Last year, Straws Milan, a 25-year-old from Cochrane, Alberta, followed in his brother's footprints and qualified for his first Canadian Finals Rodeo. His trip to the finals helped him put his foot in the rodeoing door and provided the opportunity for him to compete in the Stampede rodeo last year. If you happened to catch his performance in the Stampede, you would have seen more fist pumping than a Jersey Shore episode after he threw down a steer in 3.6 seconds, making him the top competitor in the event. Straws brought home the prize for first place -- a giant novelty cheque worth $100,000.
Straws Milan started rodeoing at the age of 15 with the help of his older brothers who were already well-established competitors. At the time he was an aspiring hockey player, but when it came time to choose between the two, rodeo won.
In the steer wrestling event, the cowboy emerges from an alley on horseback in hot pursuit of a steer. At the right moment he leaps from his horse and, using the steer's momentum and his own strength, flips the steer onto its side in the shortest amount of time possible -- the winning time usually runs around three seconds. Sounds pretty easy, right?
Cowboys have to pay their own way to get to the rodeos, sometimes thousands of miles away and with no guarantee they will win -- competitors are only paid if they place and very rarely receive an appearance fee. If that doesn't seem challenging enough, competitors in the steer wrestling event have the added cost of packing a horse which needs to be well-fed and kept in peak physical condition in order for the horse and the cowboy to remain competitive.
Since the Calgary Stampede, Milan has travelled all over Canada and the United States rodeoing. He currently sits in first place in the 2012 world standings in steer wrestling.
The Gauntlet caught up with Milan to chat about what the life of a cowboy is like.
The Gauntlet: How would you describe steer wrestling?
Straws Milan: Basically, I get off my horse at top speed, catch a running steer and try and flip him on his side faster than anyone else. My dad Murry and my older brothers Tanner and Baillie all did really well in steer wrestling before me, so they kind of paved the way for me to get into it. Once I was done playing hockey, it just seemed like the next best thing to do.
G: How do you train and stay in shape for rodeos?
SM: We have our own arena at home and we keep some steers around to practice on when we have time. I like to stay active by playing beer-league hockey in the off-season. A big part is keeping our horses healthy and in good shape so we put them on a feed and exercise regimen to make sure they're ready to rodeo when we are.
G: What's the farthest you have travelled to go to a rodeo?
SM: Cochrane to Corpus Christi, Texas. [When travelling] with the pals, we talk about rodeoing and entries or I sleep and listen to music.
G: What would you say to somebody who wanted to get into steer wrestling?
SM: Try and find a good school to go to and hang around some winners. Curtis Cassidy is a two-time Canadian champion and national finals qualifier and he puts a class on every year in Kamloops, British Columbia. There's also Darren Zeiffle, another Canadian champ, who puts one or two on every year in Consort, Alberta.
G: How has your outlook changed from your first steer to the Calgary Stampede rodeo?
SM: Well, I was really relieved just to get the first one out of the way -- it's a little nerve-wracking competing at a rodeo that big for the first time. After that I just kind of rolled with the punches and did the best I could when I had the chance. By the time I got to my last one I wasn't really as pressured.
G: What do you like to do when you're not steer wrestling?
SM: I like to play hockey and hunt in the winter, kill a few zombies on Call of Duty when I have time and mostly just hang out with my friends.
G: What do you think about controversy over the treatment of rodeo animals?
SM: None of these animals can compete if we aren't looking after them, so it would be pretty counter-productive to abuse or mistreat them because they help us make our living. A lot of the criticism we get comes from people that have had little or no experience with livestock and really don't know what goes on.