Family supports Airdrie Pro Rodeo from its Inception
Allen Fletcher’s rodeo life began when he was old enough to climb onto a sheep and do some mutton-busting. He followed that by competing in wild pony races.
Just like his siblings. Just like most all other kids from rodeo families around these parts.
“I think the last year I did the pony races was the first year they began putting helmets on the kids,” says the 21-year-old. “That was a good idea. Some of those ponies are mean.”
Fletcher is part of a fifth-generation Airdrie area ranch family. The Fletchers have 1,000 acres just northeast of the city where the family operates a grain farm and owns about 100 head of cattle.
Along with running their own ranch, the Fletchers are a big part of the Airdrie Pro Rodeo and have been for decades. Allen’s dad, Russ, began tagging along with his mom and dad to help out at the annual event at age nine.
The five-day rodeo will celebrate its 49th year this July long weekend and the Fletchers will be there working hard to make it happen, along with other members of the non-profit Airdrie Rodeo Ranch Association. The rodeo is a big stop on the Canadian pro rodeo circuit, occupying a coveted place on the calendar right before the Calgary Stampede.
“A lot of the same stock you see in Calgary comes to Airdrie; Outlaw Buckers, which is all top-grade horses,” says Allen. “It’s a smaller atmosphere but still the quality of the rodeo, of the riding is there.”
Adds Allen’s mom, Russ’s wife Delcene: “You’re getting the top cowboys and stock. The people who go to Calgary just come a little earlier because it’s July 1. It’s right before the Stampede and it’s [a] nice family experience. You sit on the hill and in the stands and it’s nice and close.”
The family’s involvement dates all the way back to 1967 when Russ’s dad (after whom Allen is named) and the Airdrie Lions Club ran a gymkhana, which is an equestrian event featuring racing and games for riders on horses. The event gradually evolved into the current professional rodeo.
Naturally the rodeo has gotten bigger and better over the years, says Russ, who once rode bulls.
“The stock’s better than it used to be, there’s no doubt,” he says. “I think the cowboys are better athletes because this is their living. No doubt there were good athletes back then but these guys are in top shape.”
Allen is the only one of the family still involved as a competitor. He began taking part in bareback riding a couple years back while attending Olds College, where he studied land management (he now works at Taylor Land Services in Airdrie).
Brothers Evan and Garrett and younger sister Melissa, who is now a student at Olds College, also help out at the rodeo “with whatever needs to be done,” says their mom.
And while the Fletcher boys have left the nest, all still work hard to keep the ranch operating.
“They’re home two or three times a week and they help out, especially with seeding and harvest. We couldn’t do it without them. There’s just no way Russ and I could handle all the work here without them,” Delcene says.
Airdrie Pro Rodeo needs a lot of help, too – about a couple hundred volunteers each year to make it work. Russ currently is the rodeo manager and can be found always down at the chutes.
“I like to be down where the action is,” he says. “We have a whole bunch of people who have certain jobs but I like the arena end of it better.
“It’s a very big project taking on five days of rodeo. With people at the beer gardens and arena staff and all the people at the park, the whole thing I’m sure takes about 200 people to put on,” he adds.
While the Fletchers represent a tiny part of that number, the family is a big part of why the rodeo is always a success.