When Nancy Allison, lead organizer for the Chopaka Rodeo, sat down with Linda and me at our kitchen table last week, her smile and
sparkling eyes quickly convinced me she’s a zealot. “I’ve been at this for 50 years,” was her response to my first question. “I was 9 at the time of the first rodeo. My Dad, Barney Allison, was one of the organizers. It began on his ranch, and although he is gone now, it is still there. First everyone went to church. After church some people began doing calf roping for fun. From that small beginning it developed into a very successful rodeo.”
It has become a popular event on the amateur rodeo circuit and
attracts contestants and spectators from the Coast, Williams Lake, Washington State and elsewhere. Events include bullriding, bareback, saddlebronc, team roping, ladies, junior and Pee Wee barrels, and more. “Wild Cow Milking is a crowd pleaser,” Nancy said.
The Kids Calf Scramble requires contestants to chase and snatch ribbons from the ears of calves. According to Nancy, the rodeo is a good place for young contestants to practise their techniques. In addition to an added purse of at least $500, winners of major events will receive a coveted silver buckle crafted by Montana Silversmith.
“In the early years the cowboys went out and caught wild horses for the rodeo,” Nancy said. “Now all contest animals are supplied by contractors. Each time an animal (rough stock) supplied by a contractor exits the chute it costs $150.”
One of the contestants, Chad Eneaus, began riding saddle broncs at age 14, and bulls when he was 16. He won the Canadian High School Bronc Riding Championship. He is a member of the Western Indian Rodeo Association and won the Saddle Bronc Championship in 2010. He has won prize money in a number of rodeos and I felt fortunate in tracking him down. He told me, “in the beginning it was kind of a saving grace. It gave me an opportunity to challenge myself emotionally, mentally and spiritually.”
When I asked Chad about the dangers, he replied, “in one rodeo a bull threw me and then planted its rear hoofs on my chest. Both my lungs collapsed and my liver was lacerated.” He paused a moment and then said, “you have to know when to get a new hold, and when to let go. You don’t have a second to think. It has to be automatic. You have to figure out how to work with the animal. The ground is the best teacher. It hurts when you land.”
Hay rancher Linnea Cappos has been part of the rodeo since 1979. “I rodeoed hard for 40 years in the barrel event,” she told me in a phone conversation. “I competed in the Barrel Racing event. Now I just help the girls make it happen. I’m involved with the paperwork and I also prepare the ground for the Barrel Racing. It’s a timed event and the footing needs to be secure for the horses so they don’t get hurt. The rodeo has given me a lot of satisfaction,” she said. “Now I just want to give something back.”
Linnea loves the family atmosphere. “When I get there, I head first to where they make the Fried Bread. People sit on blankets or lawn chairs, There are no bleachers. Some sit on the tailgates of pickups. It’s pretty informal.” She has gotten her 4 year old grand daughter Sophie involved in Barrel Racing. She does it because I do it,” she said. “Like me, she loves horses.”
I asked Nancy about the level of danger for contestants. “The saddle events are probably more dangerous than the bareback ones,” she
replied. “A rider can get hooked on the saddle horn and be dragged along by the horse. One year a rider caught a hoof in his chest. I had to drive him and the first aid attendants to the clinic. On the way they shouted at me to stop because they had lost him. They pounded on his chest and he came back. After a few days in the hospital he was fine.”
“This year we’ll probably get at least 1000 spectators, if the weather’s good. I tell people to bring their coolers, bikinis, mackinaws and lawn chairs. The entrance fee is only $10.00 and free for kids 10 and under. On Sunday, April 5, 2015 the show begins at 10 am.”
After listening to Chad and Nancy, I’m quite content to let others do the bronco and bull riding at the Chopaka Rodeo. The fried bread sounds pretty good though.