Next generation of rodeo stars spurred to success at Calgary Stampede
Dawson Hay remembers watching his dad compete at the Calgary Stampede rodeo on TV. The family lived just a few hours northwest of Calgary in Wildwood but the Stampede was a busy time so just his parents would make the trek.
“I remember cheering my dad on,” Dawson said earlier this week from the Stampede grounds. “He actually won it a couple times so it was super special.”
Rod Hay, whose progress this year has been highlighted by FloRodeo, actually won the saddle bronc event four times at the Calgary Stampede. It’s now Dawson’s turn to see if he can continue his father’s legacy.
“My whole life, watching this since I was just little when my dad was riding on here… It’s a dream come true to be riding here myself,” the 20 year old said.
Dawson started competing in rodeos when he was just 12, turning to saddle bronc when he was 16. He won as a novice at the 2017 Stampede before turning professional a year later.
Dawson was named the 2018 Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Rookie of the Year and is the youngest of a trio of up-and-coming Canadian rodeo athletes competing for the first time as professionals at the Stampede.
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Pascal Isabelle is 27 and hails from Montreal, Quebec – not exactly a hotbed of rodeo.
“No,” agreed Isabelle, who is a bareback competitor, “but it’s actually a good place to start in the amateur rodeo.”
Isabelle’s foray into the sport is completely different from Dawson’s experience. He doesn’t come from a rodeo family and in fact, had never even been to one until he was 16 and his brother took him for the first time.
“I fell in love with the adrenaline of it,” Isabelle said of seeing the bareback competition. He got on the back of his first horse shortly after that.
“My first ride actually was on a pony,” said Isabelle. “He went straight ahead but I couldn’t hold on to him, he was just going so fast… and I just got bucked down.”
Isabelle got back up and that’s the direction he’s been headed ever since. He won the Greeley Stampede last week, the biggest win of his professional career to date.
Isabelle would like to ride that momentum into the Stampede competition but he’ll be in tough against Calgary’s Connor Hamilton.
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Like Isabelle, Hamilton also got started in rodeo a little later. He was 18 when he gave up hockey and decided to give bareback riding a go.
“I thought it might be something I might be good at just because the build I am and the athlete type that I am,” said Hamilton.
With no ties to rodeo, he had to improvise.
“I learned how to ride bucking horses watching YouTube videos.“
Success came quickly for Hamilton, who is now 23. Just one year — and eight rides — into his career, he won the first of two novice bareback titles at the Stampede in 2015. Now, like the rest, he’s aiming to win it all as a pro.
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