'Hang on tight as you can': K-Days launches 1st rodeo
'There's a really strong rodeo following and this is an opportunity to open up to a new audience'
Cowboy hats, spurred boots, leather chaps and the smell of horse manure are mixing with this year's K-Day crowds.
Northlands launched the festival's first rodeo at the Coliseum Friday.
Spokesperson Lori Cote said the three-day event is about putting urban festival-goers back in touch with their western roots.
"It's a great opportunity to showcase the sport," she said.
"There's a really strong rodeo following and this is an opportunity to open up to a new audience — to people that would come to K-Days who wouldn't traditionally go to a rodeo."
Cowboys and cowgirls can register for seven events, including saddle bronc, ladies' barrel racing, steer wrestling and bull riding.
A $400,000 purse attracted some of North America's brightest rodeo stars. Dozens travelled to Edmonton to compete in what was advertised as one of the continent's richest one-header rodeos.
Athletes who win their events also qualify for the Canadian Finals Rodeo.
Tanner Girletz faced down a bull ominously named Flyin' High on Friday.
"Bull riding is man versus bull," he explained.
"Just hang on tight as you can."
Girletz started riding steers at age 10 in Cereal, a village of about 100 people in southeast Alberta. He graduated to bulls four years later.
His hometown has cheered on his rodeo career since, Girletz said.
"I'm doing what I love and I'm doing it for a living," he said. "I think people who go to a normal job are crazy."
But after 20 years on the rodeo circuit, Girletz said he's slowing down.
"I'm getting a little older now and the less rodeos I can go to the better," he said. "Any time there's money up at a good rodeo like this in Edmonton with good fans, we're happy."
'It's in your blood'
A small group of animal rights activists protested outside Northlands Coliseum, waving cardboard signs at passing visitors.
"I'd like them to see what we do with our animals before they judge," said Kyle Rock, operations manager for the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association.
Animals at the rodeo are carefully looked after, with representatives from Edmonton's Humane Society supervising their treatment, he said.
"We're hoping to build lifelong fans for the sport," Rock said.
"This is such an addictive sport and if you're not exposed to it you don't get to understand that."
Admission to the rodeo is included in K-Days gate admission. Rock encouraged curious Albertans to take advantage.
"It's in your blood," he said. "We're really excited about bringing this kind of rodeo to a new crowd."
The inaugural K-Days rodeo ends Sunday.