By riding trails, checking cows on a community pasture, or competing in a rodeo arena, a Miniota teenager is living his ideal life.
Aaron Lee owes a lot of his success and drive for the cowboy way to a special adult in his life – Zane Fredbjornson, manager of the Wallace PFRA Community Pasture.
“Drawn into the cowboy heritage – thanks to my step-dad – I have come to learn it’s a great lifestyle through many facets over the years,” said Lee. “I’m blessed to be able to ride and rope at home and on the road, sharing quality time with Zane, along with my mom, Michelle, and sisters, Samantha and Jacey.
Lee craved to become involved in the sport, thanks to standing in the shadows watching Fredbjornson, a rodeo competitor himself, chalk up wins in various associations. Since joining the Manitoba High School Rodeo Association (MHSRA) eight years ago, the Birtle Collegiate Institute Grade 12 student has tried his hand at goat tying, breakaway roping, ribbon roping, chute doggin’, team roping and tie-down roping, with the latter two still among his favourite timed events.
Joining in 2004, participation has assisted in the marketing of the new Junior High Division on a provincial level as well as nationally. A photograph of Lee chute doggin’ (wrestling a steer) appeared on the front cover of the National High School Rodeo Association magazine The Timesand aided in the promotion of the inaugural National Junior Finals Rodeo in New Mexico.
“While eight-time world champion, Speed Williams is my favourite rodeo competitor, hands down when it comes to having an exceptional roping mentor I must tip my hat to Zane,” said the 18-year-old, who also keeps in shape by playing hockey. “Spending countless hours together, roping fake or live steers, tips are always freely given, which has brought success as a competitor.”
The help, the knowledge and the pats on the back over the years haven’t gone unnoticed. Putting a positive spin on the friendships gained no matter the avenue – Manitoba Team Roping Association, Heartland Rodeo Association, Manitoba Rodeo Cowboys Association or the MHSRA – Lee says, “I hope that someday I will be somebody’s mentor… helping young people the same way that all the adults and friends have aided me as a person and in my roping abilities.”
And roping abilities come in handy on the range. Much like feedlot pen riders, the majority of work on a community pasture is done on horseback, checking producer-owned cattle from May to October. If not in a saddle, Lee, an avid horseman, may also be found over the summer working with the Belgian draft horses at his Uncle Tom Lane’s place near Birtle.
Not wanting to put a guess on how many loops have been thrown over the years, Lee believes success in team-roping events is to draw good cattle, to be able to score the animal drawn in a manner that won’t break the barrier, and be able to rope the steer left at a 90-degree angle, which will allow a heeling partner to rope the two back feet.
As a team roper, where teamwork between the two contestants roping together and teamwork between the roper and his horse are vital components, Lee has tried his hand both as a header and heeler. No matter the end of the steer, he has seen success.
“Two extra-special moments thus far being involved in the MHSRA have come through with a lariat in my hand,” said Lee, who is aiming to attend a rodeo college in the U.S. or Alberta in the fall. “In my inaugural year as a junior, I won the year-end champion heeler title in the form of a belt buckle, donated by Zane’s family in memory of his dad. That meant a lot to me. The second was in 2009, when through great support from friends, family and community, myself and Layne Smith of Oak Lake placed second overall at the Canadians held in Williams Lake, B.C.”
Lee, who is the MHSRA student president, feels the association is more than about the sport of rodeo – it’s family! Male and female students from Grade 6 to Grade 12 learn as they go, climb the ladder of success at their own pace, and along the way have an opportunity to obtain scholarships for post-secondary education and future goals.
“I’m proud to be a member of the MHSRA,” Lee says. “There is a special bond between everyone involved from the host community to the stock contractor to the competitor, working together to showcase what high school rodeo truly stands for. For that I extend thanks to all involved in making it a successful association.”
– Darrell Nesbitt writes from Shoal Lake, Manitoba