All Dressed Up and a Show Place to Go! UFA Steer Classic

outsider1This handsome steer (pictured to the left) may be called Outsider but he is certainly no stranger to the pomp and pageantry that comes with the “show” process.

Outsider’s owner, Lane Konrad, explains the one to two hour process of preparing a steer for the show ring:

After a proper washing at the wash racks in the ag barns, Outsider is combed and blown dry with a special blow dryer. Clipping and blow drying is strategic.

“I want to make the legs look thicker and bigger-boned,” says 19-year-old Konrad from Abbotsford, B.C.

lane and outsider 03

The steer is intentionally clipped a bit closer up front (head, chest) with thicker hair left in the back of the animal. According to Lane, this is done “…to give the illusion of ‘meat’…”  The finishing touches to Outsider include the application of Pink Oil to shine up the hooves.

And while the outside of the animal matters a great deal in the show ring, it can largely be a reflection of the steer’s inner health. So, diet is important. Lane Konrad feeds Outsider a blend of beet pulp, oats and corn in addition to his daily intake of hay.  The overall goal for preparing the show-ready steer for the UFA Steer Classic is to optimize the conformation and demonstrate the health of the animal.  And Konrad succeeded. He and Outsider placed fourth in the Simmental Class (190) at this year’s UFA Steer Classic event.

feed mix

Outsider’s feed mix of beet pulp, oats and corn

You don’t have to come from a large cattle operation to participate and be successful showing steers. It is a hobby for Lane Konrad and his family.  But it still requires the drive and interest of a young competitor. This is Lane’s 10th year in 4-H and he credits that experience for his success at the 2014 Calgary Stampede.

“I really like the high calibre of the competitors at the UFA Steer Classic, “ says Lane. “This is my first experience competing at the Calgary Stampede and it has been a great learning experience. I look forward to coming back again!”

Showcasing an ‘heirloom’: the No. 1 Centennial Saddle at the Wall Art Sale

What is ‘art’? According to aesthetic principles (and the Merriam-Webster dictionary), it is that which is beautiful, appealing, or extraordinary.  We all recognize that art is subjective.  What one finds alluring or captivating, another may view as sub-standard.  Art, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

On Thursday night (June 7th) I had the distinct opportunity to rub elbows with artists and art aficionados at the Calgary Stampede Western Art Committee’s “Wall Art Sale” held at the Ranchmen’s Club.  It was a charity event – a first for the Committee – to raise money for the Kids Cancer Care Foundation and the Calgary Stampede Foundation youth programs. Up for sale / auction was a selection of amazing pieces by artists that will have other works on display at this year’s Stampede. Most of the pieces were smaller ones. Characterized as “carry-away”, these unique pieces of art were ones you could easily pick up after a quick zip of your credit card and some nice cellophane packaging by cheerful Western Art Committee volunteers.

While perhaps not considered to be ‘art’ in the traditional sense by some, there is no denying the craftsmanship of leather tooling and saddlery.  The Centennial saddle, although not available for purchase at the “Wall Art Sale”, was on display and is most certainly an extraordinary example of leather artisanship. It’s a beaut’ – as I ‘behold’ it anyway! The Calgary Stampede’s Western Performance Horse (WPH) Committee commissioned Vic Bennett (out of Sherwood Park, Alberta) to craft 100 All-Round saddles for this year’s Centennial year.  These saddles (numbered 1 to 100) are custom-made, beautifully-designed and available for sale to anyone who was interested in purchasing what was sure to be one of the most unique souvenirs in the history of the Calgary Stampede.  The one on display at the “Wall Art Sale” is the ‘grand-daddy’ of all saddles – it is the No. 1 Centennial Saddle (and is inscribed as such, as are all Centennial saddles).

The affable and very statuesque, Angela Pipe (Vice Chair of the Western Performance Horse Committee), was on hand at the “Wall Art Sale” to answer all manners of questions on how the idea for the Centennial saddles transpired. 

Me: “One hundred saddles! That’s a lot of saddles to craft. That’s a lot of saddles to sell!”

Angela: “It most certainly is! I’m sure that Vic Bennett and his team of saddle-makers have had a few sleepless nights over the past few months.  As for the WPH Committee, we had a few nail-biting months where only a small number of the saddles actually sold. But we breathed a collective sigh of relief by the end of March 2012.  People started catching Stampede fever and by March 29th 2012, ALL available saddles were sold. Once people started realizing the historical value of the saddle; that the essence of what became the Calgary Stampede all started with someone on a saddle; they started to sell and they sold fast!”

As of today, all have been sold except for No. 1. I was pleased to have the opportunity to see the remaining Centennial Saddle at the “Wall Art Sale”.  If you missed viewing this ‘grand-daddy’ of Centennial Saddles, you still have a chance to see it. It will be auctioned off at the Western Art Showcase on July 12, 2012.  This saddle will be an heirloom, a invaluable part of Stampede history! It will undoubtedly be a great conversation piece – something that a winning bidder will treasure for years to come. Stop by the Western Art Showcase and check it out. Make a bid! What a great idea to commemorate the 100th year of the Calgary Stampede!



The Light Horse Committee Celebrates 35 Years!

The first time I laid eyes on Gus McCollister was at a Light Horse Committee meeting in early April of this year.  As a Committee newbie, I shyly grabbed a glass of ‘social’ and settled into my surroundings, content just to observe the proceedings.  I very soon realized that Gus McCollister was a force to be reckoned with.  When Gus spoke, folks listened.

Gus is the first person to downplay the value that she quite clearly adds to Light Horse Committee and the Calgary Stampede overall.  This colourful woman not only has the knowledge but she has the experience!  Gus McCollister has been affiliated with the Light Horse Committee since it was established in the 1970s, serving as Chairman for nine of those years.  And for those of you that weren’t aware, the Light Horse Committee celebrates its 35th anniversary with the Calgary Stampede!

I was delighted to have the opportunity to sit down and chat with Gus McCollister this past week.  When I say that Gus is colourful, I mean that literally.  She showed up decked out in a brilliant fuchsia shirt sporting some incredibly avante-guarde jewellery. Gus brought with her an air of quiet confidence and an incredibly warm smile. Here is a bit of our conversation:

Gus: "Young people really are the necessary lifeblood of the Light Horse Committee."

How did you come to be involved with the Light Horse Committee and the Calgary Stampede?

Gus: The Committee was created 35 years ago, in 1977, and I came on board as a representative for the Peruvian horse.  Everyone on the Committee represented a breed at that time. Things were pretty informal in many ways, we didn’t really take minutes.  We just got together and talked about what needed to be done and when it had to be done and we made plans to do it.  That’s how things were done back then.

Over the years, how has the Light Horse Committee evolved?

Gus: The goal of the Committee is to expose the public to the different breeds of horses and encourage families to use the horse for their recreation activities. Our committee was a creative bunch. In 1977, we came up with our first Committee name and logo – “Horse Heaven 77”. Then in 1978, we decided on “Horses are Great in 78”. Then there was “Horses Shine in 79”. By 1980, no one could come up with anything that rhymed with ‘80’ so we just decided to call the Committee “Horse Haven”. We’ve gone through many names since – even “Gus’ Gultch”! We started out in the old blue barns.   They were situated where the Saddle Dome is now.  After the blue barns were torn down, we moved into the North end of the Agriculture Building then, later, onto the south end.

The thing that brought our Committee and its breed representatives together the most was when we decided to build our “town”. Each breed represented a building or business in the town – bank, grocery store, jail, so on.  We had a big town square.  There, we set up a theatre complete with big screen TV and a VCR for a space for folks to watch old western movies. It was a place for people to come and sit. That was great!

It has all been a fun time for me.  I have seen many breed reps come and go.  Through it all, the horse has always been the top billing.  The people representing their breeds have gone to great lengths to promote the horse.  I hope that this will continue.

What has been key to the growth and development of the Light Horse Committee over the years?  

Gus: After so many years… after participating on the Committee, you’re ideas get so stale.  What we always needed were new, young people to come on board.  Young people really are the necessary lifeblood of this Committee.  They contribute to discussions and they are enthusiastic sources of new ideas. These young people always seem to come up with ways to make things run better too! 

When I asked Gus to share with me some of her more memorable Light Horse moments over the years, she was quick to smile and quick to share!  Like the year when the animals from the petting zoo escaped and got into the blue barns.  It took quite some time to gather all those critters up! One year, she and another Stampede volunteer dressed up in an elaborate “horse and rider” costume and strolled around the Stampede grounds, pushing their way into shows, creating a bit of comedic chaos and generating quite a few laughs. Rumor has it that they even crashed Ian Miller’s victory ride at Spruce Meadows one year in this “horse and rider” ‘get up’!  Apparently, Gus is not afraid to push the boundaries of her role on this Committee!

Gus is an incredible blend of colour, style and organizational saavy.  I was impressed by this amazing woman and by her warm, kind nature.  It was a pleasure to chat with her, to get to know her and to get some history on the Light Horse Committee.

Gus McCollister was born and raised in Toronto (on the ‘rough side of the tracks’ as she puts it, where she honed her ‘survival’ techniques ;o) ).  Gus came to Alberta in the mid 1950s, met her husband Alton and they settled near Lyalta where they have a grain and cattle operation.  In addition to celebrating the Light Horse Committee’s 35th this year, Gus and Alton are also celebrating their 55th Wedding anniversary!  It is a year of milestones for this very dedicated Stampede volunteer!

Gus’ favourite inspirational quote: “Life is not about learning to survive the storm, but rather learning to dance in the rain.”

Words to live by, I’d say!


Flores LaDue – the ‘First Lady’ of the Stampede

As we all know, this year marks the 100th year of the Calgary Stampede - The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth. In fact, today (March 29th) is the start of our official countdown “100 Days to the Calgary Stampede.”  Gracing this year’s Calgary Stampede poster is a portrait of Guy Weadick by artist Harley Brown. Weadick is known as the ‘Father of the Frontier Show’ and a unyielding force behind the establishment of the Calgary Stampede. One century ago, Weadick (with the help of others) got everything started here in Calgary. A successful man, Weadick has made quite a mark in the cowboy world through this and other efforts. And, let’s face it, his legend lives on (now in poster size! ;o) )

But behind every successful man, there is a woman… isn’t that what they say? Flores LaDue, the stage name of one Grace Bensell, is that woman. She was Guy Weadick’s wife. Both accomplished trick ropers, Guy and Flores worked the vaudeville circuit performing stunts in western acts all across North America and Europe. They eventually settled together in Western Canada and have even found their final resting places in the Foothills/ High River area. Quite a unique couple, I’d say, with a unique history.

Through a series of serendipitous events (see my blog entry February 12 2012 on this), I stumbled upon an amazing painting of Flores LaDue by Ruth Vickers .  Ruth Vickers is a prolific artist but not well-known for her western art. I had the chance to chat with Ruth by phone a few weeks ago; a truly lovely lady. She said that she is greatly inspired (as many of us are) by history and by passionate people that go ‘against the grain’; those that  offer inspiration through their activities and contributions to culture and society. Flores LaDue and her life and ‘trickery’ was, according to Ruth, “remarkable”. And Ruth was inspired to paint this most remarkable woman.

- ”Flores LaDue’ by Ruth Vickers (Oil on masonite. 40″ x 40″)

I had the opportunity to view Ruth’s masterful work of art at her mother’s house in High River in February.  Believe me, the photo here does not do the painting justice. It is truly an amazing piece; as remarkable as Flores LaDue herself! And – yes folks – it is for sale!

I am in the process of ‘working my networks’ to see if we can get this magnificent piece of art on display prior to and during the Stampede in July this year. For more information on Ruth Vickers, the artist and her work, please drop me an email (! I will happily connect you to Ruth and her family! In the meantime, check out Ruth’s amazing work at:

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Cami Ryan is a researcher with the College of Agriculture and Bioresources at the University of Saskatchewan and a member of the Calgary Stampede’s Ag Media Committee. Her family farmed and she grew up as a “townie” in rural Saskatchewan. Farming and agriculture has always been an important part of her life – both professionally and personally. Cami lives with her family and a collection of critters on an acreage just south of Calgary. Check out her blog:

From bio-composites to blush: how agriculture meets our daily needs in non-food ways

As we head into the next 100 days leading up to our Stampede centennial celebrations, it is always good to remind ourselves of how agriculture impacts our lives every day!

“Food” is often the first thing that comes to mind when we think about farming and agriculture; things like fruits or vegetables or commodity crops such as wheat, barley and canola. Food is an essential part of our every day lives and we are fortunate to live in a part of the world where we can enjoy a variety of foodstuffs sourced from our ‘friendly farmer’.

But did you know that farming and agriculture is more than just “food”? Whether you live in the city or the country, products of agriculture are all around you. And you just might be surprised the shape and form those products take!

Take, for example, biocomposites. A biocomposite is a material formed through the combination of a polymer with natural plant fibers such as hemp or flax. Biocomposite materials can be easily molded into things such as car dashboards or car door panels. (See the biocomposite specs on the “Kestrel” car developed in Alberta by Motive Industries). Biocomposites are also used not only in the manufacture of weed control materials or textiles but also in the development of ‘green’ building products such as biofibre insulation and cement and fibreboard panels (see the Alberta-based company, TTS, for information on their biocomposite products and innovations).

Car panel door, photo sourced from: Wikipedia

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have agricultural goods used in the manufacturing of hair and skin care products as well as cosmetics. Emolient oils (EOs) are extracted from the seeds of crops such as flax, palm, soybean, sunflower, hemp or canola. EOs can penetrate the skin and bind to the membrane of the skin making them useful additives to a variety of beauty products such as skin moisturizers, anti-dandruff shampoos and even permanent waving agents. Cornstarch, derived from corn, is often used in eyeshadows and blushes.

Peas have been known to be used in facial masks. Oats and oat products serve as effective moisturizing and skin protection agents. And let’s not forget “Royal Jelly”. Royal Jelly is secreted from the glands of worker bees to feed larvae and queen bee within a bee colony. Not only does Royal Jelly have anti-biotic and anti-inflammatory properties (and pharmaceutical application), it is also widely used in cosmetic and beauty products. Lanolin is a yellow waxy substance secreted by the sebaceous glands of sheep. It is used in a variety of products from cream make-up to lipgloss to hand and skin moisturizers. Even bull semen is used as an additive in hair care products!

These are just a few of many examples of how agriculture is all around us. Agriculture is more than just food… it is an essential part of our everyday lives. No matter where we live!

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Cami Ryan is a researcher with the College of Agriculture and Bioresources at the University of Saskatchewan and a member of the Calgary Stampede’s Ag Media Committee. Her family farmed and she grew up as a “townie” in rural Saskatchewan. Farming and agriculture has always been an important part of her life – both professionally and personally. Cami lives with her family and a collection of critters on an acreage just south of Calgary. Check out her blog: