For rodeo participants and fans, the 19 months during the pandemic left them missing competing and watching their favorite sport. This past August and into the fall, the RAM Rodeo Tour roared back to life and thrilled spectators around Ontario. The cowboys and cowgirls were back with five rodeos that counted towards points to qualify for the RAM Rodeo Tour Championship Finals.
The RAM Rodeo has all the events fans want to see; bareback and saddle bronc riding, barrel racing, ladies pole bending, and of course, bull riding. The five rodeos that made up the shortened 2021 season were a massive hit with the competitors and locals at the small Ontario towns that hosted the events.
“The cowboys have all come back, and we had record setting attendance, we even had to turn away people,” said Ross Millar, who produces the tour, as well as two equine-related events, Can-Am Equine Expo and Horse Power Live.
As part of his role in producing the RAM Rodeo Tour, Millar works closely with the various town’s committees and local sponsors. It’s these local committees that pay his group to host a rodeo for the community, and in the town of Alliston and the municipality of Grey Highlands, the Mayors themselves took up the reins to bring the show to their constituents.
Alliston’s Mayor Rick Milne was accustomed to hosting a fundraising event, and that usually was in the form of a golf tournament. Then about six years ago, Millar heard from Mayor Milne, who wanted to try the rodeo as a source of fundraising. It was a smash hit.
“When you think about it, a golf tournament would pull in about 140 people; a rodeo attracts about 1,000,” explains Millar.
Over in the Grey Highlands, where Mayor Paul McQueen runs things for towns such as Markdale and Flesherton, a new hospital was in the process of being built. Mayor McQueen heard about the success of the RAM Rodeo Tour and thought it was an inventive way to bring the community together after being split apart by the pandemic. He called up Millar and the event was pulled off in three weeks.
“The rodeo seemed like the perfect form of family entertainment, reflecting the rural and agricultural values of our community,” says Mayor McQueen. “It had been a long 18-plus months that community could not come together –annual community events and fall fairs, deeply entrenched community gatherings, had been cancelled again in 2021. Bringing the rodeo to town in a safe outdoor setting seemed like something that the community could embrace and something that we all needed!”
Despite torrential rains on the Saturday of the event, the rodeo ended up selling out for the entire weekend. “The excitement that we saw on the faces of little kids, families and neighbours and friends seeing each other again, in some cases after a very long time, made it all worthwhile,” says Mayor McQueen.
“The inaugural Grey Highlands RAM Rodeo was a true celebration of community: businesses, residents, volunteers and visitors all working together to raise funds to support our new Markdale Hospital,” adds Michele Harris, director, economic & community development for the Municipality of Grey Highlands. “We’re still doing our final reconciliation, but we’re confident that we’ve raised at least $30,000 for the new hospital by bringing the rodeo to town.”
This year marks the 24th year for the RAM Rodeo Tour, which in a full season has $300,000 in prize money. The competitors in the RAM Tour go head-to-head in the championship, normally held at the Royal Canadian Riding Academy in Newmarket, and in past years the tour has also held a fan favourite event on the final weekend of the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto. But due to ongoing COVID-19 protocols, Millar has moved the championship to the Orangeville Fairgrounds so it can be held outdoors October 23-24. Tickets are available here.