Since C+ Rodeos stock contractor manager Roy Call entered the business in 1984 with his brother, Earl, few animal athletes have left a mark contestants will remember quite like these two.
Wahoo — a blue-eyed, Chestnut bareback horse — and Van Helsing — a legendary black, Mexican-brahma bull cross — struck fear into the hearts of rodeo athletes for years at the Williams Lake Stampede.
Wahoo was raised on the Cotton Ranch west of Williams Lake and purchased by the Calls from Grant Huffman and Evan Howarth in the mid-1980s. It turned out to be one of the best purchases the brothers made.
“We don’t have a lot that come from close areas and he was a spoiled saddle horse and a real character,” Roy said of Wahoo. “He wanted to be your friend, but he really bucked.”
Wahoo went to the Canadian Finals Rodeo four times making him one of the top 30 horses in Canada.
“We probably got 15 years out of him as a bucking horse which is a very long time,” Roy said.
At Stampede, Wahoo had began to garner a reputation among fans and cowboys, alike.
“It was fun because there were a lot of guys who knew who he was,” Roy said. “They saw him in the amateur circuits and saw him around and got to come to Stampede to see him against some of the best guys in the world here every year.”
One of the most important parts of the rodeo business, Call explained, is starting with something spectacular and ending with something spectacular.
“You can get by with some stuff in the middle but that first horse you buck, it better buck and that last bull you buck, it better buck. That’s what people see, and that’s what they remember.”
After the first couple of years the Calls bucked Wahoo, it became clear to them he was a sure-fire hit.
“For almost 10 years we started [the rodeo] with that horse,” he said. “The rodeo didn’t start until that horse was there. If he had a good guy on him they’d get 82, 83 or 84. He never let us down. If he had an average guy on him they were 76. They always put up a good score on him. It didn’t matter if it was muddy or 40 degrees.”
As for the notorious Van Helsing, it didn’t take long for bullriders from around the country to take note of his fierce nature.
“He was a dirty, mean little bull,” Roy said.
A 2004-born calf, Van Helsing — who made his retirement in 2015 — was ridden to the whistle just three times in his career. Two of those times were by 150 Mile House bullrider Kyle Lozier.
“He went on a long stretch of six years where no one ever rode him once and that’s saying a lot,” Roy said. “With those top-end horses we take them for maybe 20 trips a year and some of the better ones in the teens. That black bull, we used to buck him sometimes up to 40 trips a year.”
Roy said Van Helsing’s success could be attributed to his size. Topping out at around 1,400 pounds, he was just the right size for a bucking bull.
“He never beat himself up,” Roy said. “He was never hurt because he broke himself down being too heavy and he stayed that way. With that cross he had in him he had lots of temper, too. He hooked the crap out of lots of guys.”
Later on in Van Helsing’s career, he had reached a point of notoriety to the extent where no bullrider wanted to draw him.
Roy said one of his proudest moments was near the end of Van Helsing’s career at the Williams Lake Stampede.
“The real top-end guys, they wouldn’t get on him. Unless you went to an amateur rodeo and had a kid that was too dumb to know any better or a guy who took it as a personal challenge a lot of guys just turned him out and said ‘no thanks, we’ll get on next week,’” Call said.
During that Stampede weekend, Roy, who had been a little put out with a few guys for not wanting to ride Van Helsing, decided he would buck the bull at all four performances.
“That’s what we did to combat that,” he said. “Normally at a rodeo you’ll put a bull out twice — one day on, then a day off — but never, ever four times. That weekend he bucked all four guys off, who were all outstanding including Reid Lozier and former Canadian champion Scott Schiffner. He actually hooked three of the four including Scott on the last day.”
Van Helsing didn’t take kindly to his retirement, however, so Roy, again, found himself loading his prized bull up and making a few rodeo appearances.
“We bucked him maybe eight years, which is an incredibly long time for a bull,” Roy said. “He’s one of those bulls that just seems to never get older. Last fall he was standing around here at the ranch fighting and causing a pain every day so we put him on the truck and took him to some rodeos to get that out of him.”
Van Helsing, now 12 years old, still resides happily on the C+ Rodeos ranch.
Asked what makes for a successful bucking horse or bucking bull, Roy said there’s no way to truly know.
“With us we breed them that way,” he said. “Really, though, when you find them you can’t tell until you buck them. Very few work out because once you conquer them a couple of times they quit. They’re smart animals. Most of them say, well, I don’t want to do this, but the few that do it for a long time are either very stubborn or enjoy doing it. But until you put them in the chutes and buck them you don’t know.”
Roy said he hopes his animal athletes will put on the show of a lifetime this year when the 90th anniversary of the Williams Lake Stampede rides into town.
“The Stampede is our most fun event of the year,” he said. “You get the best guys in the world. With us and the horses and the bulls and all the people in the community involved it’s just a great event.”