On and Off With the Bronco Busters
Out in Calgary, Edmonton, New Westminster and other western Canadian cities they take their stampedes as seriously as the eastern fan takes his rugby or hockey. Each summer scores of thousands of spectators pay out good money to watch the unending battle for supremacy between cowboy bronco busters and the bucking broncos of the plains.
"TURN ’im out, cowboy! Let’s go!” A roar of encouragement from the crowded grandstand of stampede patrons, reached the cowboy as he threw a bechapped leg over the top of the corral. He waved his hat in acknowledgment. In the chute a big black horse stood quietly, the sun glinting on his glossy coat. The judges drew the saddle cinch tight. The cowboy, his face pale under its tan, eased himself in the saddle. A chute man handed him the bucking rein.
In the press stand above, an announcer was repeating softly into the microphones of the loud speaker the announcement which had caused the spontaneous roar from the crowded grandstand, a few minutes before.
“In the finals for the bucking-horse riding championship of the world—Miles Mabee, of Wainwright, Alberta, out of chute number one, on “Midnight—”
Another excited yell from the packed stands.
As it died away in a confused murmur, the black horse raised his head and trumpeted a shrill challenge. Came an answering chorus of neighs from the outlaw horses in the corrals to the rear.
The cowboy pulled the horse’s head down, with a nervous gesture. His feet found the stirrups and he shoved them through to the heel.
“All set, Miles?” asked the chute judge.
The cowboy nodded, and as the contest judges took up their positions, the chute gates yawned open, and then — the whirlwind.
Gone was the gentle, liquid-eyed horse of a moment ago. In his stead there leaped out of the chute, a coal-black horse-devil, eyes redrimmed and flashing fire, body pitching forward in a series of straight-legged bucks that had the bronc rider clawing the air on the fourth jump and “pulling leather” with both hands on the fifth.
Another jump, and the cowboy sailed clean over
the horse’s head and landed with a thud on the hard ground.
“Midnight,” onetime champion bucking horse of Canada, had vanquished another would-be conqueror.
The crowd settled back into their seats. The calf-roping event was next on the programme. A dozen little “critters” were roped and tied. Then, the action swung back
to the bucking-horse chutes again. Half a dozen horses of
mediocre ability were turned out and then a big pinto horse was led in. It was the redoubtable “Tumbleweed,” the horse which wrested the title “champion bucking horse of Canada ” from “Midnight” last year, and a horse which bids fair to outdo even “Midnight’s” great record.
-The same process of saddling was repeated. The rider, “Slim Watrin,” of High River, Alberta, one of the best that ever threw a leg over a snorting bronco. The formalities were soon over, and out the cowboy came, sinking his feet into the outlaw’s shoulders, as he left the chute. Six seconds the big cowboy rode, but before the seventh ticked away on the judge’s watch, he was on the ground, and “Tumbleweed” was tying himself in
many knots in front of the greatly crowded grandstand.
The crowd buzzed excitedly. They had seen two of the world’s greatest bucking horses “buck down” two of the world’s best cowboys, and they would come back tomorrow and again sit in on the most popular game in Western Canada—“bronc-riding contest with saddle”; a game where stalling is unheard of, where draws and “no decisions” are unknown, and where a cowboy has to dig down deep into his “jeans” to pay for the privilege of risking his life aboard a fast-stepping outlaw horse, so that stampede and rodeo visitors will get the thrills they expect when they push their money across the wicket at the grandstand gate.
Bronco-busters by Necessity
BECAUSE of geographical circumstances, the thrilling, dangerous cowboy sports, of which bronco-busting is the favorite, are little known in Eastern Canada. As a result, most Eastern Canadians picture a cowboy as one who works out on the range all week, and goes into town Saturday night to get drunk and “shoot up the town,” and a bucking bronco as something wild and woolly that will run at the sight of a man.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The best bronco riders in Western Canada, to-day, are sons of peaceful farmers and ranchers, the majority of whom never fired a six-shooter in their lives. They gained their riding skill through sheer necessity—by having to break and ride the horses they have raised.
Nor are the wildest horses always the best bucking horses. Far from it. “Midnight,” winner of the bucking
horse crown in 1924, was one of the best saddle horses in Southern Alberta, before he went “bad.” “Fox,” raised at Gleichen, Alberta, holder of the world’s championship from 1916 to 1922, bucked off 165 riders during his career, but he plodded away, harnessed to a plough or a harrow, when he was not defending his title at stampedes, and he was one of the best work horses in his district. Trying to ride him was a totally different matter, of course.
How Champions Are Chosen
DRONCO - RIDING U contests, with saddle, are the feature events of stampedes and rodeos the world over and, just so long as the Canadian West raises outlaw horses and good riders, bronco-riding will continue to be the world’s most exciting sport to tens of thousands of Western Canadians. In fact, the stampede craze reached the Pacific coast last year and is now extending to the East. A championship stampede is being held in conjunction with the Ottawa Centenary in August of this year, and “Midnight” and “Tumbleweed,” recognized as two of Canada’s best bucking horses, will be in the chutes when the cowboys ride out on the opening day.
The bucking-horse contests serve three distinct purposes. They provide exciting entertainment and they decide two much argued questions: Who are Canada’s best bucking-horse riders, and which are Canada’s best bucking horses?
Naturally a question arises—what does a cowboy have to do in order to win a bucking-horse championship title, and what does a bucking horse have to do in order to win the title of champion bucking horse?
Let it be understood, right now, that no aspirant for championship boxing or wrestling honors, is ever called upon to go through the battering and hard knocks handed out to a bucking-horse rider, in his quest for a championship title. It is true that luck, as in other sports, takes a hand, but, throughout the years that stampedes and rodeos have flourished in Canada, there is no case on record, where a drug-store or livery-barn cowboy ever won a riding title.
As in other sports, there are strict rules, and the cowboys must live up to them to the very letter.
Take the bronc-riding event of any big Canadian stampede. Two hundred horses, drawn from all parts of the country are herded into a large corral which opens into a series of smaller corrals. These corrals, in turn, open into saddling chutes, where the bucking horses are saddled preparatory to being ridden out into the field. Every horse is known by name, and is branded with the owner’s brand. These names and brands are on file at the stampede office.
As it is necessary to limit the number of buckinghorse riders to twenty a day, the riders and horses for any given day are picked by lot. The names of all the horses are written on little squares of paper and thrown into a hat. The names of all the contestants are thrown into another hat. Then someone pulls the name of a horse and another cowboy pulls the name of a rider. If “Midnight” is drawn out of the hat at the same moment as “Slim” O’Brien’s name is drawn out of the other hat, it simply means that Mr. O’Brien has an appointment to ride—or attempt to ride—“Midnight,” the next day. And this continues until the names of twenty horses and riders have been drawn.
Next day “Slim” O’Brien, having drawn number one position, is the first cowboy to ride out of the chute number one. The doors of the chutes are so arranged, that, when the horses and riders come whooping out of the chutes, they buck towards the grandstand. “Midnight” is led into number one chute. He stands obediently while the chute men saddle him. A chute judge is standing nearby, for the purpose of inspecting equipment. His job is to see that the seat of the saddle has not been resined, that the rider’s spurs are “tied down” to his heel, and if the rider is wearing gloves, to see that there is no
foreign matter on them. He also sees that the horse is not cinched too tight.
When the horse is properly saddled, the rider is given an opportunity to test his equipment, and then at a sign from the judges, he climbs over the top of the chute and eases himself into the saddle.
Then one of the three mounted judges rides over to him and he is given final instructions which run somewhat as follows:
“Listen here, cowboy. This hain’t no ladies’ tea party.
When those chute doors yawn open, I want to see both of your feet in that horse’s shoulder. You are to scratch (spur) five times in his shoulders and five times behind. If any cowboy thinks he’s gonna take any money away from this show by riding tight, or coasting, he’s crazy as hell. Turn ’im out, cowboy!”
The rider grins faintly, and high in the air goes his big Stetson hat as he
signs the chute men to let him out of the chutes.
Before the door swings open the second and third judges take up positions on the field. One is placed on the right of the horse, one on the left.
The first remains near the chutes. If Mr. O’Brien spurs with the right foot and “coasts,” with the left—shoves his spur into the cinch to help stay on— the act is duly recorded by the judge on the left. If the rider coasts with both feet, this is also recorded. If he fails to hit his horse in the shoulders, coming out of the chute, this is recorded by the chute judge, and all three watch constantly for any other move which may disqualify the rider.
A rider can be disqualified in a number of ways: (1) by being bucked off; (2) by pulling leather—grabbing the saddle horn to keep from being bucked off; (3) by changing his bucking rein from his right hand to his left or vice versa, while the horse is bucking; (4) by losing a stirrup or kicking loose either foot from his stirrup; (5) for “fanning” his horse— hitting his horse with his hat or touching any part of his equipment or, (6) by failing to give a horse “his head” on leaving the chutes; that is to say, pulling his rein so tight that a horse is unable to get his head down to buck.
The contest is decided on the percentage system. If a rider is disqualified he is automatically out of the running. If he puts up a “good” ride, which entitles him to a tally of eighty-five per cent., he is still in the contest. If he gets into the semi-finals, say, with a mark of ninety per cent, and then rides to an eighty-five per cent, mark in the finals, these scores and the scores of the horses he has ridden are added and the total is divided by the number of times he has ridden. This gives him his final average, and if this average is higher than any other competitor, he is adjudged the champion rider.
Selection of the best bucking horse at a stampede is managed in almost the same manner. Every time a horse is turned out of the chutes, the judges watch him for bucking ability and he is marked up accordingly. At the close of the contest, his percentages for each day are totalled up and the horse who has the best average of the
contest is accordingly awarded the championship prize.
Because of this method, there is no chance of a poor rider or a poor horse walking off with championship money.
The task of naming the best bucking horse in Canada seems a huge task to the uninitiated. But, notwith-
standing the fact that
there are 600 head of halter-broken bucking horses in Alberta, at the present time, it is not so difficult. When a bucking horse starts spilling the best riders of his own district and then bucks his way through to championships, at the bigger shows, he soon earns the respect of bronco riders in all sections of the country.
Therefore, if the reader were to seek a general opinion as to which are the best— or worst — bucking horses in the Dominion of Canada, there is but little doubt that “Tumbleweed” the pinto terror, and “Midnight,” whom the Indians call the “black devil from the South,” would get the unanimous call.
These two great outlaws, with twenty of their mates, have literally bucked their way across the continent, leaving a trail of bruised and broken cowboys in their path. Between them, they represent the two extremes in bucking horse-flesh: “Mid-
night” docile and gentle as a kitten in the corral, and “Tumbleweed,” untameable outlaw, and man-hater from birth.
“Midnight” is a product of the famous Cypress Hills, in Southern Alberta. Sired by a range stallion out of a domestic mare, who heard the call of the wild, “Midnight,” accompanied by his mother, drifted back home, and Jim McNabb, a young rancher, welcomed both the mare and her colt back to the fold. McNabb broke “Midnight” as a two-year-old, and in another three years he developed into one of the best rope horses in the south. Nearly sixteen hands high and weighing around 1,200 pounds, the big black gelding is all muscle. He has a great neck and shoulders, fine head, clean, strong legs; and is much admired among the cowboys of the south.
Then one day, the black horse went “bad.” His owner was riding on the trail when “Midnight” suddenly went into a perfect orgy of bucking and McNabb was bucked off. Thinking that something had frightened the animal, he mounted, and no sooner had he settled himself in the saddle than he was bucked off again.
Dusk was approaching when McNabb limped into the ranch yard, leading the “saddle” horse, and although many enquiries were hurled at him, he kept a still tongue.
Two days later, MacLeod, Alberta, was en fete for an Indian celebration and stampede. When the call came for horses for the finals, Jim McNabb led forth his black saddle horse. Although there was a loud guffaw from the assembled cowboys, the committee admitted the horse and he was drawn by Jim Hunter, one of the best of the younger bronc riders of the province.
Quiet as a lamb in the stable and as docile as a baby in the corral, “Midnight” stood perfectly still in the chute, while he was saddled. He didn’t even flinch when the boys tied the flank rope securely around him and he muzzled Jim affectionately, when the latter climbed the chutes to “take a settin.”
“You ain’t no bucking hawsee,” mused Jim, as he settled down in the saddle. “You’re nothin’ but an old saddle hawss.”
That’s what a lot of the cowboys thought, but they changed their minds a moment later when the chute gates yawned open, and out of the pen came a black streak of horseflesh, pitching forward in a series of straight-legged bucks that had the bronc rider clawing for air on the second jump and grabbing leather with both hands on the third. Straight down the field went “Midnight,” sunfishing, bucking high, both in front and behind, and coming down with such force that his front hoofs split in several places. It was fully three minutes before the big black was rounded up and relieved of the saddle. Thus it was on this little southern field, that the black horse started on his way to a Canadian championship, and the substantial cash return for his first owner, Jim McNabb.
Wild But Quiet As a Lamb
THOROUGHBRED race horses have
been sold for much less than Peter Welsh paid Jim McNabb for “Midnight,” but the Calgary horseman never regretted the deal. During the two years since “Midnight” made his debut in the little southern town, he has been bucking off good riders as fast as they could come forward.
Although feared and respected by bronco riders, the big black is the equine idol of the children of Alberta. Three weeks before the Edmonton, Alberta, stampede, in July of last year, “Midnight,” along with “Tumbleweed” and the rest of Welsh’s stable of outlaws, was taken to Edmonton to get acclimatized. “Midnight” was given a little corral of his own. This was during the school holidays, and every morning, children by the score, climbed the corral fences and fed the big black so much sugar that he almost developed diabetes. They fairly crawled all over him, and the big black stepped gingerly around his little friends, apparently fearful that he might tramp on them.
Visiting cowboys, who had never seen the big black in action, could scarcely believe their eyes, when Mike O’Hara, the wrangler of the band of outlaws, climbed aboard him bareback, and fed him a couple of lumps of sugar, and they immediately arrived at one conclusion: “Midnight,” the famous outlaw, was “gentle-broke.” But “Midnight” made them laugh this off at the Edmonton stampede, when he bucked off three good cowboys in as many days.
“Midnight” is not yet eight years of age. He is sound as a bell and, barring accident, his owner thinks that he’ll hand out a lot of misery to cowboys during the next ten years.
He has left a trail of devastating conquest behind him already. No rider has managed to stay on him for more than 9 3-5 seconds during the past two years as is indicated by the following partial summary of his battles with riders:
Cecil Henley.......Pulled Leather
Pete Bruised Head. .Pulled Leather Lawrence Bruce.... Pulled Leather Jim Hunter........Pulled Leather
Pete Vandermeer. . . Rode 9 3-5seconds
Pete Vandermeer.. .Thrown
Ray Miller.........Pulled Leather
Eddie Watrin......Rode 9 seconds
Alex. LaFramboise . Thrown
Frank McGuire . . Thrown
F. E. Studnick.....Rode 9 2-5 seconds
The New Champion
TUMBLEWEED,” a big raw-boned
pinto gelding, weighing around 1,300 pounds, is hardly halter broke. He is a product of the Alberta ranges and was raised south of Calgary, by a Calgary cowboy named Leacock. Leacock brought him to the Calgary stampede in 1924, and what this pinto did to the bronco riders was a shame. He made his debut with Don McDonald, Canadian bareback, bucking-horse champion rider of 1924, in the saddle, and McDonald rode him for exactly four jumps.
That was two years ago and “Tumbleweed” has learned a few tricks since.
Alex. LaFramboise, of Maple Creek, Saskatchewan, who held the provincial championship for a number of years, drew “Tumbleweed” at both the Edmonton and Westminster stampedes, and was bucked off within seven seconds on each trip—and Alex is no mean bronc snapper.
Indian bronc riders cross their fingers when “Tumbleweed” is thrown into the draw, and there’s good final money in any of the big Canadian stampedes for the rider who will come out of the chutes with both feet in the pinto’s shoulder and stay aboard until the judges fire the gun. Only last summer, Mr. Welsh, “Tumbleweed’s” owner, was offering $1,000 in cash to any bronco rider who could ride the big horse to rules, kicking five times ahead and scratching five times behind, and although there were fifty good bronco riders on the grounds, no one volunteered. “Tumbleweed” and “Midnight” both are owned by Peter Welsh, formerly of Calgary, but now of Vancouver, B.C.
“Tumbleweed’s” record is even more impressive than that of “Midnight,” as will be seen from a glance at his summary for 1924 and 1925:
Emery LaGrande. . .Pulled Leather Bayse Collins......Rode
Alex. LaFramboise .Thrown
Clarence Watrin.. . . Thrown
Pete Knight........Rode 10 seconds
Jesse Coats........Fell at Chute
A Serious Business
VI/ESTERN CANADIAN stampede V V fans, and cowboys in particular, take their stampedes seriously. They may not know how many goals Newsy Lalonde has scored in the years he has been before the hockey public, or how many yards Leadley and Batstone have gained in their years on the gridiron. But they can tell you how many times a certain bucking horse bucked off certain riders and even the number of jumps he rode, no matter whether it was at a 1925 stampede or ten years ago.
Cowboys, on the whole, are clannish. If a good bucking horse is raised in their district, they’ll ride in a body and tell the world that “this hyar hawss is a holy terror and just cain’t be rode.”
But I do not think that any bronc rider will disagree with me when I say that no horses have a better right to be called “Canada’s Best” than the following: Tumbleweed, 1925 bucking-horse champion, Midnight, 1924 bucking-horse champion; Bassano, Black Diamond, Steel Grey, Flat Creek, Alberta Kid, Baldy, Sage Queen, Cyclone, Charlie King, Grave-Digger, Long Tom, Wampus Ribbon, Wampus Maud, Bucking Billy, So-So, Yellow Fever, Sky Blue, Weasel, Squaw Patch, Grey Ghost, Bay Dynamite, 27 Bucks, and the never-to-be-forgotten “Fox” who is easily dean of Canadian champion bucking horses. Every horse in this list has been bucking consistently from three to ten years and every one was in active service in 1925.
In some parts of the country, criticism has been made of stampede sports, because of alleged cruelty to animals which participate. Well-intentioned, but in many cases ignorant, people, have an idea that tacks or burrs are put under saddles in order to make broncos buck. They cannot understand why a horse will go into a frenzy of bucking the moment a rider climbs into the saddle. They believe that an electric battery or some other machine is used.
A bucking horse comes by his bucking prowess naturally. He just doesn’t want to be ridden and he’ll buck until he can’t stand in an effort to dislodge the strange, man thing on his back. More than often enough, it is the cowboy who is injured.
At the Edmonton Stampede last year, seven cowboys were taken to the hospital on the opening day. One had a smashed collar-bone. Another had half an ear taken off. A third had a broken leg and a fourth suffered from concussion of the brain. And not one horse or steer received as much as a scratch during the week.
A “society for the prevention of cruelty to cowboys” would be more in order.
Ready For All Comers
CANADIAN baseball, football, and hockey teams have invaded the United States to battle for international honors before now, and the time may not be far distant when the United States will challenge the horsemen of the Canadian West to send over a quota of bucking horses to compete at some huge stampede or rodeo in Chicago or New York for the international bucking-horse championship. If that time ever comes, thirty-five head of the six hundred bucking horses in Western Canada are more than good enough to make the cream of the bronc riders of any country “screw down” when they “take a settin’” on them. Moreover, men like Yakima Canutt, Jack Fretz, Kenneth “Dix Cooper,” Dave Whyte, Jesse Coats, Perry I. Ivory, Frank Studnick, Pete Knight, “Breezy” Cox, Fred Hunt, Hoot Gibson, Walter Bennett, Watrin Brothers and scores of others who have gone to the mat with these sanje bucking horses and more than often have come off second best, will more than hold their own with United States riders.