Covered in a blanket of more than 1,000 carnations, Alberta’s Doug Rogers and his eight-year-old steer, Wild West Willie, recently starred in one of the largest parades in the United States.
Rogers rode Willie along the 10 kilometre Tournament of Roses parade route New Year’s Day in Pasadena, California.
“It was quite an experience. It was amazing,” said Rogers while returning to Canada.
More than 700,000 spectators lined the route and millions more watched the Rose Parade on television.
Banks of television lights lit up the first two blocks, but the two-metre-high, 2,800 pound Brahma-Holstein- Angus cross steer never missed a beat.
Willy began to get tired part way through the parade, but luckily a float broke down and the five-minute break and a bucket of water was enough to keep him going for the rest of the route, said Rogers, a Canadian Food Inspection Agency inspector at Red Deer’s Olymel pork processing plant.
Before leaving for California, Rogers rode the steer two to three times a week at an indoor riding arena near his Bentley, Alta., home to get the animal in shape for the parade.
Rogers bought the steer in 2004 from Tim Edwards of Vanscoy, Sask., who was downsizing his tame animals.
The idea of owning a tame steer appealed to Rogers. It was an excuse to travel to parades, possibly make a bit of extra cash but mostly to own something unique.
When Rogers bought Willy, the steer was on a movie set in Longview, Alta. Since then, Rogers and Willie have been in parades and two photo shoots, including one advertisement for the Calgary Stampede.
“I thought it would be something interesting. I thought it was kind of cool.”
Just like horses, tame steers take continual training to stay broke and in shape for events like the Calgary Stampede.
“It takes lots of riding. If you don’t keep riding him, they’re aren’t broke any more.”
Before the Calgary Stampede, Rogers rode Willie every day for a month to ensure he was calm and in shape for the 6.5 kilometre route. It was at the Calgary Stampede parade that Rose Parade officials spotted Willie and invited Rogers to be part of the New Year’s parade.
“It was quite an honour to be invited,” said Rogers.
The Rose Parade is considered one of the top five parades in the world.
Willy was the only bovine tucked in with the 22 equestrian entries in the parade.
During most parades, Rogers drapes an advertising banner behind the saddle. Selling advertising space on the banner is one of the ways to help offset the expenses associated with the shows.
“It’s like a walking billboard.” Advertisements are not allowed on
floats in the Rose Parade. Instead the 1,025 carnations were stitched into the shape of a Canadian flag and draped behind the saddle.
Rogers said key to the longevity of pet steers is good hoof care and responsible feeding so they don’t become overweight.