Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Rootin' tootin' (doomed) cowpokes

Media types saddle up for a wild ride on real horses at the Manitoba Stampede

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I think I speak for tough-as-nails cowboys throughout this great manly land of ours when I issue the following deeply felt Old West-style sentiment: Yee-ha!!!

I base this sincere expression of unbridled cowpoke joy on the fact that, as far as I can tell at the moment, I am not currently dead.

The fact I am not pushing up daisies is somewhat surprising given that I agreed to take part in Thursday's big media challenge at the 44th annual Manitoba Stampede & Exhibition in Morris.

This year's "challenge" was barrel racing, which involves climbing on an actual live horse and riding at breakneck speed around metal drums in a figure-eight pattern in the centre of an arena.

This would be a good time to mention that I have never been on a horse in my life.

Here are some actual encouraging quotes from colleagues and family members after I told them I was going to try barrel racing:

"You are an idiot!"

"You are going to get killed!"

"You should chicken out, then write about that."

"Did I mention you are an idiot?"

I was able to put on a brave face, however, because I was pretty sure the nice folks who run the stampede, which ends today, probably did NOT want to upset members of the media by actually killing them.

Idiots

What we journalists were expecting to ride was something along the lines of a nice, elderly pony, most likely blind and/or lame, with a soothing name like "Buttercup" or "Old Flannel Jammies."

Ha ha ha! I base that last outburst on the fact that we journalists were, in hindsight, idiots.

Our journalistic alarm bells began ringing when we arrived for the big event and organizer Arden Ross -- sporting an authentic cowboy hat and a belt buckle the size of a canned ham -- told us, and I quote: "It's going to be a real horse."

Did I mention I have never been on a horse? Ever? In my life?

So there we media types were, under a blazing sun, staring at not just a live horse, but TWO full-blooded Arabian horses and wondering which of us was going to get killed first and whether it would be polite for everyone else to film it.

Fortunately, before we got started, ranchers John Derksen and Kathy Bolduc, who supplied the horses -- "Grey Sky" and "Brandy" -- spent several valuable minutes explaining the operating instructions.

Always calm in the face of looming painful death, what I basically heard was this: "First you blah blah blah then make sure to blah blah and never ever blah blah blah!"

The part I did hear clearly was John making this soothing remark: "This is a dangerous sport, I gotta tell ya! Arabians are bred for war; they are the most hot-blooded horse there is."

The first obstacle to be overcome was deciding which "media celebrity" should go first.

The way we decided was by having the organizers yell "OK, who wants to go first?" and then all the competitors (except me) yelled: "TAKE THE CHEATER! MAKE THE CHEATER GO FIRST!"

I should explain here that, technically speaking, the cheater was me.

This stems from the fact I won last year's big media challenge, which happened to be cow milking, by using both hands. Apparently international rules governing competitive milking state you can only use one hand. Who knew?

Just to be clear, going from cow-milking to barrel racing is kind of like going from riding a tricycle to driving in a NASCAR event, if you get my general drift.

The next roadblock involved the appropriate method for getting a 270-pound person (this would be me) on top of a horse that clearly didn't even want a regular-sized person sitting on him or her.

In the end, it required TWO cowpersons to hoist me on top of "Brandy," a brown Arabian weighing about 1,100 pounds and standing "15 hands high," which is horse talk for "very big."

At this point, Kathy offered a helpful bit of advice, which was this: "Don't panic."

If you have ever had someone tell you this, you know that the first thing you do is immediately begin to panic.

"Don't boot him!" is what she said next.

"What???" is what I replied.

"When you want him to go, just give your legs a little squeeze."

"You mean like this..." was what I began to say when -- and you will have seen this coming a mile away -- Brandy took off like a (bad word) bullet fired from a gun.

What happened next was Brandy roared around the barrels like a (bad word) rocket while I held on for dear life and screamed some extremely uncowboy-like feelings at the top of my lungs.

As Brandy made the turn for home with me bouncing up and down like a 270-pound bag of JELL-O in an earthquake, a very important thought popped into my brain -- I do NOT know how to make it stop!

"WHERE ARE THE (VERY BAD WORD) BRAKES!" I yelled as we raced towards the fence, behind which other media types were cowering.

And then the horse, apparently on autopilot, stopped. You will be pleased to hear I received thunderous applause.

As a general rule, media persons do not applaud other media persons. On this day, however, united by sheer terror, we applauded each other wildly to express our new journalistic motto: "Ohmygawd! You are still alive!"

Here's how race judge Peggy Penner summed up my ride: "You were quite the floppy wild man out there. You definitely need to improve your technique -- and bring an extra pair of jeans with you!"

Later, a horse carrying plucky Citytv reporter Andrea Slobodian gave the distinct impression it planned to run right through the fence.

"Wow!" Andrea whispered moments later. "I was terrified. I thought we were going to crash into the judges' stands and then into the porta-potties."

After her ride, normally fearless Shaw TV host Joanne Kelly put it this way: "It was truly scary. I jumped out of an airplane last week and I'd do that again in a heartbeat. But not this!"

The big winner (in a time of 18 seconds) was my good buddy "Cowboy" Troy Scott from HANK FM. Troy, and this is clearly unfair, was raised around horses. Plus he has his own cowboy hat.

"My wasted youth finally paid off!" Troy beamed as he hoisted the winner's trophy. If you have to know, with a time of 35.5 seconds, I finished a painful seventh out of 11 entries.

But the best news of all, as I mentioned earlier, is the fact none of us was killed.

Mind you, we can always look forward to next year.

doug.speirs@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 22, 2007 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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