Tuf Cooper of Weatherford, Tex., works his calf in tie-down roping on Day 5 of the Calgary Stampede Rodeo in Calgary, Alta., on Tuesday, July 12, 2016. Cowboys compete for 10 days for a piece of the rodeo's $2 million in prize money. Lyle Aspinall/Postmedia Network LYLE ASPINALL
Scott Cruickshank: Banished cowboy returns to the Calgary Stampede
This is not an anniversary worth celebrating.
But it is one worth remembering.
Tuf Cooper, a year ago, became the first cowboy to be hoofed out of the Calgary Stampede. Officially, his infraction was “mistreatment of livestock.”
In this case, excessive whipping of his horse – back and forth, with the rope wrapping around and striking the animal’s belly – during the tie-down roping event.
The Stampede officials’ decision that day was unanimous. Immediate disqualification.
The Texan, three-time world champion, vamoosed with nary a peep.
Which meant that Tuesday – opening day of Pool B – represented the local press’s first crack at the dude, at the scene of the crime, yet. Reporters were informed in advance that Cooper would no-comment every query about his ejection.
Surely, though, he would welcome a platform to defend himself, right?
Not so much.
Immediately following his afternoon’s whirl – a business-like 8.6 seconds (atop a different horse than last year) – Cooper pastes on a wide smile and ambles over to meet his interrogators. Then he begins to answer questions – but not the questions being posed.
He refuses to provide insight into his unprecedented exit, into his presumably hat-in-hand return.
Which is too bad.
It would have been interesting to hear about the indignity’s aftermath. Did it keep him awake at nights? Did it change him?
It would have been interesting to hear his opinion of the punishment. Justified or unfair or otherwise?
Looking back, does he feel bad about lashing his horse?
But no. Toothy grin in place, Cooper is resolute in his guardedness.
Every utterance is a variation of the afternoon’s first remarks: “Well, you know, last year was last year. I just want to focus on this year … the positives that everyone brings here. I’m excited to be back, be here, competing in front of the best fans in rodeo on one of the biggest stages. The past is the past, and I’m excited and looking forward to the future.”
Asked if there are mixed emotions, he replies: “It’s great to be able to come back and get a cheque. It’s awesome. Yes, sir, I’m just really excited to be here.”
Asked if this is a chance for redemption, he replies: “Every cowboy here would love to win this rodeo, yes, sir.”
Asked if his side of the story needs telling, he replies: “I’m just excited to be back and competing at one of the biggest rodeos of the year.”
Asked if he’s bitter, he replies: “Absolutely not. We’re one big family, this rodeo world, and I’m so happy that I’m in this business.”
Forgivingly – appallingly some might say – the Stampede reached out to Cooper again, with open arms.
And open harnesses.
Tuesday, Cooper entered this ring – for the first time since last summer’s ouster – as one of the cowboys airlifted, via harness, into the opening ceremonies. Warm reception aside, however, no one fared better than Fred Whitfield.
The old pro – following a $5,500 payday for his 6.9-second clocking – discusses, in relatively open terms, Cooper’s transgression.
“The thing about it is, we’ve always had animal(-rights) issues,” says Whitfield, 48. “It’s unfortunate that it happened. We can’t go back and change it. We do a lot of things that we’d like to go back and change – and it’s not that way. Once it’s done, it’s done. You cannot un-do it.
“Last year is last year. I mean, it happened. I’m sure Tuf learned from it. It’s probably never going to happen to him again in Canada.”
Whitfield, as he removes his horse’s splint boots, continues to vouch for Cooper’s character.
“He’s a great young man,” he says. “He’s one of the ropin’-est guys I’ve ever seen in my life. The Stampede was nice enough to invite him back this year to give him a second chance – and he deserves that. Everybody deserves a second chance. You can’t (abandon) somebody for one thing they did in life. The world wouldn’t be the same if you did.”
To no one’s surprise, testimonials and rip-jobs rolled in last year.
The sport’s insiders had Cooper’s back.
Agent Shawn Wiese told CBC: “Tuf would never harm any animal, let alone his own horses. Tuf treats his horses like royalty.”
Added Gerald Willsie, one-time Canadian steer-wrestling champ: “I think they are trying to set an example out of him and it’s pretty severe punishment, but, you know, rodeo and sports with animals are under a lot of pressure from the public eye.”
Now, mistake made, sentence served, Cooper is being permitted to gallop back into the event’s good graces.
First day done, $1,500 tucked into his dungarees, eyes on Sunday’s jackpot, he, apparently, considers the slate clean.
“It’s a run I can build off of and keep going for the championship,” says Cooper. “It is so much fun to come here to compete on this dirt.”
Nevada steer wrestler happy with win
Dakota Eldridge of Elko, Nev., puts in the best steer-wrestling time of Day 5 of the Calgary Stampede Rodeo in Calgary, Alta., on Tuesday, July 12, 2016. Cowboys compete for 10 days for a piece of the rodeo's $2 million in prize money. Lyle Aspinall/Postmedia Network LYLE ASPINALL / LYLE ASPINALL/POSTMEDIA NETWORK
Dakota Eldridge almost likes to play in the snow as much as he does in the dirt.
Making his third trip to compete at the Calgary Stampede rodeo this year, Eldridge would love to return in the winter to pursue his off-season passions of snowmobiling, skiing and snowboarding.
“I downhill ski and snowboard a lot,” said Eldridge, who won Tuesday’s steer-wrestling competition at Stampede Park by posting an impressive time of 4.1 seconds. “Last year, I bought a brand-new snowmobile and have been snowmobiling a lot. I never have (come up here in the winter), but I’d love to. I’ve watched a bunch of snowmobiling videos from up here. That’s on my bucket list.”
As for his immediate future in Calgary, the 24-year-old bulldogger from Elko, Nev., wants to keep posting fast times during the next three days of competition in Pool B in order to qualify for Championship Sunday and a chance to take home the top prize of $100,000.
“It’s awesome,” said Eldridge of accepting Tuesday’s top day money prize of $5,500 and accompanying commemorative bronze trophy. “It kind of gets you on a good roll to win that bronze. It’s a great way, because then you just kind of keep rolling through it and just stay here all the way to the short round, hopefully.”
Casey Martin, of Sulphur, La., won $4,500 for finishing second on Tuesday with a time of 4.4 seconds, while Ty Erickson, of Helena, Mont., stopped the clock at 5.0 to place third.
Big Valley saddle-bronc rider picks up where he left off last year
eke Thurston burst onto the scene as a Calgary Stampede rookie last July.
The 21-year-old cowboy from Big Valley picked up right where he left off on the first day of Pool B rodeo action Tuesday at Stampede Park.
Thurston, who picked up a $100,000 cheque last year for winning the saddle-bronc competition on Championship Sunday, was third out of the chutes on Tuesday and posted an impressive 84.5-point ride atop Spring Planting.
“Hopefully it goes as good as last year,” said Thurston, who earned $5,500 for his efforts. “I had that horse in the final four here last year and I was 90.5 on her. You can’t ask for a better horse. She just turned out there and bucks and does her job and is honest about it. That’s what you want as a bronc rider. Luckily I stayed on.”
Thurston was well prepared for his ride thanks to some sage advice he received from his dad Skeeter, who also competed at the Stampede rodeo during his days as a saddle-bronc rider.
“It’s just stuff you learn from guys like my dad and guys that have been around and done it for a long time,” said the younger Thurston, who has enjoyed having his dad behind the chutes with him. “All the old boys have got the tricks.”
And just what sort of tricks did the Thurstons have up their sleeves prior to Zeke’s successful romp around the infield?
“We silent latched the gate, so (Spring Planting) didn’t hear the gate when it opened,” Zeke explained. “I also sat on her about two horses early. I’d been sitting on her for a while in there to kind of just let her relax and let her know that we weren’t going to go right away. Just kind of some horsemanship plays into it, but you try to make it as comfortable for them, too.”
CoBurn Bradshaw, of Milford, Utah, and Wade Sundell of Boxholm, Iowa, finished tied for second on Tuesday with identical rides of 83.5 points to pocket $4,000 each.
Thurston now has his sights set on earning enough money during the next three days of Pool B action to earn a return trip to Championship Sunday.
“It was awesome,” he said in regards to starting off with a bang at the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth. “It’s kind of my hometown as far as big rodeos go. It’s nice to be a local Alberta boy and do good.”
When he pulled into his campground around 11 p.m. on Monday, Thurston was already excited about getting the opportunity to defend his title at the Stampede.
“I drove all day from Boise,” he said. “I just got butterflies pulling in and seeing the city and the lights. You get excited. There’s something wrong if you don’t, because it’s awesome.”
But once he was in the chute, those nerves all but disappeared.
“As soon as I get on or I’m saddling up, it’s all business,” he said. “I get on 100-some broncs a year – one every day – so it’s just kind of muscle memory. It’s repetition I guess.”
Champion barrel racer sticks with winning ways
Lisa Lockhart of Oelrichs, S.D., puts in the best time in barrel racing on Day 5 of the Calgary Stampede Rodeo in Calgary, Alta., on Tuesday, July 12, 2016. Cowboys compete for 10 days for a piece of the rodeo's $2 million in prize money. Lyle Aspinall/Postmedia Network LYLE ASPINALL
Lisa Lockhart picked up right where she left off last year.
The Calgary Stampede’s 2015 barrel racing champion rode back into the arena on Tuesday and flew around the barrels for the fastest time of the day, finishing the course in only 17.61 seconds.
“I love Calgary and people have been saying about the excitement on Sunday, but it’s every day,” said Lockhart, who rode Louie on Tuesday. “Just racing and the atmosphere around here, you just know that the stakes are so high and knowing that you’ve done well before, you have some big expectations, so you just go out and do what you can do everyday, but I’m thrilled to have a win.”
With Tuesday’s victory, Lockhart collected a cool $5,500 — which will go nicely with the $100,000 she earned for winning the 2015 championship — and put herself in the driver’s seat to book a spot at Showdown Sunday.
When asked about the key to her success at the Stampede and the possibility of winning back-to-back championships, she was quick to defer credit to Louie.
“You know, just knowing I have a horse that’s capable of winning anywhere, thankfully, it gives you some confidence knowing your horse works well here and likes this place,” said Lockhart, who calls Oelrichs, S.D., home. “If I just do my job, hopefully he can do his.”
Stampede veteran gets strong start in tie-down roping Pool B
Published on: July 12, 2016 | Last Updated: July 12, 2016 5:31 PM MDT
Fred Whitfield of Hockley, Texas, puts in the fastest time of the day (6.9 sec) in tie-down roping on Day 5 of the Calgary Stampede Rodeo in Calgary, Alta., on Tuesday, July 12, 2016. Cowboys compete for 10 days for a piece of the rodeo's $2 million in prize money. Lyle Aspinall/Postmedia Network LYLE ASPINALL
By his own estimation, Fred Whitfield has roped calves at the Calgary Stampede 27 times.
You’d think that would mean that he’d seen it all before, or that the sensation of winning would begin to feel old-hat.
If you did think that, you would be wrong.
The 48-year-old from Hockley, Texas, kicked things off right on the opening day of Pool B tie-down roping competition, finishing his ride on Tuesday afternoon in only 6.9 seconds.
“It’s probably the toughest group of guys up here that I’ve been in,” Whitfield said about Pool B. “To get the first go-around win takes the pressure off you, but I’m not in to Sunday by any means. I’ve still got some roping to do, I’m just $5,500 ahead of some of the guys and they’re going to tie these calves fast.
“This is a great pen of calves, so we just have to see what we get tomorrow and plot from there.”
Whitfield has been a staple on the Calgary Stampede for almost three decades now, and there’s a reason why organizers keep inviting him back.
He’s finished Showdown Sunday by collecting the biggest cheque of the week on three separate occasions — in 1993, 2001 and 2007 — and is a fixture on the final day of competition.
But in recent years, rodeo fans have had reason to wonder if they were seeing him for the last time. Whitfield’s turning 49 this year and has begun competing on a reduced rodeo schedule, but he didn’t hesitate to accept the Stampede invitation to make the trip up to Calgary this year.
“I kind of pondered around it this year, I didn’t get the call until late and then I got the call and I said, ‘You’re dang right, as long as you call me I’ll come rope,’ ” Whitfield said. “I’m 49 years old this year and I don’t rope as much as I used to. I just try to stay in halfway-decent shape and hopefully (I’ll compete at Stampede) maybe even next year. This is my 27th year to rope at this rodeo and to be competitive, it’s just a blessing in disguise, honestly.”
The biggest blessing for Whitfield would probably be the $100,000 cheque that goes to the tie-down champion at the end of the week, but it’s way too early for him to start thinking that far ahead.
Even emerging out of Pool B and booking a spot on Showdown Sunday is a tough ask for the best cowboys on the rodeo circuit, and that’s never been more true than it is this year.
The Pool B field features a who’s-who of the best tie-down cowboys in the world, and it’s a list that includes a couple of past Stampede champions. Timber Moore won the $100,000 prize in 2015, while 2012 champion Cory Solomon and 2011 tie-town king Tuf Cooper are both also in the field.
“It’s huge, this group of guys is going to be really tough,” Whitfield said. “They’re going to tie a lot of calves fast, so to be able to come out and compete, well, I know today is the first go-around and they’re going to bounce back and it’s going to get tougher as we go.”
World champion wins on first ride since return from broken back
Steven Peebles of Redmond, Ore., rides Sourdough to the day's best score in bareback riding on Day 5 of the Calgary Stampede Rodeo in Calgary, Alta., on Tuesday, July 12, 2016. Cowboys compete for 10 days for a piece of the rodeo's $2 million in prize money. Lyle Aspinall/Postmedia Network LYLE ASPINALL / LYLE ASPINALL/POSTMEDIA NETWORK
Search Steven Peebles’ name in Google, and the results that come up read like a horror movie.
There are stories about broken backs, smashed shoulders and punctured arteries. The Redmond, Ore., cowboy has had so many brushes with death that you’ve almost got to wonder why he doesn’t just settle down and get a desk job.
On Tuesday afternoon at the Calgary Stampede, Peebles offered up a nice answer to that question, riding Sourdough to victory on Day 1 of competition in the Pool B Bareback championship.
When he’s not nursing his wounds — Peebles says he’s broken at last 30 bones in his career — the reigning NFR champion happens to be one of the very best bareback riders in the world.
“To be back this year and coming off an injury, this is my first rodeo back of the year and to be on top and be winning my first ride back, it feels pretty cool,” Peebles said. “It feels awesome, words don’t even explain how happy I am right now.”
Peebles missed last year due to a gruesome injury shortly before the Stampede was set to kick off. Riding in a rodeo in Livingston, Mont., the 26-year-old suffered broken ribs that punctured an artery and filled his chest with blood. He only barely managed to a hospital in time for doctors to save him.
He’d return to the bareback circuit later in 2015, and was riding high after winning the NFR championship and being crowned world champion.
Peebles had earned a well-deserved break and returned home to Oregon to relax.
Instead, disaster struck again.
“In February, me and my brother were out messing around in (a Polaris Ranger utility vehicle) and having a good time and he was driving, it was a freak accident,” said Peebles, who pocketed a $5,500 cheque for his win on Tuesday. “We ended up rolling it about five times and it ended up landing on me upside down and it broke my back and my shoulder and tore me up pretty good, so I was right back out on the sidelines.”
The accident forced Peebles to have shoulder surgery and stay in bed for months with a back-brace on. He’d previously broken his back at the 2014 NFR, but this time the injury took an emotional toll.
“I was really bummed, I was just coming off the biggest part of my career, had won the National Finals and won the world title and you know, I was finally just home and away from everything and just went out to have a little fun,” Peebles said. “Next thing you know I’m laying under that thing and I knew my back was broken.
“I just stood up and was more devastated and bummed than hurt, I guess.”
Peebles got an invitation to compete at the Calgary Stampede in March and, despite being bedridden, immediately accepted. There were plenty of check-ups from Stampede organizers afterwards, but Peebles was committed to recovering in time to compete.
On Tuesday, he did just that. Despite being ‘not on top of my in-shape level right now’ and not having ridden a bucking horse since his February injury, Peebles put in the most impressive ride of the day and picked up a winning score of 85.50.
North Carolina bull rider rises to the challenge
J.B. Mauney of Statesville, N.C.., rides Heaven's Basement to first in bull riding on Day 5 of the Calgary Stampede Rodeo in Calgary, Alta., on Tuesday, July 12, 2016. Cowboys compete for 10 days for a piece of the rodeo's $2 million in prize money. Lyle Aspinall/Postmedia NetworkLYLE ASPINALL / LYLE ASPINALL/POSTMEDIA NETWORK
J.B. Mauney has a simple strategy in regards to his success at the Calgary Stampede rodeo.
“Keep doing what I did today, just ride the bull I’ve got and let the chips fall where they may,” said Mauney, who scored 88 points atop Heavens Basement to win the top prize of $5,500 on Tuesday during the opening day of Pool B action.
The 29-year-old bull rider from Statesville, N.C., has taken home the winner’s cheque for $100,000 at the Stampede on two occasions – in 2009 and again in 2013.
While many of his rivals like to gather as much intel as they can in advance of getting on their bulls, Mauney prefers to just go out and do his thing.
“I had a really good bull,” said Mauney in regards to his matchup with Heavens Basement. “I didn’t know anything about him and didn’t really ask around. I’m better off not knowing what they do. I ride better when I don’t think about it.”
That laid-back attitude seems to be working out just fine for Mauney, who made it to the finals of the Stampede’s signature rodeo event last year, but was bucked off and had to settling for finishing in a tie for second (and a respectable $20,000 payday) with Aaron Roy, of Yellow Grass, Sask., behind eventual winner Sage Kimzey, of Strong City, Okla.
Mauney earned a measure of redemption on Tuesday by edging out Kimzey for top day money. Kimzey placed second thanks to a respectable 86-point ride aboard Crooked Nose.
“Sage is good bull rider,” Mauney said. “I’ve been watching him for a while now. He’s going to be around for a lot longer than I’ll be around. Any time you’re matched up against guys like that, it makes you pull out all the stops and let it all hang out. It makes you really step your game up.”
Following the completion of Tuesday’s rodeo, the winners of all six events were invited up to the grandstand stage to accept commemorative bronze trophies in front of the crowd of appreciative fans.
After accepting his bronze, Mauney also received a pat on the chest from Stampede veteran Fred Whitfield, who won the tie-down roping competition.
“Any time you’re up there with people like that, it’s very cool,” said Mauney, who would like nothing more than to qualify for Championship Sunday and ultimately win his third Calgary Stampede bull-riding title. “I’m good friends with Fred. It’s pretty good when he won up there and I won, too. It felt pretty good. I hope, come Sunday, we’re both up there like that.”
Currently ranked second in the Professional Bull Riders world standings, Mauney had glowing praise for Calgary’s world-renowned rodeo.
“I’ll come back every year they invite me to the Calgary Stampede,” he said. “It’s the greatest rodeo I’ve ever been to. The committee here takes really good care of us and I get to see guys that I don’t normally get to see. You get to see the best cowboys and cowgirls in each event.”