Twenty years ago, volunteers with the Columbia Valley Rockies buckled their biggest belts and prepared for a wild ride.
The directors “swallowed hard” said Al Miller – one of the original organizers who is still in the metaphorical saddle – when they decided to invest in bringing a rodeo to town.
“I think we all thought it was exciting and would be a nifty idea,” he said.
But the decision to spend so much money – $30,000 at the time – in hopes of raising funds for the hockey team took guts because the directors were there to raise money, not spend it.
“It was an expensive plan. It cost a lot of money to put this event on,” Mr. Miller said.
Even so, another long-time volunteer, Greg Gieger, said the directors were confident the event would be worth the investment.
“We just didn’t know how good it was going to go,” he said. “It has ballooned ever since.”
Last year the event brought 2,300 people together.
“This is the biggest event in the Columbia Valley all year,” said Mr. Miller, who also serves as one of Invermere’s councillors.
The top 30 riders with World Professional Bullriding are invited to put on a show and to do their best to stay on their bucking bulls.
While most of the bull riders come from Western Canada, others come to the Rockies’ rodeo from around the world.
“They’re not really cowboys. They’re extreme athletes,” Mr. Gieger said.
Mr. Miller agreed. “It’s an extreme sport,” he said. “You can see (the riders) behind the chutes. Their faces are just focused. They get a dance going and then they climb on. They’re in a zone.”
Mr. Miller doesn’t think any participants have been seriously injured but there have been some close calls and “a broken bone or two over the years.”
“Some guys get stomped by the bulls,” he said. “Lots of them get scratched up pretty good.”
Mr. Gieger recalled a rider getting gored.
“After he got bucked off, the bull hooked him with his horn (in the rider’s rear end),” he said. The rider went to the hospital in an ambulance but “he and a buddy headed off to the next rodeo that night.”
Mr. Miller said that everybody involved in the event – from the riders to the contractor who brings the bulls to the team in the ring to protect the riders – are extremely professional and safety minded.
He also said the bulls are treated more like royalty than cattle.
“They are fed well, exercised well and babied,” he said. “It’s the riders that lose every time.”
The Mexican Poker players may also lose big. Four brave souls sign a waiver and then sit down to a game in the arena before a bull is unleashed on them. Gored or intact, whoever stays calmly seated the longest is the winner.
Despite 20 years with the rodeo, Mr. Miller has no interest in facing a bull himself.
“I don’t need to add any additional pain to my body,” he said with a laugh.
The rodeo will include a dinner, a dance, plenty of bull-riding spectacles and an opportunity for amateurs to face off against a mechanical bull.
“It’s a lively atmosphere. It’s a big social,” Mr. Miller said. “People come dressed in their finest Western duds.”
“You get the dust and the dirt and the sunshine,” Mr. Gieger added.
The first event 20 years ago lassoed around $5,000 in profits for the Rockies. Last year the bulls helped the hockey club raise around $35,000.
Mr. Miller said he’s pleased that the proceeds help “to keep (the Rockies) on the ice and the team rolling and on the road.”
The 20th anniversary event leaves Mr. Miller reminiscing of a time gone by. The event is being held as a memorial for his friend Bill McIntosh who first proposed bringing bulls to town.
“Bill was a dreamer. He was a true entrepreneur. He was always looking for ways (to bring his ideas to life),” Mr. Miller said.
Mr. McIntosh’s legacy will continue at the event on Saturday, July 20th as he thundering hooves he once imagined sprint into the arena again, sending dust and riders flying.