Preparing to ride

A student rider (right) prepares to dismount with help from two pickup men during an afternoon session on Saturday. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

What started as a way to stay active has turned into a passion for one Prince Albert rodeo competitor.

A year ago, Noah Suchorab was sitting at home nursing injuries after breaking his wrist while competing in a college rodeo. Instead of wallowing in despair, Suchorab put his free time to good use and started a rodeo school to train up and coming cowboys in his event of choice: bareback horsing riding.

The inaugural event was so successful that Suchorab came back for another year, drawing students from inside and outside the province for the three-day event that kicked off on March 23.

“Unfortunately, this rough stock riding in the rodeo is a dying breed,” Suchorab said during a break at the Red River Roping and Riding Arena on Saturday. “There are not a lot of kids who want to do it anymore, so the ones who are out there who want to do it, I wanted to give them an opportunity.”

For Suchorab and other established rodeo competitors, giving the next generation a helping hand isn’t just an act of kindness. It’s a necessity. The suicide of Canadian bull-riding star Ty Pozzobon in January sent shockwaves through the rodeo world, causing many in the community to rethink how competitors were taught and how injuries were treated.

For all the students at Suchorab’s school, Saturday begins with a presentation from a doctor, who outlines the symptoms and signs of a serious concussion. Each student then gets custom gear made to protect them from the punishing falls that are part of learning how to ride a bucking horse.

“All of these kids start out needing to be educated,” Suchorab explained. “It’s not to scare them off. Rodeo is a great thing. It provides a chance to see the world (and) you get to create a second family…. You can’t get a higher adrenaline rush out of that than riding bucking horses. We just talk to them about the importance of taking care of your head.”

Although Suchorab has been able to avoid severe head trauma, the injuries have still piled up. He’s broken his wrist so many times that he know rides right-handed instead of left. However, despite the setbacks, he still loves rodeo, and love attitude extends to his students.

“These kids all know that injuries are associated with rodeo,” he said. “It’s a dangerous sport, but we need to start linking concussions and head injuries to those dangers.”

For most of Saturday morning, the students spend time working on the basics. After getting a few turns on a spur board and a bucking dummy, a wooden prop designed to simulate the movements and motions of a real bucking horse, each student gets as many opportunities as they like to ride the real thing.

Even here, however, the process is a methodical one. The horses are special stock, brought in for their ability to buck, but not anywhere near as hard as those found at competitive rodeos.

All the sessions are videotaped and available for viewing on Sunday morning, when Suchorab and other instructors continue the process of turning their charges into genuine competitors.

The process is a costly one, since everyone from the teachers to the pickup men, who also work the Calgary Stampede, gets paid. Suchorab said he’s had a variety of family members and local businesses chip in to help keep the school going. Any extra proceeds are donated to the Red River Roping and Riding Arena.

“I’m giving back to this arena and this community and ultimately I’m creating new up and coming rodeo guys and that makes me just as a happy as winning a rodeo,” Suchorab said. “When I go and see these kids who started here in Prince Albert out traveling in the rodeo circuit, that makes me so happy. I was able to give these kids that opportunity to learn how to do it safe, right and proper with the best ideal stock, the best ideal teachers, and all in Prince Albert, Sask.”