Courtesy of IPRA
The Festival Western de St. Tite in St. Tite, Quebec is a marathon of rodeo talent on display in a town surging with hundreds of thousands of festival-goers seeking a taste of the Western way of life in the French-speaking province of Canada.
Following a kick-off weekend of competition called the Canada Cup is six consecutive performances of rodeo that culminated on Sept. 18, with Championship Sunday. The first two rounds showcased many of the best of the International Professional Rodeo Association athletes vying for a spot in the circle of finalists honored in the arena prior to the short go.
Three rounds of competition, pyro-technics, specialty acts and the famous gymkhana events of exchange and pick-up racing, equaled non-stop entertainment for rodeo fans.
Round one winners were Canadians, Pascal Isabelle, bareback riding, Louis Hemart, saddle bronc, Matt Mousseau, steer wrestling, and Caroline Poulin, barrel racing with a 16.44. Will Purcell from Australia took the round in the bull riding, and American, Tyler Milligan, tie-down roping. After running in slack, Kelly Jo Stein of New York took the win in the breakaway roping, with Sylvain and Michel Martel of Canada won team roping.
The second round saw a new list of winners with Josh Cragar of Tennessee and Eddie Parlier of Alabama, winning in the bareback and saddle bronc riding. Trent Creager of Oklahoma took the round in the tie-down roping. Nicolas Brien of Quebec scored 83 to win the bull riding. Fellow Quebec competitor, Pamela Doucet won the barrel racing in Round 2 with a 16.45 and Rod Weese of Ontario wrestled his steer in 3.3 seconds for first place.
The average was won by Carl Bernier in the bareback riding, Eddie Parlier secured the average in the saddle bronc. IPRA rookie, Daylon Swearingen, the teenage son of IPRA stock contractor, Rawhide Rodeo, who rides both horses and bulls in the roughstock end of the arena, took the title in the bull riding.
The energy at St. Tite was a new experience for the American cowboy. “The crowd is so wild, you don’t know what they’re saying, but it’s so pumped up,” he said.
Tyler Milligan won the tie-down roping. Tyler Foster won the steer wrestling and Kindyl Scruggs, who has been leading the IPRA World Barrel Racing Standings all year, took the average in her event.
Beautiful weather all weekend was interrupted briefly by heavy rain during Saturday night’s performance, but it didn’t at all diminish the packed stadium of fans or dampen their enthusiasm.
And by Sunday, the capacity crowd returned to see the champions crowned in a clean-slate short round of heart-pounding action.
A heartfelt send-off was had for pickup and exchange race champion and crowd favorite, Dany Poirier of Quebec, who retired his colorful and successful career in his last run on Sunday.
Bareback rider, Tilden Hooper took the win in the bareback riding, and Louis Hemart continued his winning streak in the saddle bronc. Mitch Rinehart of Tennessee won the rodeo in the tie-down roping and Jason Stewart, whose family is a regular name on the list of International Finals Rodeo qualifiers, won the steer wrestling. Jessica Gauthier of Mirabel, Quebec, rode her surprisingly young futurity horse, a 4-year- old colt, to the win with a crowd-roaring 16.2 second run.
In describing her run after the win, Gauthier said of her horse, “He was quicker than me that time. It rained a lot so he kind of slipped coming to the first barrel. That kind of scared me, because normally he bends a lot at the first barrel, but coming back from the third I just enjoyed it. I knew he was fast but accomplishing that [win] with all of the weather yesterday, he’s amazing, for his first time, a 4 year old. He amazed me.” Gauthier added of the horse’s name, humorously and aptly called Richie Champion, after the cowboy and million-dollar winner of the American event. “I wanted to find a name colorful for him. He really knew he was a champion [Sunday]. It feels amazing. It gets even better with those conditions of a horse so young, and so athletic. I just wanted him to take the victory lap, because I knew he deserved that.”
And finally, Justin Thigpen, the 2015 World Champion All-Around Cowboy with multiple world titles to his name, proved his consistency in multiple events by winning the All-Around title at St. Tite.
After the rodeo, the town, normally home to only 3,000 people, will revert back to its sleepy atmosphere for winter, but the committee at Festival Western de St. Tite is already gearing up for its 50th year celebration next year in 2017.