Three marquee events featured at the Williams Lake Stampede continue to grow year after year in popularity.
The Ranch Challenge, the Wild Cowgirl Race and the Mountain Race have all become signature, unique events over the years as fans in attendance look forward to cheering on participants, mostly from the region, in each event.
The Ranch Challenge is free for spectators and will take place directly following the rodeo on Saturday, June 30 and Sunday, July 1.
Its origins stem from the very first Williams Lake Stampede when a group of local cowboys decided to get together to organize a contest where they could show off their cowboying skills and compete for prize money.
The first official Ranch Challenge took place in 1994, said organizer LeeAnn Crosina.
“I think it just keeps getting more popular,” Crosina said. “This year is the biggest one yet.”
Twelve teams comprised of competitors from local ranches will compete in cattle penning, cattle sorting, a saddle up race, cowhand trailer race, trailer loading and ranch branding.
Each team will feature three cowboys or cowgirls.
“We’ve even got some kids this time, so that’s awesome,” she said. “Everybody participates in each event, and you get points from first to last on each event and based on how they placed that’s how they decide the overall winner.”
The entry fee is $150 per team. In all, $9,000 in cash is up for grabs, with payouts available in each event.
“Almost everybody gets a little something,” Crosina said. “In the penning, for example, we pay top five, then we add all the points together and do a final payout on top of that. And there’s prizes all the way from first to 12th.”
Last year’s winner was the Lazy TJ Ranch out of Prince George, however, Crosina said it’s tough to pick a favourite heading into this year.
“You never know what’s going to happen once you throw the animals in the mix,” she said. “Anything can happen.”
In addition to the Ranch Challenge, there’s also a Ranch Bronc Riding event following Saturday’s rodeo, immediately after the bull riding.
“The cowboys dress up, they get right into it,” she said. “Get some baby powder, a deck of cards and wave their hat at the horse — anything that can make it more of a show.”
Teams competing at this year’s Ranch Challenge include the Rolph Stock Ranch of Horsefly, Chilco Ranch of Hanceville, two teams from Douglas Lake Cattle Co. — Alkali and Riske Creek divisions — Lazy TJ Ranch of Prince George, Woodjam Ranch of Horsefly, Pablo Mountain Ranch near Springhouse, Gang Ranch near Churn Creek, Blue Goose Ranch of 70 Mile, River Ranch of Riske Creek, 153 Mile Ranch and, a new team this year, Willow Ranch near Cache Creek.
Crosina added she’d like to thank all the sponsors who help make the event possible.
“It should be really great this year,” she said.
WILD COWGIRL RACE
Now entering its fifth year at Stampede, the Wild Cowgirl Race features some of the bravest, most wild young women in the Cariboo and beyond.
Twenty-four racers — six per heat at each of the first four rodeo performances — will jockey for a position in the three-eighths-of-a-mile flat race final at Monday’s fifth and final rodeo.
“The top two from each heat will compete on the final day, with eight racers on the track,” said Wild Cowgirl Race organizer Janice Sapp. “The winner takes home the prestigious buckle.”
Racers will be vying for daily payouts, plus bragging rights, and a chance at a chunk of $10,000 being awarded over the weekend.
“We have quite a few coming from down south — Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Kamloops, Fraser Lake, Prince George — lots of girls from the Coast and the Okanagan,” Sapp said, adding the event has skyrocketed to much fanfare already in its short stint at Stampede.
“It’s gotten huge. The bigger the better, and I think it’s become one of the go-to things, so it’s exciting. There’s not a lot of events during the rodeo just specifically for women, and the people are cheering for the local girls and the girls they know, and these are all ranch girls and farm girls from all over the place just out there doing what they love and it’s really cool to watch.”
Kaitlyn McClure (Dorion), 30, of Riske Creek will be defending her title from last year on her horse, Kacey (It’s All About Class).
McClure is a two-time winner. She won the event in 2015, then missed 2016 due to an injury to her horse, but returned at the 2017 Stampede to win the buckle.
“You don’t hear the crowd,” McClure said. “You hear the wind, you hear your horse’s hooves and that’s all you hear. But that’s actually the best sound in the world.”
She added there’s some tough competition in this year’s field of riders.
“There are some pretty fast horses, and they’re from all over the place,” McClure said.
“I just hope everybody has a good, safe weekend. It’s become a favourite. People are betting on it, having fun. Everybody likes a horse race.”
Sapp noted the event, originally, was only open to locals, however, has recently been opened up to others in Canada.
“Last year we decided to open it up everywhere, and we had one come up from the U.S. — that’s how much it’s grown, but we’re doing Canadian residents only now,” Sapp said.
The following is a breakdown of riders, the colour they’ll be wearing and their heat race pairings heading into the weekend:
Friday, June 29 (first rodeo performance)
1.) Lissa Chiasson – Krestova, light blue
2.) Morgyn Lutz – Tatla Lake, orange
3.) Heather McKenzie – Williams Lake, yellow
4.) Michelle van Baalen – Chilliwack, lime green
5.) Cheryl Stewart – Fraser Lake, purple
6.) Lyndy Friesen – Williams Lake, red
Friday, June 29 (second rodeo performance)
1.) Rachel Lulua – Nemiah, light blue
2.) Connie Jasper – Riske Creek, orange
3.) Taylore McEachryn – Langley, yellow
4.) Rochelle Signorello – Kamloops, lime green
5.) Lynnette Proulx – Lytton, purple
6.) Terris Billyboy – Williams Lake, red
Saturday, June 30 (third rodeo performance)
1.) Kirsten Forsberg – Vanderhoof, light blue
2.) Nicole Roberts – Williams Lake, orange
3.) Kaitlyn McClure – Riske Creek, yellow
4.) Sara Geary – Fort Fraser, lime green
5.) Julie Palmantier – Sugarcane, purple
6.) Mary Charters – Prince George, red
Sunday, July 1 (fourth rodeo performance)
1.) Maxine Stump – Williams Lake, light blue
2.) Alita Splawinsky – Abbotsford, orange
3.) Kayle Hartman – Langley, yellow
4.) Sandra Mulvahill – Quesnel, lime green
5.) Amanda Lulua – 150 Mile, purple
6.) Lisa Manuel – Williams Lake, red
In one of the most exciting events the Williams Lake Stampede has to offer, courageous riders on horseback descend the mountain from Oliver Street, down into the Stampede Grounds, then around the race track and into the grandstand as screaming fans cheer on the contestants as they make their way across the finish line.
It’s an event not for the faint of heart. In the early years of the Stampede cowboys used to race down the side of Fox Mountain across what’s now Highway 97 and into the Stamped Grounds.
Today, a maximum of 10 riders each day compete for prize money and points. On the final day of the Stampede the first- and second-place finishers are entered into a spot in the final where they’ll compete for the title of Mountain Race champion.
The course includes sharp turns down the track, often resulting in mishaps for riders as they bump and jockey for position.