One of the events you don’t want to miss at this year’s CFR is the Wild Pony Race. This contest pits a team of three children, ranging in ages from six to 12, against an unbroken pony. The event is 18 seconds of chaos, excitement and humour, but there is more going on behind the scenes than you probably realize.
Mel Lawes of Provost, Alta. has organized and produced the Wild Pony Races for over 12 years now.
“I saw something similar to this done at a small rodeo,” Lawes says. “The audience seemed to really enjoy it so I decided to organize something similar. Rodeos now hire me to produce everything about the race. I organize the teams of children, co-ordinate everything and supply the ponies.”
Finding suitable children willing to make the commitment to racing all year can be challenging. “The CFR will be our 61st performance this year,” Lawes says. “I have 12 teams of three kids, some girls and some boys, and they need to commit to making a certain number of races. It can be tough to arrange.”
Most of the children come from ranching backgrounds, often with parents who have been involved in rodeo in the past.
Each team is composed of three contestants — a header, rider and shankman. The goal is to get the rider on a haltered pony as quickly as possible.
“These are tough little kids,” Lawes says. “And they love what they do.”
Locating truly wild ponies can be equally challenging. You can’t just go to an auction and buy bad-tempered ponies because many of those will be partially trained or halter broken. The difficulties of buying suitable ponies started Lawes on a breeding program, raising ponies with the type of temperament that most of us would do anything to avoid!
“I have 80 ponies, with two stallions and 30 broodmares,” Lawes said. “I got lucky and bought a little brown pony stud that I named Coconut Shrimp, a spin off on Grated Coconut. That pony has real attitude, and breeds it into his offspring. My other stallion is a blue roan named Grey Ghost, and he also produces ponies that are ornery, tough and fighty.”
These ponies seem to enjoy their job. “There’s nothing more fun than dragging a kid across the pen!” Lawes laughs. “Those ponies know what’s going to happen when they get in the chute, and they seem to enjoy the challenge.”