OKLAHOMA CITY – By Ted Harbin – The International Finals Rodeo has grown in to a true international championship.
Of the 126 contestants that have qualified to compete at IFR 45 from Jan. 16-18 at the Jim Norick State Fair Arena, two dozen are from other countries. That serves as a great reminder of the world-wide draw of professional rodeo.
“We’re celebrating our 65th year as an organization,” said Dale Yerigan, president of Oklahoma City-based International Professional Rodeo Association. “Every year, we are seeing more and more of our IFR contestants coming from all over the world.”
The largest contingent is from the Canadian province of Quebec, home of the IPRA’s largest regular-season event, Festival Western de St. Tite, in the community about 120 miles northeast of Montreal. Nine cowboys are from the neighboring province of Ontario, and one is from New South Wales, Australia.
The list of contestants is much more than an international flair. Cody Mousseau of Aylmer, Ontario, is making a run at multiple world championships; he has qualified in tie-down roping steer wrestling and team roping heading. He trails nine-time and reigning all-around champion Shawn Minor by about $8,700 in the all-around standings.
“Cody’s a pretty good hand who works all the timed events,” said Shawn Minor, a 21-time IPRA world champion from Camden, Ohio. “He’s had a good year, but he’s rodeoed his butt off and worked hard at it.”
Mousseau leads the steer wrestling standings, about $1,600 ahead of Brian Barefoot of Dunn, N.C., and sits No. 2 in both heading and tie-down roping; he is just less than $4,000 behind Justin Thigpen of Waycross, Ga., in tie-down roping and less than $1,000 behind Jacob Dagenhart of Statesville, N.C., in heading.
Of the 15 qualifiers in bull riding, most are Canadians. Rookie Garrett Tribble of Bristow, Okla., has secured his first IPRA world championship with nearly $38,000 in season earnings, but nine Canucks are making their way to Oklahoma City. Eric Isabelle of St. Julienne, Quebec, is the No. 2 bull rider in the standings, followed by four more Canadians.
“I think having so many international contestants at the International Finals Rodeo is a great thing,” Minor said. “To be able to go to all them rodeos up there is great for us. You have to drive your butt off, and you’ll have road rash when you get there, but when you get on and ride some of those good horses, they’re going to pay you and make it worth your while.”
The IPRA sanctions a number of Canadian rodeos, primarily in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick. Contestants can compete on just a Canadian card or a full IPRA card, which then allows them to compete at events in the United States.
“It’s a great move for rodeo and great for the IPRA,” Minor said. “That’s really stepped up the game.”