It’s a Calgary Stampede “first” for a famous veteran campaigner horse, that’s also a fun “first” for the National Finals Rodeo.
This year, the world’s top 20 professional saddle bronc riders decided to create their own award for the rough stock horses they know and love. Dubbed the “Hell Yah! Award”, the saddle bronc riders choose a saddle bronc horse that they are all excited to draw because they know they’ll get a great ride, the horse will always do its part to give them a great score, and they’ll likely be in the money. In short, they wanted to award the horse that makes them yell “Hell Yah!” when they draw it.
In its inaugural year, the Hell Yah! Award goes to John Wayne, a 22-year-old gelding from the Calgary Stampede Ranch. A contingent of saddle bronc riders presented the award at the Stampede’s annual reception party during the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas. They said they could not think of a better horse to receive this first award, as John Wayne has been a top bucking horse on the world stage for longer than most of them have been riding, and he always helps them shine.
Named John Wayne, the cowboys affectionately know him as “The Duke”, and engraved that nickname on the halter award they presented to Stampede’s Keith Marrington.
John Wayne has been a top horse in the Canadian and world rodeo circuit for 18 years. He has qualified for the Canadian Final Rodeo a total of 17 times, and has been invited to buck at the NFR ten times, including this year. He’s a proven and reliable horse, consistently powerful and strong in the saddle event – known for his signature move of rearing up just as the chutes open to start off each ride with a flourish. Even at age 22, The Duke continues to be the horse the cowboys want to ride.
Outside of the arena, though, John Wayne is known amongst Stampede Ranch hands as a great “nanny” or “uncle” for the younger horses. His calm demeanor and familiarity with life on the road is invaluable at helping the younger horses get settled into their temporary homes and pastures while travelling to and between rodeos. This veteran campaigner helps the younger horses find the best spots in new pastures for food, water, shelter, and his presence is always calming when the horses are hanging out in the pens before a rodeo.
Stampede Ranch is proud to receive this award from the cowboys who best know great rough stock – the saddle bronc riders themselves. It’s a great honour for a distinguished Duke of a horse who lives up to his nickname in every way.