For 56 years, the Nicola Valley Pro Rodeo — held every Labour Day weekend in Merritt — has been a highly-successful fixture in these parts.

The storied event has a reputation for attracting some of the top cowboys, cowgirls and rodeo stock on the planet to its first-class facility in Collettville, and providing a rootin’-tootin’, rip-roarin’, dirt-bustin’ entertainment package guaranteed to thrill young and old alike — whether they be hardcore fans or enthusiastic first-timers.

You can never stop making something better, however. That’s the attitude of the 2014 Nicola Valley Pro Rodeo committee as they gear up for this year’s two-day spectacle, which is scheduled for Saturday, August 30 and Sunday, August 31.

“We have some new people in the group, and they’re coming up with some great ideas,” NVPRA committee member Tanya Starrs said. “We’re really excited about some of the changes we’ve made and some of the things that we’ve added.”

Starrs and her fellow committee members feel that change is important. It keeps an event vibrant, interesting and in tune with the times.

The local rodeo committee is also well aware that it’s competing with other area communities for the Labour Day crowd.

The annual Nicola Valley Pro Rodeo, held each Labour Day weekend in Merritt, offers great entertainment for people of all ages. (Above) Kelsey Starrs and Tony Broman take in the exciting rodeo action at last year’s event. Ian Webster/Herald

The annual Nicola Valley Pro Rodeo, held each Labour Day weekend in Merritt, offers great entertainment for people of all ages. (Above) Kelsey Starrs and Tony Broman take in the exciting rodeo action at last year’s event. Ian Webster/Herald

“There’s the IPE (Interior Provincial Exhibition) in Armstrong and the North Thompson Fall Fair in Barriere. Both events have a rodeo,” Starrs said. “It’s important that we make people want to stay in Merritt on that weekend and attend our rodeo, and important that we encourage out-of-towners to choose our great event to come to.”

Topping the list of changes to this year’s Nicola Valley Pro Rodeo is a switch to an evening performance on the Saturday that will begin at 5 p.m.

“We just thought it might be a great idea, and attract some additional people who maybe can’t make it in the afternoon,” committee member Allison Thompson said. “We’ll keep the beer garden open a bit longer for the adults in the crowd, and try to have a band performing in the beer
garden. We’re also going to try and have a few more vendors, so that there’s more opportunity for shopping and more food available.”

Sunday’s performance will begin at the usual time, 1 p.m. The focus will be on children and families.

“We’ve changed our ticket prices a bit, such that youngsters 10-and-under will get in free if accompanied by an adult,” Thompson said.

“Students and seniors will still pay just $12 while adults will be charged $15.”

Sunday’s intermission entertainment will include a couple of children’s events that are sure to be big hits — mutton bustin’ (sheep riding) and peewee barrel racing.

“I’ve also been talking to someone about possibly bringing in a mechanical bull and mechanical surfboard, along with a bouncy castle,” Thompson said. “There’ll also be face-painting.”

Both Starrs and Thompson are very excited about another intermission event they’ve organized for both rodeo days — the businessmens’ calf dressing.

“It’s going to be great fun,” said Thompson. “We’ve had a tremendous response from the local business community. Every business that we’ve approached has said yes.”

Each of the three-member business teams will be auctioned off Calcutta-style on the Friday night before the rodeo at a location still to be announced.

“All the money raised will go to a charity of the winner’s choice,” Thompson said.

One thing that won’t change at the Nicola Valley Pro Rodeo this year is the outstanding talent on display in the various events. The Merritt stop on the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association circuit regularly attracts many of the top 10 cowboys and cowgirls in the CPRA standings —
all competing for points, money and a chance to make the Canadian Finals in Edmonton in October.

While Merritt bull rider Ty Pozzobon won’t be able to perform at this year’s Nicola Valley Pro Rodeo due to injury, you can count on seeing a couple of other local talents. Mammit Lake’s Katie Garthwaite will almost certainly be in the barrel racing event, while Douglas Lake cowboy
Cameron Jacobs will likely be up in the ranch hand saddle bronc.

“We’re also hoping to do a tribute to some of the local ranches,” Thompson said.

“The Nicola Valley Pro Rodeo is one of the longest-running pro rodeos in Western Canada,” Starrs said. “We’re looking to put on a great show this year, and we hope that the community will come out to support it.”