Eavesdropping on Ron MacLean's Stampede conversation with his dog

I was talking to my Standard Schnauzer “Jackson” this week. We had just finished watching Day 5 at the Calgary Stampede. Jackson was at the foot of the sofa, his head craned over the armrest, still gazing at the TV: “Dad, tell me again that story about the woman in Kurt Bensmiller’s barn last year?”

Hockey Night in Canada icon reflects on 'that woman in Kurt Bensmiller's barn'

Kurt Bensmiller, right, is seen driving his team in the 2012 Calgary Stampede chuckwagon races. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)
I was talking to my Standard Schnauzer "Jackson" this week. We had just finished watching Day 5 at the Calgary Stampede. Jackson was at the foot of the sofa, his head craned over the armrest, still gazing at the TV: "Dad, tell me again that story about the woman in Kurt Bensmiller's barn last year?"

So this is what I said to Jackson: "Well, it was the last night of the Stampede a year ago. Kurt Bensmiller of Dewberry, Alberta had just won his third Rangeland Derby and we went to his Chuckwagon barn to celebrate.

I knew Kurt through hockey. In 2009, he had won the Allan Cup with the Bentley Generals. Brian Sutter was the coach. No one on the team thought Kurt could play; he was a wagon racer for heaven sakes. But Brian knew what a competitor Kurt was, and that not only was he tough, but that he had good hands. Sure enough, Bensmiller scored a ton of huge goals, led the team in the playoffs, and set up the winning goal in overtime to capture the Cup."

Ron MacLean's dog Jackson. (Ron MacLean)

But Jackson was tired of hockey stories. He wanted to hear about the animals. Anyhow, the night of the victory party, around midnight, the skies opened up, and there was a vicious electrical storm. One of Kurt's horses, who had been enjoying listening to me and Mark Sutherland, an opponent of Kurt's who had swung by to offer congratulations, got scared by the thunder and lightning. He reared up in his stall, and began to kick at the stall gate in a panic.

Sidesaddle racing is combining femininity with strength as women compete decked out in traditional gear on a fast-paced track at the Calgary Stampede. 1:30

Our audio engineer Heather Weatherly calmly walked over to the startled horse. She just strolled right between his forelegs, which were 10 feet in the air. She took his halter in her hand and said, "Ace, it's OK, that's just lightning... and it's real fast, but it's not nearly as fast as you. And that thunder, it moves the earth, but not the way earth moves under you."

And I remember saying to Mark Sutherland, "How'd she do that?" Mark replied, "Heather's father in-law was Stan Weatherly, one of the finest rodeo cowboys and livestock contractors in history. She's been around horses her whole life, and they trust each other." Mark's Dad Kelly Sutherland is a 12-time World Champion Chuckwagon driver, so Mark came by it the same way.

You need to be in it… to be of it, before you can know the unspoken language. It's like our great Canadian soldier General Walter Natynczyk says about the military: "The farther you get from the guns, the less you understand."

A saddle with no horn and a 1,200 pound bronc horse, here's how some riders make it look so easy. 1:51

Jackson said, "Like you and me, Dad. If I weren't your third Schnauzer, you might not understand why I bare my teeth and growl at the leash free park. I am glad you let me run free, and scrap a little, and compete with all those other dogs. When I bark at the front door, I am proud of my watchdog pedigree. As you always tell me, I am a working dog. We say, Stress is Bliss!"

"Yeah Jackson," I responded. "I can't wait to get back to Calgary. Only place where the running and scrapping is for both of us. Animals and humans, sometimes collaborating, sometimes feuding. Bound to be some incredible battles. And things don't always go as planned. Remember, the first great Alberta sports hero was a cowboy, Pete Knight from Crossfield. Got stomped on and killed by a bronc named Duster in 1937. Pete accepted that.

There are a lot of moving pieces that have to work together in the perfect steer-wrestling sequence. 1:57

I have another CBC colleague at the wagon races. Kelly Vanderbeek, who has been on the podium in world championship downhill skiing. Kelly, like Pete, built a great career using the art of denial, breaking things down mathematically, and doing it over and over again. One time at Val D'Isere, Kelly blew out her ACL, MCL and PCL, fractured her tibia, tore all her cartilage below the kneecap, and ripped her IT Band. It cost her going to the Vancouver Olympics.

"Wow Dad, how is she now?" said Jackson.

"She learned to harness fear, Jackson," I replied. "She's the best thing you can be in this life. She's brave."

"Thanks Dad ... can't wait for the weekend. Hope Kurt Bensmiller can do it again. And at the rodeo, I got my eye on a bucking horse named Arbitrator Joe".

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