My right knee dug into the soft dirt of the open air arena as my toes ground the dirt inside my shoes. With clouds passing intermittently overhead my dollar store hat was doing a great job of keeping the sunlight from my hot burned face. Everything outside of the small radius of shade made by my cowboy hat was warm. My nose was sore from being mashed against my camera but I ignored it. My attention was fixed on the gate. Advertisements flickered in the background as my camera swayed. Seagulls called from the blue sky.
BANG! The gate flew open and a white ball of wool came barreling out with its passenger hanging on for dear life. The crowd roared in excitement. These people were cheering on the small child clinging to the sheep’s back.
Welcome to the Brooks Kinsmen Little Britches Rodeo—the children’s version of the Pro Rodeo.
The rodeo in Brooks, Alberta has been running annually for 53 years. It recently moved to a new location just outside of town so people were still getting used to the new surroundings.
Each year the rodeo is accompanied by a parade, a carnival, the Pro Rodeo and the Little Britches Rodeo. It is a major summer event for the small city and almost everyone turns out for it—cowboy or not.
The County of Newell—the name for Brooks and its surrounding area—is a largely agricultural place.
To give you an idea: my small school, located in a little town called Duchess, went from grade one to twelve. On a normal day there was about 450 to 500 students attending. When the buses didn’t run due to snow or fog that count went down to 20 to 40 students. Brooks has its own schools and there is one other rural school in Rosemary, another small town nearby.
So we have many, many cowboys and cowgirls. In fact we are quite proud of our western heritage. I’ll stop talking and let you see for yourself some of the traditions that grew from our Alberta cowboy history.
To start off rodeo queens welcomed the crowd and the 2012 Little Britches Queen waved goodbye. Soon after a new queen was named for 2013.
Rodeo queens travel along the rodeo circuit and help out with the events when they are not fulfilling their queenly duty of interacting with thrilled little girls and the public. Think of them as rodeo diplomats. Not just anyone can be a rodeo queen—she has to be able to round-up cattle, stand out in the arena all day under a hot sun, and look good doing it.
As soon as the new Little Britches Rodeo Queen was named a team of riders came out and performed a complex set of patterns in what is called the Grand Entry. While they performed to their music they bore the flags of major sponsors, Alberta, Canada, America and the Rodeo Association. Pardon the quality of the example from 2008 but it shows you some of the patterns they did.
Then the rodeo moved on to barrel racing. Barrel racing is where riders must race around three barrels in a clover leaf pattern. With three age categories—four to six, eight to 10 and 11 to 14—the speeds vary for each competition. Here’s an example of an 8 to 10 category rider from the 2010 Brooks Rodeo.
If a barrel is knocked down precious seconds are added to a rider’s time and they move down in the rankings.
The ever amusing, or appalling, chicken chase came next in the selection of events. Here pheasants are released into the arena and kids chase after them and catch them in butterfly nets.
The poor birds had no idea what was coming till they were almost being mowed down by a pack of kids. Here, see what happens in action. It’s still as crazy as back in 2010.
Over 80 kids under age six participated in this event according to the program. Here are some eyeing the birds from the gates.
Next things stepped up a notch with an event I remember participating in myself in my childhood.
The famed Mutton Bustin’ and Ram Bustin’ events.These two are where kids test their sheep riding skills and have a chance to win some buckles and ribbons.
For most children this is a purely once-a-year ride.
Sometimes an adult hurried alongside hoping to keep their gleeful kid from hitting the dirt.
But most of the time the kids rode it out alone with rather dusty results.
And of course there were a few who delighted in attempting the side saddle.
It was funny to see these youngsters go zipping by riding the sheep sideways. They’d hold on for at least half a minute before they fell to the ground.
The Greased Pig Chase, a lot like the chicken chase, featured a long line of kids just itching for the chase. Oh, and their hands are covered in grease to give the pigs a fighting chance.
The pigs, after seeing what happened to the pheasants, protested their entry into the arena but once they were dropped in and herded to the far end and the horn blared, the kids came running.
The children each had a different method of bringing the pig to the winner’s circle. Here’s a video from Jamestown ND since I couldn’t find one from Brooks. But it definitely encompasses the scrambling confusion of what happened on June 8th.
After hauling the pigs in, the rodeo took a break from working with farm animals and called in the Boot Scramble event. Here the kids line up and pull their boots from their feet. Standing in the dirt with nothing but their socks or bare feet they turn away from the rodeo queens carrying their shoes to the other end of the arena.
With gusto the queens toss the shoes in every direction and step away from the now scattered boots.
With the blast of the horn the kids whip around and dash across searching for their shoes.
Once they’d spotted them they yank the shoes on and run as fast as they can back to the line.
After this chaotic event a trick rider, Cassie Horner, took a turn around the rodeo arena.
Of course the Little Britches Rodeo turned back to assisting animals to the finishing circle quickly.
The Wild Ram Race for kids aged six to nine is started with kids hanging on a rope attached to the ram inside the gate.
As soon as the gate swings open they try to get the ram under control so they can wrestle a rider onto it. Then they try to get the ram to the finish line.
And a quick upgrade to a larger farm animal brought the audience to the Calf Scramble event. Same idea with more resistance.
And the finale to a whole afternoon of youngster rodeo?
A sack race. In feed bags. ‘Cause that’s how we hop.