There was plenty of hooting and hollering during the steer wrestling in the opening performance of the Calgary Stampede, and most of it came from one cowboy – Craig Weisgerber.
The Ponoka competitor has been looking forward to this day in Calgary for longer than you could imagine, and it turned out better than he ever imagined.
“Very first perf, first everything,” exclaimed Weisgerber, still gulping for air moments after his 4.7 second run proved to be the fastest of the round. “First round win, first…oh my gosh, I didn’t think this was going to happen!”
Weisgerber thoroughly enjoyed his victory lap, waving his hat, whooping at friends and fans, and high-fiving his fellow competitors at the chutes.
“You have to. It might be the only one I get, who knows? I’m letting it all hang out.”
Despite his high level of enthusiastic celebration, the competitor managed to remain calm and cool during his run.
“I just tried to do my job. (Hazer) Straws Milan pressed one nice for me, got a good head catch and everything worked out today. I didn’t think a 4.7 was going to get ‘er done but the way the conditions were, I guess it did. Anything can happen – it’s rodeo!”
“The level of competition is top-notch. You don’t find it anywhere else. To come out on top of that is a great feeling. You know, a guy always thinks he can, but to prove it is another thing. That’s a pretty good feather in my cap.”
The nine-year pro got some practice with the big Calgary crowds by getting up early and riding in the Stampede parade before competing in the afternoon.
“I had a great time at the parade this morning. Man, that was something else that first time, you want to take it in. Why not ride your horse through downtown Calgary? You don’t get to experience that every day.”
Weisgerber picked up $5,500 for his first-place finish Friday, with veteran Calgary competitor Cody Cassidy earning $4,500 for his 4.8 second run, just a tenth of a second behind Weisgerber.
It was a good opening day for a three-time Canadian bareback champion. Jake Vold, who lives just up the road at Airdrie, came out from eight seconds with a horse called Mushroom Cloud with a big 88 score. That gave him the $5500 deposit in his Stampede bank account.
“She’s just a big, round horse,” commented Vold. “I love the big horses, lots to get a hold of, lots of timing to her. A little strong, but that’s good, helps you spur easier.”
It was quite a turn around for the cowboy who was forced to double grab before the whistle on his horse in the Ponoka Stampede Finals just four days before, during the busy July first run of rodeos.
“I sored my shoulder up at Williams Lake. Taped it down in Airdrie and got on there, but it was quite sore after. Same thing in Ponoka. I just whipped it the wrong way, and it was just a dirty, painful stinger going down my arm. So I decided to save myself and ride another day.”
That was Monday, and since then, Vold has been spending a lot of time with the Canadian Pro Rodeo Sports Medicine Team experts.
“They made me feel a hundred times better and it gave me that confidence rolling in here. I’m sore, but I feel good.”
After logging a few days off for the shoulder, and some more time out of action earlier this year for some wrist issues, you could say Vold is coming to this Stampede hungry.
“That’s the worst fourth of July I’ve ever had in my life. I was pretty ticked at being at home. So I’ve really looked forward to this. There’s lots of money here, so you might as well come fill your pockets,” he grinned.
Bowden’s Ky Marshall put some cash in his pockets too, when he came in second with an 86 points ride, worth $4500.
Ivy Conrado led off the barrel racers Friday, and took her horse J-Lo around the pattern in 17.57 seconds. It held up as the fastest of the day, which was no small feat considering the horse’s experience with a muddy track.
“I’ve never ran J-Lo in the mud before today,” admitted the Colorado cowgirl, who’s competed on her horse at two NFR’s. “I’ve actually never even loped a circle in the mud on her before today, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.”
Conrado called a good friend for some advice after the rain on Thursday, who advised her to take the horse for a spin around the track in the morning practice time. She did, and it helped build her confidence.
“They work so hard on the ground, you know they’re going to put the effort in to make it ‘safe mud’. So I could crack J-Lo out in the mud here. I trust it.”
Conrado got the $5,500 cheque and the small bronze for her courage in the mud, followed by Jessie Telford of Idaho, who was 17.720 seconds.
Roper Jake Pratt of Texas collected $5,500 for completing his tie in 8.9 seconds, fastest of the round, competing in just his second Calgary Stampede.
“This place is amazing, the atmosphere and everything. I didn’t do any good last year. After roping at the (National) Finals last year, it’s kind of made everything a relief, because it took so long to get to Vegas. So today was just fun. It feels good to get off to a good start.”
They had to make an extra bronze in the saddle bronc riding when two cowboys recorded 86-point rides. Zeke Thurston of Big Valley rode Peigan Warrior, while Chase Brooks, of Montana, spurred Double D, netting them $5,000 apiece.
It’s the first time to town for Brooks.
“It’s crazy. This place is awesome. The first time you walk in, it ranks right up there with going to the Finals, no doubt. This is a cool rodeo. I’m glad I finally got to come up here. Oh yea, there were definitely nerves, but I don’t tell people that,” he chuckled.
Even though Thurston is only 24 (until the Monday after Stampede), he’s no stranger to this event, and was glad to kick his week off on a horse with plenty of experience.
“She’s got some age on her and has been an awesome horse for a long time and she had a really good day today. I knew for the conditions that’d be a good horse to have. She’s been there and seen it all. I was lucky enough to make a pretty good ride on her.”
They had the rider-friendly pen of bulls for the cowboys to play on in the opening round, and they showed their stuff. More than half of the bull riders made the whistle, with Jared Parsonage emerging with the high score of the day, an 86.5 on a bull called High Five, for his $5,500.
“He kicked out of there and when he got off the shale into the deep ground he got to catching quite a few gears there, and I had to work for it,” said the Maple Creek cowboy. “I was lucky to land on my feet so I didn’t get too muddy.
“This is my third Calgary and my first bronze. It feels good to finally get one.”
Montana’s Jess Lockwood came in second place for the day, picking up $4,500 for his 85 point ride on a bull called On Target.