Cowboys take the ride outside

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After 25 years, the Okotoks Pro Rodeo is taking the action outdoors.

For the first time, the rodeo will be held at the Okotoks Agricultural Society grounds from Aug. 25 to 27, rather than indoors at the Murray Arena in the Okotoks Recreation Centre. The grounds are located north of town on Highway 2A at 306 Avenue.

“When you consider all the things going on and all the things we have to do, it was a big decision,” said Okotoks Pro Rodeo marketing director Trevor Reidy. “But, it should be good and give us some new opportunities.”

The Okotoks Pro Rodeo Society and the Okotoks Agricultural Society struck a deal in February after two years of talks about making the switch to go outdoors. The Ag Society had already been planning to improve its outdoor facilities when they were approached about the pro rodeo.

Jackie Miller, president of the Ag Society, said the arrangement should work well for both parties. The rodeo society will move its $80,000 worth of steel, bucking chutes and pens to the ag grounds, where it will be used for not only the pro rodeo in August, but for other events through the year such as team roping, barrel racing, cutting shows and team penning, she said.

“They have an investment in the steel, we have the ground, so it’s a good working relationship,” said Miller.

A major benefit for the Ag Society is having exposure in the community. She said hosting the rodeo on the grounds will make people more aware of what the society offers and the types of events it runs.

“There’s a huge number of events that horse people do from the English end to the western end, and everything else in between,” said Miller. “So, just knowing we’re there and our facility is there is a bonus to us.”

For the rodeo society, running the rodeo on the ag grounds means not having to move 105 truckloads of dirt in one night, and not having to clean up everything in a 24-hour window. In the past, dirt would arrive at the rec centre on Tuesday evening, the rodeo would run from Friday night until Sunday afternoon, and everything would have to be cleaned out by Monday at noon, said Reidy.

“It was a tight timeframe,” he said. “But, now we’ll be able to take our steel, set it up, and when it comes to take-down most of the steel will stay there, and what comes down will be stored right there on-site.”

The rodeo may be almost four months away, but there’s a lot of work to be done ahead of time, he said. The steel will be moved to the ag grounds within the next couple of weeks, and some of the bucking chutes will get set up, he said.

There will need to be some slight modifications to the arena in order to run the rodeo though, he said. The current structure measures 300 feet by 150 feet, which is the Stampede size. It’s too big for the Okotoks Pro Rodeo, he said.

“If you’ve got a bull or a bronc loose that’s not co-operating and doesn’t want to leave the arena, if you’ve got too big a facility you could chase them all afternoon,” said Reidy. “We don’t want that happening because then there’s a chance of someone getting hurt, an animal getting hurt, or an animal getting loose and that could lead to it running onto the highway from there – nobody wants that.”

To make the arena more manageable, the society will shorten up each end by about 40 feet, and move 30 to 40 feet inside the west wall of the current arena, he said. Though the arena will have to be made smaller, the larger size of the Okotoks Agricultural Society grounds is allowing the rodeo to expand its scope this year, he said.

A beer gardens will be run inside the Agriplex building, spilling out through the overhead door so visitors can enjoy their beverages indoors or out, he said.

“This will also give us room to have a western trade show, our traditional bar and dance, and then a western art show,” said Reidy. “We’ll be able to have tents and stuff and a separate area where people can put up a display like art, woodcarving, all different types.”

The rodeo dance will be a little different this year, he said. The dirt inside the Agriplex will be watered and packed down for a “dance in the dirt” on the Saturday night, he said.

Another benefit is the ability to expand food choices for spectators, he said. Rather than having just one source for refreshments and meals, this year visitors will have a number of food trucks to choose from.

“There really are a lot of positives to this move,” said Reidy. “A lot of things we won’t have to do that we’ve had to do in the past, and some of our timeframes will be substantially more relaxed than previously. It’s going to be a lot of work, but it’s going to be a great rodeo.”

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