Just getting there is half the fun …

Canadian Cowboys’ Association members are road warriors on rodeo weekends

Dakota Buttar

Dakota Buttar

Prairie bull-riders on the busy summer circuit can attest that the ride to the rodeo is sometimes as eventful as the rocky rodeo ride itself.

Take the case of 18-year-old Cody Coverchuk, one of the up-and-coming bull-riders in the Canadian Cowboys’ Association. He was in Stettler on Friday night for the Steel Wheel Stampede, just hours after competing in Langham, Sask., the night before and just hours before entering another rodeo in Virden, Man., on Saturday night.

Three provinces, three rodeos, highway miles, bucking bulls and Red Bull. It’s all packed into a weekend of work for the likes of Coverchuk, who just graduated from high school in Meadow Lake, Sask., this spring.

After an aborted run on the opening night of the Stettler stampede, Coverchuk rammed the fence in frustration shortly afterward.

“I’m sore,” he said. “I’m kind of frustrated. I bucked off three bulls now. Usually, that doesn’t happen very often — three in a row.”

Coverchuk was including his two runs Thursday night at a PBR (Professional Bull-Riders) event in Langham, before he hit the highway for Stettler.

On a tough weekend for Stettler competitors (the bucking bulls seemed to be the big winners in all three days of action), Coverchuk came narrowly close to reaching an eight-second ride that would have enabled him to post a score.

“I was riding that bull and he just kind of got me jacked up over my  hand, and popped my hand at I think it was 7.8 seconds — real close,” Coverchuk replayed of his Cool Whip ride.

“I feel the pain in my right calf. It got stepped on square (Thursday) night and it was swollen up, so I iced it all night. And now my groin is starting to hurt, and my riding hand.”

In such state, the kid who pocketed about $13,500 in bull-riding winnings last summer prepared for an overnight drive to Saskatoon, a short stopover en route to Virden on Saturday.

Coverchuk teamed up with fellow competitor Lane LaPlante, much like he did the night before with Daniel LaPlante for the drive to Stettler.

“Travelling partners — that’s a big part of it,” Coverchuk said in a later interview Sunday. “My buddy, Lane LaPlante, he drove the first three hours Friday night, and then I took the last shift, the last two and a half hours to Saskatoon in the middle of the night. I slept when he was driving, and then he slept when I was driving.

“We’ll stop whenever if we’re too tired (for a coffee or) an energy drink.”

Or for a flat tire, as was the case Friday night … er Saturday morning.

“Oh, we blew a tire, and we had to change that on the side of the highway,” Coverchuk said.

“It wasn’t good,” Coverchuk said. “That (flat tire) would have been around 1:30 in the morning.

“We left Stettler at 9:30 or 10 (p.m.) and we never got to Saskatoon until almost six o’clock in the morning. We slept there. I hit the pillow and my eyes were done. We got a good four and a half, five hours of sleep.

“And then, at 10:30 (a.m.), we left for Virden and we drove all day. We got there at about six o’clock, the rodeo started at seven … we got there in pretty tight time.”

Timing, of course, is of the essence in rodeo circles.

The protracted journey turned out to be worth the trip for Coverchuk, who snapped his mini-slump and took home $1,200 after winning the Virden bullriding event.

“I needed to get some revenge and I drew a good bull — the 2011 CCA bull of the year, Ringer,” he said. “I was the only man to ride him last year and I drew him at the same rodeo this year and I ended up riding him again.

“I probably spent about $500 and won $1,200, so I came out in the clear this weekend a little bit.”

There wasn’t much time to celebrate. Although he had a day off Sunday, he still had to drive back to North Battleford, Sask., where he has a weekday job working with his brother, a welder.

“I don’t get to do much of that (partying),” Coverchuk said. “I’m usually gone to three or four rodeos every weekend.

“But if we do good, usually the guys like to go out and have a good time at the cabarets or whatever.”

Coverchuk had a breakthrough season last year while he was still 17.

“I just tried to have fun all the time and just keep going,” he said. “I drew really good and I rode really good all year, and everything worked out.”

Even before he graduated from Carpenter High School, Coverchuk knew he wanted to live the life of a cowboy.

“Oh, I love it,” he said with an affirmative smile. “I wouldn’t do nothing else.

“It’s time to go hard. I’m going to rodeo in the summer and I’m going to go get a job this winter and try and save up as much money as I can. I need sponsors, because I want to go pro next year. We’ll see how far that’ll go.”

Coverchuk played other high school sports, but he gave up those interests to train as a bull-rider.

“I played basketball and volleyball on school teams, until Grade 11, and then it started interfering with my bull-riding, because I’d go and practise every Wednesday night in Vermilion, Alta., which is two and a half hours from Meadow Lake, one way,” he said.

Fittingly, he wore a cowboy hat in his graduation photos. It was a sure sign that he’s plotting a rodeo career, and plenty of highway miles.

Four-rodeo weekend

The three-day Stettler stampede gave rodeo keeners like bull-rider Dakota Buttar of Kindersley, Sask., the opportunity to make it a four-event weekend.

Stettler’s final program Sunday was Buttar’s fourth stop on a rodeo whirlwind that included Jasper, Pincher Creek and a B.C. trek to Cranbrook.

The secret to pulling it off is “lots of driving,” Buttar, 19, said with a smile. “My dad (Jim) comes with me. Dad keeps us company.

“Friday morning, we left Kindersley and went to Jasper, and after Jasper, we went to Okotoks for the night. We got there at two in the morning, and then left for Pincher Creek that morning for a 2 o’clock (show). I rode there, then drove to Cranbrook, B.C., for the night (performance), and then that night, I drove back to Brooks, Alta., and then got up (Sunday) morning at Brooks and came to Stettler.”

He arrived in Stettler less than an hour before the afternoon program began.

“A little bit (tired),” he said. “It was a good day, seeing all my buddies.”

Buttar, who graduated from high school in 2011, spent the past winter in Brooks, working with power lines. This summer, he’s on the rodeo circuit fulltime.

“I’m happy with what I did today,” he said after Sunday’s effort in Stettler. “It’s my buddy Cody Strandquist’s bulls. It’s always good to get on one of those. I’m pretty good friends with Cody.”

Strandquist, 15, is from Kyle, Sask., but Stettler is his father Brad’s hometown. The Strandquists — and CS Bucking Bulls — are part of the Prairie Rodeo stock contracting team of Regina. Also supplying stock for the Stettler stampede were 7X Rodeo of Red Deer and Big Country Rodeo of Botha.