bronc and 56 in bareback since the NFR started in 1959.
While they continue to do well in those events, their success is starting to expand into team roping, where two headers and a heeler are in the Top 15. The previous — and only — Canadian team roper to make it to the NFR was in 2007.
A handful of Canadians have had solid Round-Up weeks so far.
Clay Elliott of Nanton, Alberta, ranked ninth in the world in saddle bronc, tied for third with 82 points in Wednesday’s competition.
Unranked Alwin Bouchard of Scandia, Alberta tied for third in Wednesday’s tie down contest.
Another top Canadian, eighth ranked Layton Green of Meeting Creek, Alberta, scored a 79.5 in Thursday’s saddle bronc contest.
Although many of these Canadians are relatively new to the scene, the history of rodeo in Canada has many similarities to the Round-Up in Pendleton.
Mary-Ellen Kelm, a history professor at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia and the author of “A Wilder West: Rodeo in Western Canada,” said rodeos were first brought to Canada by Americans who migrated north.
Among the first was the Calgary Stampede, which was established in 1912 by American Guy Weadick, just two years after Til Taylor and a group of interested citizens started the Round-Up.
As the Round-Up celebrates the centennial of Nez Perce competitor Jackson Sundown’s victory in the all-around competition, it bears resemblance to the first winner in the Stampede’s bronc riding competition — Tom Three Persons of the Kainai First Nation.
Although Three Persons was celebrated among the indigenous people, Kelm said there was some white backlash.
“The good people of Calgary were not impressed by an Indian winning their rodeo competition,” she said.
Today, the Stampede is Canada’s largest rodeo in the heart of the nation’s cowboy country.
Levi Simpson of Ponoka, Alberta, the fourth-ranked header in team roping in the world, who competed in slack at the Round-Up on Thursday, said Canada has a more secluded rodeo scene.
While there are rodeos in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, Kelm said the sport is most popular in the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta.
Simpson and his partner, Jeremy Buhler of Abbotsford, British Columbia, didn’t perform well, tying their calf in 19.3 seconds after a penalty.
Even though it may never overtake hockey as Canada’s national pastime, both Simpson and his compatriot, saddle bronc rider Zeke Thurston, said the sport is growing.
Simpson pointed to Tyrel and Oren Larsen, a young pair of brothers from Manitoba who both qualified for NFR last year and are set to do it again this year.
Although they may have different passports, Thurston said there isn’t much difference between Canadian and American competitors in the arena.
“It’s kind of a brotherhood,” he said. “It’s who you’re with 90 percent of the time.”
Contact Antonio Sierra at email@example.com or 541-966-0836.