The rodeo tradition originated in Latin America, when Hispanic herdsmen commonly referred to as Vaqueros, progressively began to travel northward. As colonists and merchants began trading and exchanging goods, English and Spanish culture and traditions converged. Gradually, North American farmers began to adopt the Vaqueros' farming methods and techniques, developing the cowboy heritage. At the end of the working day, cowboys would often participate in unofficial events to distinguish the best riders and ropers.
Over time, training and riding horses and herding and roping cattle became recreational activities. Arenas and competition areas were formed by pulling numerous wagons in a circle and by herding livestock from local ranches. Some competitions included mountain and flat land horse riding, and for children, sheep riding events.
There were also specific competitions for women and mixed teams including rescue races, goat decorating, and relay races. Women usually participated in barrel racing, breakaway roping, goat tying, and trick roping. Men would compete in events such as saddle bronc riding, bareback bronc riding, bull riding, steer wrestling (also known as bulldogging), tie-down roping (also known as calf roping), team roping, wild horse riding, wild cow milking, and chuckwagon racing.
Cowboys began to travel to bordering towns and communities to compete, while the prestigious ranchers received contracts to provide the best animals for the competitions. Therefore, rodeo slowly began the transition from an unofficial event to an organized sport. The first documented official rodeos took place in the United States, in cities like Cheyenne in, Wyoming, Prescott in, Arizona, and Pecos in, Texas.
In these competitions, trophies and awards were allocated to the winners for the first time in rodeo history. It was not until around the 1900s that word of these spectacular events began to reach ranches in the prairies of Alberta.
Rodeo events began to captivate communities in Alberta when Raymond Knight sponsored and organized the Raymond Stampede, in Raymond, Alberta in 1902. Knight also introduced the first bronc riding chute at this time. The following year, the Raymond Stampede was the first Canadian rodeo to institute entrance fees, awards, official contest regulations, and a fixed rodeo arena.
In 1912, Guy Weadick and the "Big Four" investors -- Archibald J. McLean, Patrick Burns, A. E. Crossand, and George Lane -- created the first Canadian rodeo eventually to be recognized internationally, which is of course the Calgary Stampede. The city of Calgary constructed a mobile rodeo arena and over 100,000 spectators, including Princess Patricia of Connaught and her father the Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, attended the six day event. Hundreds of cowboys from across Mexico, the United States and, western Canada competed for twenty thousand dollars in prizes. Tom Three Persons of the Kainai First Nation won the bronc riding competition, after riding a horse that no other cowboy was able to ride.
The popularity of Canadian rodeo diminished somewhat in 1913, due to onset of the First World War. The Calgary Stampede was cancelled but prominent Canadian cowboys continued to participate in competitions throughout the United States. Between 1914 and 1918, there were no major rodeo events in Alberta, although some communities still held informal local tournaments.
In 1916, John W. Bascom and his sons Earl, Mel, and Raymond designed and manufactured a side-delivery bucking chute for their local rodeo in Welling, Alberta in order to improve the safety of bronc events. The 1919 Victory Stampede in Calgary revived Canadian rodeo and attracted over 100,000 fans and cowboys from across Canada. Along with the reverse-opening side-delivery chute, and a hornless bronc saddle, both developed by the Bascoms the safety of the cowboys while settling on the bronc was much improved.
In 1923, Guy Weadick merges the Calgary Stampede with the Industrial Exhibition, creating the Calgary Stampede and Exhibition. For this occasion Weadick introduced community activities, downtown attractions, and chuckwagon races, known as the Rangeland Derby, which attracted more than 120,000 spectators. Many communities and village across western Canada resumed their annual festivals and stampedes, making rodeo one of the highest grossing sports in Canada. In 1924, Earl Bascom developed the first one-handed bareback rigging and years later he manufactured the first high-cut chaps which protected cowboy's legs and provided an enhanced traction while riding.
The number of rodeo cowboys and sponsors grew steadily, creating a need for a standardised organization to regulate competitions. In 1929, the Rodeo Association of America (RAA) was created to represent the common interests of rodeo organizers and cowboys. The RAA was in charge of allocating prizes, selecting officials, and endorsing rodeo events across North America. Also in 1929, the rodeo world was shocked by the tragic death of celebrity cowgirl Bonnie McCarroll, who died following a bronc riding accident. For the following two years, the RAA prohibited women from participating in Canadian and American rodeos. In 1931, several sponsors began to resume women's events by developing competitions that highlighted the femininity of cowgirls rather than promoting athleticism, such as barrel racing and rodeo queen competitions.
In the 1930s, rodeo continued to attract an outstanding number of spectators and sponsors. Boys and girls began to show an increasing interest in competitive rodeo, triggering the foundation of rodeo academies and high school and junior rodeo competitions across Alberta. In 1933, most of the high ranked cowboys became concerned with the excessive entry fees for participating in rodeos and the low revenue from winning events. Several competitors complained to rodeo committees and producers; however their dissent seemed to go unanswered.
In 1936, Canadian and American cowboys expressed their discontent toward the RAA by staging the first professional cowboy strike and forming the Cowboys Turtle Association (CTA). The cowboys chose this name because they were slow to get organized; however, they were not afraid to "stick out their neck" to receiver a higher revenue from their winnings, just like a turtle. The CTA's initial committee included several Albertan cowboys such as Herman Linder and Pete Knight
During World War II, all major rodeos across western Canada were suspended, except for the Calgary Stampede and Raymond Stampede. These events were able to endure this period of war due to the introduction of patriotic themes and parades to support the troops in Europe.
In 1945, the CTA changed its official name to the Rodeo Cowboy Association (RCA). In 1948, a group of cowgirls from Texas founded the Girls' Rodeo Association (GRA) in order restore the long-lost display of physical strength and ability in women's rodeo. The initial GRA committee had seventy four members and began persuading rodeo produces to hold women's rodeos. By the end of the 1940s the GRA sponsored and organized more than fifty women's rodeos across North America. In 1949, the National Intercollegiate Association (NIA) was founded to regulate and monitor the College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR). In the same year, the Cowboys Protective Association (CPA) was formed to enforce safety in rodeo and chuckwagon competitions.
In 1958, the Rodeo Cowboys Association established the National Finals Rodeo (NFR), as a championship competition designed to select the world champions in each rodeo event. the first NFR was held in Dallas, Texas. In 1960, the NFR was broadcast live by Columbia Broadcasting Systems (CBS), one of North American's largest television networks. In 1962, the National High School Rodeo Association was founded in Denver, Colorado, in an effort to integrate high school students into rodeo competitions and to organize junior tournaments. After the first year, the student membership was approximately 12,500, with members from western Canada, the United States, and Australia. In the same year, the Girls' Rodeo Association sponsored the first all-girls rodeo in High River, Alberta. The event attracted over 5,000 rodeo fans and a total of f $4,000 in prize money was distributed.
In 1964, the communities of Lacombe, Hay Lake, Rocky Mountain House, Caroline, and Eckville could not obtain enough support to organize full-size rodeos. As a result, they began hosting pony chariot racing in which contestants competed just for entertainment. In 1965, several rodeo directors began hosting chuckwagon races separate from rodeos in Okotoks, Cochrane, Peace River, and Ohaton. In 1966, the Alberta Pony Chuckwagon and Chariot Association (APCCA) was founded to coordinate chuckwagon racing in Alberta. In 1968, this association was officially recognized as a non-profit organization by the government of Alberta.
In the late 1970s, rodeo popularity continued to grow and began to diverge from the cowboy lifestyle. For example, the Rodeo Cowboy Association was officially renamed the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association (PRCA) in 1975. Also, the chuckwagon committees of Lloydminster, Pierceland and Meadow Lake established the Northern Chuckwagon Association (NCA) in 1977 to promote chuckwagon racing as a separate sport from rodeo.
A new breed of rodeo cowboy began to attract the attention of the media. These competitors were often from non-rural backgrounds but they had adopted rodeo as an athletic discipline. By the early 1980s, at least one third of the cowboys participating in the competitions had graduated from a rodeo high school or a college rodeo and had not necessarily grown up with a traditional cowboy heritage.
In 1979, the Northern Chuckwagon Association became known as the Northern Professional Chuckwagon Association (NPCA). This name change was inspired by the desire of the members of this association to be recognized as legitimate athletes participating in official competitions. The NPCA committee was established and drivers, outriders, and judges were encouraged to join.
In 1981, the Girls' Rodeo Association became the Women's Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA) with the mission to equalize women's and men's rodeo events. The WPRA successfully completed this goal in 1985, when rodeo became one of the few professional sports to have equality of earnings for women and men.
By the late 1980s, Hollywood movie directors had turned their attention to rodeo, creating a "golden era" for rodeo on the screen. My Hero's Have Always Been Cowboys (1991), Pure Country (1992), Colorado Cowboy (1993), and 8 Seconds (1994) were popular movies that received positive reviews from most critics and press. Several movie directors and production companies began to film their movies in western Canada, often featuring professional rodeo cowboys and chuckwagon drivers. Cowboys gradually became a symbol of Alberta's western heritage, inspiring legions of teenagers and children to enroll in the local rodeo schools.
However, rodeo's increasing popularity on the big screen began to attract the attention several animal activists and environmentalists groups. In the early 1990s, the rodeo producers began to receive negative criticism regarding their animal welfare. In particular, chuckwagon racing endured numerous criticisms due to accidents and injuries involving athletes, horses, and occasionally spectators. In 1992, Friends of Rodeo was founded by representatives from over 40 rodeo organizations, with the sole objective of protecting rodeo from excessive restrictions and regulations. In 1995, the Northern Professional Chuckwagon Association was renamed the Canadian Professional Chuckwagon Association (CPCA) to reflect a new image and to increase the popularity of chuckwagon racing across Canada. In 1997, the Alberta Pony Chuckwagon and Chariot Association was renamed the Alberta Professional Chuckwagon and Chariot Association. By the end of the 1999 season, the CPCA had introduced time penalties to discourage hazardous driving manoeuvres, such as interference between outriders or wagons and other contestants.
Rodeo remains a very popular sport especially in western Canada. In Alberta, organizations such as the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association and the Women's Professional Rodeo Association have acquired a numerous sponsors and supporters. In 2011, the Alberta General Motors Canada group partnered with the World Professional Chuckwagon Association (WPCA) to promote the General Motors Canada (GMC) Pro Tour. This event was a 38 days competition to determine the world champion of chuckwagon racing. Major rodeos event such as the Calgary Stampede still attract legions of fans. In 2012, the Stampede celebrated its centennial, while the GMC Pro Tour attracted more than 100,000 fans per night. the popularity of the GMC Pro Tour sparked the sparked the production of a television reality series called the Half Mile of Hell. This television program aired from 2005 to 2007 on the Outdoor Life Network (OLN). Zoom Communications took the series online in 2008, transforming it into a video-integrated website called Half Mile of Hell.com
The Canadian Professional Chuckwagon Association, "History of the Old West. " http://www.cpcaracing.com/leagues/custom_page.cfm?clientID=4143 &leagueID=12757&pageid=4243 (accessed June 20th , 2013).
The Half Mile of Hell, "The Rules." http://www.halfmileofhell.com/rules.aspx (accessed June 24th, 2013).
Kelm, Mary-Ellen. A Wilder West: Rodeo in Western Canada. Vancouver, British Columbia: UBC Press, 2011.
Kennedy, Fred. Calgary Stampede. Vancouver: British Columbia: West Vancouver Enterprise Limited, 1965.
Mikkelsen, Glen. Checkered Courage. Calgary, Alberta: Johnson Gorman Publishers, 2002.
Poulsen, David A. Wild ride!: three journeys down the road. Toronto, Ontario: Balmur Book Publishing, 2000.