Sixteen-year-old Ben Steiger has been identified as the young man killed Saturday in a rodeo accident in Thorsby, Alta.

The teen, from Turner Valley, was taking part in a saddle bronc junior rodeo training event run by the John Duffy Bucking School at the Thorsby Haymaker Centre.

Instructor Skeeter Thurston, a rodeo rider with 20 years experience, called the accident “a freak event.”

“This is the first tragedy I’ve ever witnessed in the arena in the bronc riding,” he said, adding “[Steiger] was doing everything right – it was just a total accident.”

Skeeter Thurston

Calling Steiger's death 'a freak accident,' instructor Skeeter Thurston said he's never seen a tragedy of this magnitude in his 20-year rodeo career. (Doug Steele/CBC)

“You ride bucking horses, you’re going to get bucked off.”

Thurston’s son Wyatt, 22, was at the Haymaker Centre helping out at the time of the accident.

“I was there when Ben got on, and helped him on, and was 20 feet from it when it happened,” he said, adding that Steiger’s enthusiasm for the event was obvious.

“As far as rodeo wrecks go, it looked pretty innocent,” he said. “He just got bucked off out over the front of [the horse]. It was something we’ve seen a hundred times. It looked pretty run of the mill and pretty normal. It wasn’t a bad wreck by any means.

“The horse kind of stepped over him and the horse tried to miss him with his feet, but just the way he got bucked off, the horse did clip him a little bit but it didn’t look like anything serious.”

Wyatt said no one thought his injuries were serious at first, saying Steiger got up, ran a few steps and then collapsed.

“Then we knew there was something very seriously wrong. It’s almost surreal that something like that was the cause of it.”

‘It was a very quiet building’

About 80 people were in the stadium watching the training session, including Steiger’s father, who witnesses say rushed down to help the on-site medic perform CPR.

“It was a very quiet building,” said Wyatt, describing the atmosphere as the crowd watched the medic's efforts.

STARS air ambulance was also called but Steiger was pronounced dead at the scene.

“It’s tragic and confusing and you just never know … everything happens in the blink of an eye in the rodeo arena,” said Wyatt.

Training clinic continues Sunday

Despite the tragic accident, the bronc training camp went on as planned Sunday after the other students told Thurston they wanted to continue.

“I’m not trying to make light of a bad situation,”he said. “But what we’re trying to do is put it into perspective to the kids and I want them to leave here with the same enthusiasm they showed up with on Friday.”

Carla Robinson

Carla Robinson's son Jesse was in the same training clinic as Steiger. She says nothing could have been done to prevent the tragedy. As the mother of a rodeo rider, she says “You just hope for the best and pray." (Doug Steele/CBC)

Carla Robinson’s son was also participating in the training session, which they picked because of Thurston’s reputation as a trainer.

She said her son was shaken after Steiger died, but was among the students who opted to continue.

“I don’t think there’s anything that boy yesterday could have done different. It was just an unfortunate accident. Nothing else could have been done.”

And while Robinson admits that while watching her son compete in the rodeo circuit where injuries are bound to happen can be tough, at the end of the day, it’s her son’s decision.

“You just hope for the best and pray, and you know that this is what they want to do. That’s what you keep saying to yourself.”

Thorsby is about 70 kilometres south of Edmonton.