Rodeo fans from Western Canada and beyond made their way to Benalto over the weekend to take in events at the 96th Benalto Fair and Stampede.
With co-operating weather, and a high number of rodeo entries and spectators, the event proved successful once again, according to Benalto Agricultural Society President Neal Arksey.
“Our entries were up considerably, and we attribute that to the stock,” he said. “Cowboys wants to buck on good stock, so they come here.”
Arksey feels a large part of the rodeo’s popularity among both spectators and participants also comes from its convenient location not far from Red Deer. Being centrally located prompts people to travel from Western Canada, the United States, and even places as far away as Australia, to view and take part, he said.
World champion barrel racer Mary Walker, of Ennis, Texas, was just one of a number of international contestants who competed at the rodeo.
Trailers began pulling into Benalto almost a week in advance of the event, as people staked out their camping spots of choice for the weekend.
This year, a midway added to the weekend’s already-stacked list of attractions, and returned after a six-year absence.
“We find it’s kind of tough because our space is limited for parking and trailers and camping, but we squeezed it in,” said Arksey.
A steady stream of events kept attendees entertained at nearly every hour of the weekend. As well as the pro rodeo, they included a junior rodeo, horse show, an obstacle challenge and mini bull bucking with about 25 competitors.
“We try and keep it rolling so people stay and can have a variety of stuff going on that they can sit around and enjoy,” said Arksey.
The agricultural society doesn’t have a way of determining exactly how many people attended over the weekend, but Arksey said he was pleased with the turnout.
He feels this year’s attendance numbers weren’t record breaking, but were roughly on par with those of last year.
“Last year was pretty warm, and this year we didn’t know what the weather was going to do for us, but people still came out,” he said. “(Attendance) was very comparable to last year.”
Putting on an action-packed weekend, he assured, is no simple feat, and requires the work of many volunteers. That’s why he’s grateful to have had so many people offering help in days and weeks leading up to the fair and stampede.
“We’ve got a great group of people here on the ag society,” he said, adding that help also came from local clubs such as Shadow Riders 4-H Club and Medicine River Pony Club.
“Parents and kids come out to get things ready — anything from painting bleachers to setting up fences or cutting grass. It’s just been tremendous.
“It’s a really good, tight-knit community where everybody comes out and wants to see this thing go well.”
The volunteer-run ag society doesn’t make much money from the fair and stampede, Arksey admitted. The event is held each year out of tradition and to “keep the sport of rodeo going,” instead of acting as a fundraiser, he said.
“If we break even on it, we’re pretty happy,” he said. “For three days of rodeo, it’s a big expense, but we’ve got good sponsors which helps out quite a bit.”
Results from the pro rodeo are available on Canadian Professional Rodeo Association’s website at www.rodeocanada.com.