Born to Buck

Creating Rodeo Superstars

For more than 50 years the Calgary Stampede has been building up its 600-head herd of horses, specially bred and selected for their athleticism, their competitive spirit and their ability to perform.

Nestled close to the badlands in east central Alberta, the 23,000-acre Calgary Stampede Ranch is home to its world-famous Born to Buck breeding program, producing some of the best rodeo rough stock in the world.

More than a dozen of its horses have risen to international stardom, including the Stampede herd’s great stallion Grated Coconut, voted the world’s top bareback champion horse a record six times before retiring in 2010. In fact, the program has received more than 250 awards and honors over the years.

“We are extremely proud of our breeding program,” says Keith Marrington, Stampede director of rodeo and chuckwagons and the long-time steward of the Stampede Ranch. “There’s a lot more to this than meets the eye. It takes careful choices in terms of both the mare and stallion’s unique qualities and how the blends might work. And there’s the entire herd health and genetic mix to consider as well.”

The herd is managed carefully with ongoing performance, talent management, individual career plans and breeding assessments. The complete herd of both horses and bulls are inventoried every spring and fall. A custom built data base keeps meticulous information on each animal’s breeding and performance.

Using generations’ worth of information on performance and genetics, the Born to Buck program pairs stallions and mares that are likely to create offspring that will perform well in the rodeo arena. A number of different breeds are known to have an influence on a good bucking horse, balancing size, strength, agility and temperament. Grated Coconut is a current foundation stallion. Most of his colts have inherited his performance qualities and closely resemble him in both appearance and athleticism.

At present time, there are about 600 horses on the ranch from weanlings to retired stock. Of those, about 200 are actively bucking at professional rodeos at any given time throughout Canada and the US. Professional rodeo horses will buck approximately 11 to 15 times over the course of a year (that works out to be around two minutes). Other horses in the herd fill various roles including high school or college rodeo bucking stock, part of the breeding program, as “nannies” to younger novice horses in the herd, and retirees enjoying the pastures in peace.

Every spring the resulting batch of foals arrives and each one is given a name from the same letter of the alphabet. For example, 1996 was an “F” year therefore; names like French Wake, Flavoured Cherry and Fearless Warrior were selected. In 2010, the foals will all receive names that begin with a “W”.