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Wheat City Stampede keeps growing

“The really great part is that we are all good friends as well. It makes going to meetings fun – almost a social outing.”

The last weekend of October has become a mainstay to anyone in the horse industry in Manitoba, particularly western enthusiasts. This is when the Manitoba Finals Rodeo comes to town, and along with it, a gamut of horse-related activities and events with something for everyone in the industry.

This all-encompassing weekend has been dubbed by some as the “Manitoba western horse event of the year” and has been fittingly renamed the Wheat City Stampede and Horse Expo.

Taking place this year from October 22 to 26, at the Keystone Centre in Brandon, this event couldn’t have happened without a group of hardworking and dedicated individuals working together to achieve some amazing results.

“Our oldest board member is 36 and the youngest is 24,” said Alistair Hagan, co-chair of the Wheat City Stampede. Alistair wears multiple hats this particular weekend as president of the MRCA and a partner in the Hagan Horse Sale – both events taking place in conjunction with the stampede. But he still finds time to compete in the rodeo every evening.

“We have a whole, really good group of enthusiastic young volunteers who make it all happen,” said Hagan. “The really great part is that we are all good friends as well. It makes going to meetings fun – almost a social outing.

“Our mission statement is ‘to add education to entertainment,’” said Hagan. By all accounts, they are doing a pretty good job of it.

This is the fourth consecutive year that the Manitoba Rodeo Cowboys Association has held its year-end finals rodeo in Brandon.

New venue

After its long-standing relationship with the Provincial Ex ended in early 2003, the MRCA scrambled to find a venue to host the rodeo that same year. It was held in Virden in fall of 2003. The decision was made to take control and secure a permanent venue to hold its rodeo each fall, and the logical choice seemed to be to create its own stand-alone event.

One of the reasons this event was started was to provide horse breeders and ranchers in the province with a means to market and add value to the products they produce. Manitoba producers knew they had good stock to showcase, so instead of taking their product to the people, they found a way to bring the market to them.

2004 was the birth of the Wheat City Stampede and Horse Expo weekend hosting the Manitoba Finals Rodeo, with the 50/50 Superhorse Sale & Futurity, the Manitoba Team Penning, and the High School Rodeo being the first partner groups on board. That year was a huge success, and as the event garnered more attention it continued to grow.

In 2005, event organizers added the first annual “Party in the Dirt,” a live band featured in the main arena following the Friday evening rodeo performance, as well as the NAERIC Youth Extravaganza which featured a free clinic with a prominent clinician geared toward 4-H Clubs and other youth groups.

Still growing

In 2006, the first annual Hagan Performance & Ranch Horse Sale was held in conjunction with the stampede, as well as the Circle “S” Todd Stiles Memorial Barrel Classic. As well, a different look was introduced to the Horse Expo with the addition of draft horses and the North Country Draft Horse Breeders sale. What had started out as a weekend event, the Wheat City stampede was quickly growing out of its original allotted time frame and spilling over into the preceding week. 2007 saw the addition of the Black Baldy Ranch Horse Invitational and the AQHA test ride.

The young, vibrant and eager event organizers saw yet more room for improvement and the potential for the weekend to become even bigger and better. 2008 saw the largest increase ever in additions with the introduction of the Queen contest, the Frasers Bull Congress, the stock dog trials, the Manitoba Draft Foal Jackpot, the Barrels of Cash sale and futurity, the low-stress cattle-handling workshop with Dylan Biggs, and partnering with the Manitoba Forage Council to bring the Holistic Management International Conference to town.

“We want this show to grow,” Hagan says. “We want this event to be one that no one in the industry can afford to miss.”

Trade centre

The fact that there are so many different things going on pertaining to different areas of the horse industry, brings with it a vast array of enthusiasts and varying audiences. Many of the trades people have taken advantage of the venue to showcase their merchandise or the service they offer. It has become a hub of activity for horse people and the general public. The entire deal is free admission to the public (excluding the evening rodeo and Friday night concert) which makes it an attractive draw for the public.

These events also provide an incredible networking opportunity to those in the horse industry.

There are at least four different sales that take place over the weekend, all catering to different areas of interest, truly making it an event for everyone. As well, there is the prize money involved with the MFR, the team penning, the ranch horse competition, the 50/50 futurity, the draft foal show, and eventually the Barrels of Cash futurity.

There is a huge trade show and the spinoff that this whole weekend creates is a win-win scenario for the City of Brandon and their businesses. The Wheat City Stampede generates $1.9 million in spinoff revenue for the City of Brandon according to Lois MacDonald of Brandon tourism office.

“I’ve heard that for every dollar spent, it circulates seven times around before it leaves the community,” said Chris Warkentin, the other co-chair of the Wheat City Stampede committee and vice-president of the MRCA. “We thought that money might as well be doing that here at home as somewhere else. This is one of the ways that we can give back to our community.”

“We want the public to know that this isn’t just about a rodeo, it is an entire horse and cattle industry weekend and is geared towards all ranchers. It is a weekend to exchange knowledge and share ideas and see what is going on in the industry.”

Tight budget

The Wheat City Stampede is certainly not hosting the event to try and turn a profit. With less than $40,000 in sponsorship dollars and zero government money available, the Wheat City Stampede spends upwards of $280,000 to host the event in Brandon.

“The stampede isn’t a money grab at all. It is an event to promote agriculture and agritourism in Manitoba,” said Warkentin.

Prior to 2007, the weekend was promoted and referred to as the MFR weekend. As the event grew in size, the committee decided to change the name to a catchy, recognizable name – one that Brandon residents could take some ownership in. The Wheat City Stampede was the name of choice.

“We want it (the event) to be the Calgary Stampede of Manitoba,” said Warkentin, “where all the business done gets done in one week. Just like the Calgary Stampede, the Wheat City Stampede is a crucial networking opportunity for everyone in the industry.”

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