Rodeo Magic: Connecting Special Kids with the CFR Experience
“It’s really about connecting the cowboys and cowgirls with the kids,” she explains, “and letting them have that special connection and that one-on-one opportunity.”
“We actually bring them in the arena to do tons of activities. It’s completely hands-on.” – Mackenzie Parish
Rodeo Magic, held on the first day at the CFR, is a free, invite-only event for kids with special needs who might otherwise miss out on the rodeo experience. These kids may have physical or developmental disabilities, learning challenges, or mental health struggles, such as severe anxiety. Things like large crowds, potentially dangerous situations, or equipment like a wheelchair can make it tricky for them to take part in an event like the CFR.
“So we’ve created a mock CFR for them, to not only learn about the events but to actually get to experience them,” Mackenzie says. “We bring them in the arena to do tons of activities. It’s completely hands-on.”
Connecting Kids with Rodeo Royalty
Activities include a mix of fun-sized rodeo events, like Stick Horse Racing and Bronco Barrel Riding. Hay bales are set up like stock animals for the steer roping event, giving the kids real targets to practice on. There’s even a horseback ride.
When the kids arrive in the morning, they’re hooked up with special CFR gear that includes a cowboy hat, bandana and a t-shirt, so they get to feel like true rodeo stars from the moment they enter the arena.
“The coolest part for the kids,” Mackenzie says, “is that we actually bring in cowboys and royalty and pair them with the kids.”
The “cowboys and royalty” are the 2017 CFR qualifiers themselves, along with former champions.
“Each kid gets paired up with a cowboy or cowgirl,” she explains, “who takes them into the arena and around to the different stations. So they stay with them the whole time and really get to know the kids that they’re with.”
Giving Back to the Community
Mackenzie is expecting the event to bring in about 150 kids from 10 different schools in the Edmonton area.
Rodeo Magic participants come from a list of applicants, and Northlands tries to bring in as many new schools as possible each year to reach kids who’ve never been to the CFR before. In fact, all of this year’s schools will be visiting for the first time.
“Sending all the information out has been very exciting for me,” Mackenzie shares. “It’s these schools’ first year, so they seem really excited and eager.”
Northlands volunteers keep the activities running safely and smoothly, and Northlands provides lunch for the kids. Sponsors like Bee Clean, the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association, Lammle’s and Little Bits help take care of additional costs.
Live music is another neat feature. This year, local musician Dorine Kielly will be performing. Microphones are even brought out sometimes to let kids try lead vocals during singalongs.
“It’s all about them.” Mackenzie says. “Everything is about making them the stars of the day.”