There are some very successful pro rodeo competitors, with a lot of buckles in their trophy case, who have yet to claim the title of Calgary Stampede Champion.

The countdown is on for all contestants taking part in the 2017 Stampede Rodeo. While each and every one of them rides into town hoping to leave with a giant $100,000 cheque with their name on it, there’s extra motivation for those who have long tried, but so far have found a Stampede victory elusive.

Jake Vold, bareback rider. Photo by: Mike Copeman

For Jake Vold, it’s a matter of unfinished business. The bareback rider, with the famous rodeo family bloodlines, has had his trip towards the stage interrupted too many times by injury. In 2013, his first horse of the rodeo slipped, and he suffered an elbow injury which required surgery to repair. Then last year, he came into Calgary with a rib issue suffered at the Ponoka Stampede. He won $9,000 in his pool and had advanced to Sunday’s Showdown, but again had to make the ‘painful’ (in all senses) decision to withdraw from his Stampede quest.

The good news is Vold, who lives in Airdrie, recovered and went on to win his third straight Canadian Bareback Championship in Edmonton. He also competed at the 2016 National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, and collected $165,000 on his way to finishing runner-up to the world title. Then this winter, he was the reserve winner at The American, plus he rode his way to the prestigious RodeoHouston championship, and a $56,000 bonus, in the spring.

Despite all that success, Vold still has his sights set on adding a Calgary Stampede bronze to the list.

“We’ll see,” he says, with a gleam in his eye. “One year might be my year. Calgary is always one of my favourites to look forward to every year.”

“I was disappointed last year,” Vold admits, of his premature end to the Stampede. “I felt like I was riding good coming into Calgary. I can’t wait to get back there again.”

“It would be nice to roll into Calgary riding good, feeling 100 per cent healthy, and you never know what could happen then. That’s when a guy’s dangerous.”

Better put up the danger signs! Vold is coming off a Cowboy Christmas run where he made money at all three Canadian rodeos, including a $17,000 hit from Ponoka highlighted by a 90.75 ride on his old friend Virgil.

Another champ hungry for a Calgary title who’s also rolling into Calgary on a hot streak is Tanner Milan, a two-time Canadian steer wrestling champion who considers Calgary his hometown show.

“I’ve dreamed of (winning) Calgary since I was a little kid,” said the Cochrane cowboy. “I’m so happy I get to go there. It’s just a bonus every single year a guy gets to go. A guy can do bad there, and still come out with a lot of money and it darn sure helps set you up for the rest of the year.”

Milan and his crew will be doing an all-night drive from a rodeo in Wolf Point, MT to get to Calgary for opening day Friday. He’s given his great horse Smoke a bit of a rest, so he’ll be fresh and ready. Milan was on a tear over the July first run, picking up big cheques from St. Paul, OR and at the Ponoka Stampede ($11,000). He hopes to build on that momentum coming home.

There is a Milan on the Stampede champion’s list, but it isn’t Tanner. For all the Stampede cash he’s been able to collect over the years, he’s never been able to earn the ultimate prize.

“I’ve been to the final four once, but didn’t have much luck. I want to be on the stage so (brother) Straws doesn’t have all the bragging rights round the house,” he chuckles.

Shane Hanchey collects his prize at the 2016 Calgary Stampede. Photo by: Mike Copeman

Tie-down roper Shane Hanchey of Sulphur, LA knows what it’s like to want a Stampede win so bad you can taste it. When he finally made that famous walk last July, the taste was a little muddy, but sweet, nonetheless.

“It’s hard to explain how much winning the Calgary Stampede last year meant to me,” insisted Hanchey, the 2013 World Champion.

“Anytime I walk in my house and see the cheque on the wall, with the bronze right under it, and I’ve got my back number pinned right next to the cheque, and it’s all muddy; and I’ve got my ropes that I used that day right there hanging up next to all that, and they’ve got the Calgary mud on them – that’s the stuff that means so much to me.”

“I’d been so close to winning the Stampede before. I’d been in the final four three or four times. To finally get it done, with my parents there to watch, and in the rain and the mud, that sure was special.”

So mission accomplished. Onto the next goal, right? Well, it now seems that once is never enough.

“That’s the worst part about it, or maybe the best part,” laughs Hanchey. “I’m looking forward to Calgary. I can’t wait to go back up the reigning champ. I have no doubt in my mind I’ll be riding a horse that’s capable of winning it again. It’s just my kind of setup, my kind of calves, my kind of people and that makes it fun and easy to win at.”

With more than $2 million in prize money in the pot of gold,  many competitors will go home wealthier from their time in Calgary, but only six will be crowned champions, a true rodeo career accomplishment.

So whether they’re competing for the very first time, or looking to achieve a long time goal, the Calgary Stampede moment of standing on the big stage, in front of a cheering crowd, with the big bronze in hand, is in their sights right now.