Behind the Chutes of Canadian Rodeo
Photography by Carter Clarkson
|Aerial view taken behind the chutes shows the crew surrounding thebull rider as he begins to get ready
for his ride
More than just a sports report or extreme action spin-off, Rodeo – Life on the Circuit, is an eight-week TV series that documents the most intimate struggles and victories of rodeo competitors.
Featuring some of Canada’s top rodeo athletes, viewers will find themselves engrossed in a rodeo tale that took an entire season to film and a year to edit.
The show, produced by Birds of a Feather Media, comes from a collaboration between award winning director Guy Clarkson and Don Metz of Aquila Productions (CFR Television).
Starring in the series are All Around cowboys Jeremy Harden, Kyle Thomson and Steven Turner, bull riders Denton Edge, Chad Besplug, Ty Elliott and Jody Turner. The feminine side of rodeo is represented by barrel racers Sierra Stoney and Kendra Edey. Davey Shields and Reid Rowan are the bareback riders while Rod Hay, Dustin Thompson and Novice competitor Wyatt Thurston play ambassadors for the saddle bronc. Bullfighter Scott Byrne and stock contractor Wayne Vold are also featured.
|Pick up man Jason Resch leads thecharge as the roughstock gallops into the Ponoka Stampede|
The funding rules of Canadian documentary television decree none of the cowboys could be paid. Unscripted shots mean ‘what you see is what you get’ —warts andall. On any given weekend in 2009, Clarkson followed the story lines of 14 competitors as he directed no less than six cameras and 15 professional crew members across Western Canada.
A typical day on site would see a camera crew follow barrel racers Sierra Stoney and Kendra Edey from their waking moments at home, to the barn and training pen, down the road to victory or defeat and back to the drawing board again.
Taking down the barriers that hide the tough cowboy person a was a personal challenge for Clarkson, who won awards for a climbing documentary about Mount Everest.
Said Clarkson: “Although my initial thinking told me that cowboy culture was very much alive, my appreciation for it deepened as mywork on the series continued. As I grew to know the cowboys and understand their challenges and struggles, my respect for them grew day by day. I felt a great responsibility in telling their stories and am very grateful to all of them and the rodeo community for their support.”
Cameraman Mike Beley described it best when he said: “We had to become cowboy whisperers” — in reference to the occasional reluctance of cowboys to answer the tough questions that might expose their deeper layers. Producer Guy Clarkson also praised the hard work and dedication of his production team: “We were very fortunate to have the best professionals in the industry working on the show and importantly that a number of them had been involved in rodeo for many years.”
|Barrel racer Kendra Edey
of Longview, Alta.,
encourages her horse as
they head for home from
the third barrel.Edey has
qualified for the CFR three
Champion Bareback rider
Davey Shields Jr., of
Bashaw, Alta. Shields
has qualified for the CFR
some 13 times and the
WNFR four times to date.
|Perched on the fence is
Kyle Wanchuk.The eight-
year old (along with his
older brother, Kolby) are
the sons of RickyTicky
Wanchuk, a rodeo clown
whose colourful career
has spanned 34 years.
Clarkson’s desire to reveal the essence of rodeo and its characters comes from a long family connection to the land and a career as a professional athlete himself. Clarkson said that a common reaction among crew members was the “acknowledgement that each competitor was truly an athlete in pursuit of excellence.”
On the backside of the lens for the past year, Clarkson acknowledges that rodeo’s inner circle is a privileged place to be. Getting inside that circle was made easier by Canadian Champion Bull Rider Don Johansen and his wife Nancy,who became a bridge of connection and hospitality at the rodeos.
Needing a Command Central, Johansen generously provided an empty cargo trailer for cowboys and camera crew to convene around at the rodeos. “Don’s knowledge of the entire sport of rodeo from competition to production was an invaluable asset,” said Clarkson.
By the time the CFR rolled around, cowboys and cowgirls were so used to having the cameras following them that it seemed strangely quiet when the equipment went back in the box after the final performance. “Those guys and gals were really great to have around,” Wyatt Thurston said after the CFR.
If readers are wondering how relevant a story shot in 2009 could be in 2011, Clarkson knows they won’t be disappointed. “This is a human-interest story about 14 professional rodeo competitors— not a specific season. The goal of the series is to generate a better understanding and appreciation of rodeo as a sport and way of life. A large Canadian audience willjoin History Television in discovering a world many have neverknown. Hopefully in the end it willmake new converts to the sport of rodeo and help in preserving a rich part of our western heritage.”
The long-awaited series is scheduled to air on History Television beginning in January 2011 over eight, one-hour episodes.
|Jeremy Harden||Dustin Thompson|
|Chad Besplug||Rod Hay||Kyle Thompson|
|Kendra Edey||Reid Rowan||Wyatt Thurston|
|Denton Edge||Davey Shields Jr.||Jody Turner|
|Ty Elliott||Sierra Stoney||Steven Turner|
|Family in a Fish Bowl
In the spring of 2009 our familywas contacted to see if Wyatt would participate in Rodeo – Life on the Circuit. As an 18-year-old Novice Saddle Bronc rider in the CPRA, they planned to “follow” him for the length of the season. Wyatt agreed and we readily met with Guy Clarkson.
Although we have done manytelevision interviews over the years, we had not experienced an ongoing documentary capturing the small and intimate moments of Wyatt’s life and that of our family. This meant that many times a camera crew was in our home or hotel room even before we hit the showers. Microphone packs were constantly on all of us — and if the family was in chaos audio was capturing it all! For Wyatt, in particular, it meant that the emotions he feltsurrounding his Grade 12 yearand his foray into riding broncsin the CPRA were on camera fo rall to scrutinize.
That was a lot of pressure, but Wyatt handled it well. The extra scrutiny brought tensions to the surface. It really made me think about my parenting and the expectations we put on others.
Having my words and actions mirrored back to me was a humbling experience. We were thankful that the TV crews were such great people. I know they readily forgave us for our failings.