When the Benalto Fair and Stampede kicks off Friday morning the event which is steeped in history will be continuing its legacy as the second longest consecutive running rodeo in Canada.
The Benalto Picnic was advertised in the Red Deer Advocate in 1917 to take place on Wednesday July 18. With $200 in cash prizes, the events included a bucking contest with a $50 purse and $25 purses for the wild horse race, ladies’ horse race and baseball. As well there were races for young and old. Refreshments were served and a brass band was in attendance.
The oldest rodeo in the country appears to be Wood Mountain Stampede (in Saskatchewan) which celebrated its 123rd annual event this year. Handhills Lake also claims title to being one of the oldest. Their first event was July 20, 1917, just two days after Benalto’s initial affair.
Benalto is probably one of the few rodeos which is run all by volunteers, without paid staff, said Lesley Hill. “It’s pretty amazing to have a rodeo in such a tiny place.”
The events include a junior rodeo Friday morning then jumping classes and hall exhibits later in the day. Pony rides and trick riding take place before the Pro Rodeo gets underway at 7 p.m.
Then Saturday there’s a horse show, slack performance, tailgate sale, obstacle challenge and medieval demonstration prior to the 7 p.m. rodeo. The beer garden that night features Dean Rey The One Man Band.
Sunday features cowboy church, hall exhibits, dog agility demonstrations and concludes with the pro rodeo beginning at 1 p.m.
Pancake breakfasts are served daily from 8 a.m. There’s a trade show and food vendors throughout the weekend.
“There will be all kinds of activities this year during the days,” said Hill.
She said the event “feels better this year than the last few.” They’re getting support from new sponsors and continued support from many long time sponsors who are there every year.
Entries, last week, were “pretty compatible” to previous years. They have about 80-90 in the horse show, about 75 in the junior rodeo and close to 300 competitors in the pro rodeo. “That’s pretty impressive,” Hill said.
Operated by Benalto Agricultural Society, funds raised by the event go to local organizations and those mainly focused on kids programs, such as the 4-H Club, Pony Club and Booster Club.
Hill said the organization has put a significant amount of money and volunteer effort into upgrading the rings and now has the capacity to host dressage shows.