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Story and photo of Dan Danielis 2007 by Trudy Frisk
Photo of Dan Danielis 1959-1960 courtesy Dan Danielis

“Eight seconds sometimes is a lifetime.”

Dan Danielis -1959
Dan Danielis would know just how long a second can be.  He was a rodeo rider.  For twenty years he competed in saddle bronc, bareback and bull riding.  “I worked with the best of ‘em and I rode with the worst of ‘em.”, he remembers.

Today, forty years after he reluctantly hung up his gear, Dan’s eyes still sparkle as he recalls his rodeo days.  Names of bulls and broncs, details of rides, stories about fellow riders are as sharp and clear as if they happened yesterday.

Dan doesn’t pretend it was easy.  “The rodeo game is a hard game.  There’s a good chance of getting smashed up.  Sometimes you just live by the grace of God.”  He was once hurt so badly he was laid up for two years.  When he came back, Jimmy Walker, another rider, demanded  “Haven’t you learned your lesson?  Once a cowboy, always a cowboy, I guess.”

Why did Dan do it? “When I first started out, I was having fun.”

Dan’s association with horses didn’t begin as fun though.  He was born in 1931 in Irvine, Alberta and raised on his father’s big horse ranch near the Cypress Hills.  A perfect place for a rider, right? Dan didn’t think so.  He was just a small boy the first time his father put him on a horse.  He fell off and started to cry.  “Do you want something to cry for?” demanded his dad.  “No.”  “Well, let’s start this all over.”

As Dan grew older he worked on the ranch.  He learned to operate and repair all the machines.  “If a sickle broke down we had to fix it.” But, he was adamant about one thing.  “You’re not going to make no cowboy out of me.”, he insisted to his dad.  “No way you’re going to make no cowboy out of me!”

Gradually his attitude changed.  Dan’s rodeo career began in the Cypress Hills when he was about sixteen. Under the name ‘Danny Daniels’ he competed in the legendary Calgary and Williams Lake stampedes. He rode the rodeo circuit across the western provinces from Anaheim, B.C. to Brooks, Alberta.  “Brooks was a good little rodeo town.” Dan remembers.

One year he rode in the U.S. all the way down to Mexico, following the sun south through the fall and winter.  “I wouldn’t do it again.  When you ride all year there’s no rest, no time to heal up.”

Like other riders Dan lived out of a suitcase, slept in his rig and learned his trade.
“Balance is what counts on a saddle bronc.”, he says.  And, on a Brahma bull? “Nothing counts on a Brahma bull.  They’re the worst animals in the rodeo.  You’d need glue to stick on.  But, then how would you get off?  When a Brahma bull bucks you off, don’t get up and run. Lay flat.”  Dan appreciated the rodeo clowns.  “If I worked in a rodeo where there was no clown, I wouldn’t work.”

Some of Dan’s most memorable rides were the ones he didn’t make.  “In Medicine Hat, on a horse called Baldy, I remember two flips in the air and that’s all I can remember till I’m sitting on the ground.  When the dust stopped flying I saw the horse standing in the corner looking at me.  Flying through the air doesn’t hurt.  It’s that sudden stop that hurts.”

He learned that horses can change their style.  “You may think, ‘I’ve rid him before, he’s easy’.  All of a sudden he’s changed his ways and you’re on the ground looking at your hand.”

Dan -2007- still ready to go.
Dan tried giving the horses a pep talk in the chute.  “Quit being such a bonehead.  Are you going to be nice?”  A puzzled fellow rider asked, “Do you always talk to them horses?” Dan did, but sometimes it didn’t help. “ One horse’s ears were straight up as he listened, not twitching, looking reasonable. The chute opened and all hell broke loose. No more Mr. Nice Guy.  I hung on and, after, when I pulled the flank strap off, I said, ‘Well, I made my ride on you anyway.’”

One horse called Jamie Boy came out straight up, stiff legged and then sun-fished but I made that ride too.”

Dan was often asked, “Don’t you ever get scared?”

“To tell you the truth, I’m scared every time.  I’m always tense. You always take chances. You never know what the horse is going to do. A horse may stop bucking and roll on you.”

“You can’t ride ‘em all, so you do the best you can.  If you figure you’ll get bucked off every time you come out of the chute, why bother?  If you are bucked off, you sit back and wonder where you made your mistake.  Tomorrow always comes.  If you didn’t make it today, you’ll make it tomorrow!”

Dan weighed one hundred and thirty to one hundred and thirty five pounds when he was riding.  “If a rider’s heavier, the horse doesn’t perform as well.”  He insists there’s no cruelty in rodeos but “Some horses won’t work if the rider has no spurs.  If I put on my chaps and spurs, their behaviour changed. 

Dan thinks a lot of human behaviour has changed since he rode.  “It’s too commercial today, they’ve lost the fun part.”

“Wherever I went, my gear went with me.  I could leave all the saddles and gear for a week and nothing would be touched.  If some guys couldn’t afford their own gear, I’d lend them mine.  We all looked after each other.  We’d even pay each other’s entry fees if someone was short.  Once in Kansas, I paid a friend’s entry fee and he paid me back immediately when he won.  It’s much more competitive now.”

For some years Dan took his two quarter- horses around the circuit with him, towing the horse trailer with his half-ton Dodge. He bought both horses as three year olds.  One was an all round good cow pony.  The other, King, was an excellent cutting horse.

King had another trait.  He loved his beer. He’d been known to sneak up on a group of cowboys sitting around a campfire, grab an open bottle by his front teeth and down it before the surprised rider realized who drank his beer.

This habit might have started at the old Lakeview Hotel in Williams Lake.  One hot Stampede day Dan rode King up to the door. Two fellows opened the double doors and man and horse rode straight up to the bar.  “I’m thirsty and my horse is thirsty.” Dan announced.  The bartender, who’d seen a few Williams Lake stampedes, wasn’t surprised. “What’ll you have?”  “I’ll have a Labatt’s Blue.”  “What about your horse? What’ll he have?”  “He’ll have a draft.”  “How would he like it served?”  Dan took off his hat. “Fill it up.”  The bartender hesitated.  “It’ll leak.”  “It’s a good felt hat.  It won’t leak.”

So the bartender filled it up and both horse and rider were enjoying their drinks when in came the Mountie.  He looked at the horse.  “Is he old enough to be in here?”  “He’s nine years old.”  “Yep, I guess he’s old enough.”  “Would you like a beer, officer?” Dan asked. “I sure would, but I’m on duty.  Thanks, though.”

Dan’s wife, Marjorie, who didn’t know him in his rodeoing days, says she has independent verification of this story. It was a more humorous, tolerant time.

How does Dan feel about the rodeo now? “I miss it to this day.  I can’t do it anymore but I love sitting back and watching.  The moment the rider comes out of that chute, I know what’s going to happen.”

“You can’t ride ‘em all, but you can make it a lot of fun.”

Other articles by Trudy Frisk

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