The cowboy way

People -
Jim Berry was riding horses at about the same time he was walking. Now the TAQA field operator is part of North America’s colourful rodeo scene

Jim Berry, a 31-year-old cowboy from Alberta, Canada, has no car, no watch and doesn’t like travelling for holidays. Unless, that is, there is a rodeo on.

And there were a lot of rodeos on this season. “I travelled halfway across America in the last two weeks,” he says, relaxing at an outdoor café after riding a bronco at the Calgary Stampede, where he picked up fifth place and US$1,500 prize money on the first day.

Mr Berry might like to be a professional cowboy, but he has a young family to support, so there is his day job as a field operator for TAQA, based at Rocky Mountain House in Alberta.

It keeps him in the saddle at an age when many professional riders would have retired, he says. After all, he has a tradition to live up to.

In the family

His father was a wild horse racer and his grandfather drove chuck wagons at the Calgary Stampede. Mr Berry grew up on a ranch and rode a sheep when he was just three years old. He began riding broncs at the age of 17. A year later, he was riding Novice Saddle Bronc at the Stampede, winning his first rodeo at the age of 20.

“I grew up around rodeo,” says Mr Berry. “My earliest memories are going to rodeos with my dad. I have pictures of me on horseback still in my diapers, and falling off was just part of growing up. You got up again, dusted yourself off and got back on. A few bruises yeah, but nothing Mother Nature can’t clear up. I love the competition, the money and the freedom of rodeo,” he says.

When he is not on the road, he spends time with his two young children at a ranch located two hours northwest of Calgary. His “ranch-in-progress”, as he describes it, is nestled in a grove of trees and surrounded by a barn and corrals he built himself. It gives him and his wife a view of the Rocky Mountains in the morning, and a whole world for his children to play in.

“My boy, Coy, is four and my little girl, Quin, 20 months,” he says. “They both ride already, and Quin is definitely the more adventurous. She would be out there in the corral right now. It’s too early to say whether they will follow me into rodeo. I don’t really mind if they do or don’t, as long as they’re happy. But they’ve certainly got used to being in the saddle.”

Even after his riding days are over, Mr Berry is planning all sorts of new roles in the rodeo, as “pickup man” or “team rope”, he says. It is too early for him to be thinking about retiring to his trophy room. He is not that kind of cowboy, with a flashy Stetson or silver spurs.

“I never did take to wearing lucky hats or spurs. Some people are superstitious like that but the only thing I’ve ever done was to grab a piece of mane from the special horses I rode,” he says. “The ones you remember. Must have 15 to 20 pieces of mane now. Each one a memory. Some of them were real special. I still remember Zappy Delivery and Cool Alley. I only rode her once in my career. She was a famous lady. She really did everything special; she had a lot of flair, a real high kicker.”

Rare honour

In his speech, and his way of looking at the world, he really lives the cowboy life. And the way he lives it has not gone unnoticed. His dedication to rodeo won Mr Berry a rare honour at the 2013 Stampede, when he picked up the Guy Weadick Award. Named after the founder of the Stampede, it goes to the competitor who best embodies what the cowboy stands for.

And fitting too, for Mr Berry, as TAQA is heavily involved in backing the Calgary Stampede. The company is the main rodeo sponsor and backer of the Light Horse event, as well as the Cowboy Up Challenge, one of the Stampede’s showcase events.

“The Guy Weadick Award is a symbol of the ultimate sportsmanship: showing respect to your fellow competitors, gaining trust and always pushing towards excellence,” explains Ed LaFehr, President of TAQA’s North American business.

To win, a cowboy must convince the judges through his ability, appearance, showmanship, character and sportsmanship that he, above all others, best captures the spirit of the Stampede.

Asked to define a cowboy, Mr Berry takes a deep breath. “He has to have a lot of heart and a lot of try,” he says. “Because he has to deal with the elements of Mother Nature and things in the world that are not as fair as what civilised people deal with.”