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Hoofbeats for Hope with Julie Budgell

Written by Tammy Coulter

“Music ready? Speakers out? “Who can sparkle bums?” What colour gear are we wearing today? Blue.” “Who needs help tacking up?” “Everyone ready? Mount up!”

“Ladies and gentlemen, Cranberry Lake Rodeo is pleased to welcome to the arena, Hoofbeats for Hope Equine Team!”

For many people, the conversation you just read would be totally odd and out of place. However, not if you belong to the Hoofbeats for Hope Equine Team. This is a normal preamble to them entering a rodeo ring to perform their musical ride at one of many local rodeos such as Cranberry Lake, Grande Prairie Stompede and Teepee Creek rodeo. After they finish their routine, they head out of the arena, only to turn around and head right back in, this time holding the sponsor flags for that particular rodeo.

Hoofbeats is a unique group made up of only female riders. President Julie Budgell joined about seven years go when she was trying to establish a drill team in the Bezanson area. She was approached by the Prairie Dusters drill team, who often performed the Grand Entry and entertainment between parts of the Grande Prairie Stompede. And from the Prairie Dusters, Hoofbeats for Hope was born.

As Julie explains, the Hope part of Hoofbeats is because the team supports a variety of local charities, spending the rodeo year raising funds for the charity and themselves. Some of the causes they have supported include In the Woods Animal Rescue, Autism Awareness, PARDS, War Horse Awareness for PTSD in first responders and returning military personnel, La Glace Fire Department’s Large Animal Rescue and this year it is Bandage Paws Animal Rescue. The whole point of the doing the musical ride and fundraising is to give back to the community who supports them.

Take La Glace Fire Department’s Large Animal Rescue. If you are in the County of Grande Prairie and have a horse go through the ice on a pond, you call 911 and ask to be directed to the La Glace Fire Department. When they respond, you explain the situation and they will respond. Julie admits they didn’t raise much in the ways of funds, but they did spread the word about the program and sometimes, that is just as good.

Unfortunately, Covid has impacted Hoofbeats, as it has many other non-profit groups. Being unable to have large gatherings, such as rodeos, means fundraising efforts have been extremely limited. Julie admits there are many youth groups who are also trying to raise funds with bottle drives or auctions, whether silent or on-line. People are having to pick and choose which charities they support. So Hoofbeats must think outside the box to raise funds.

There is a hope Covid will be less of a threat by the time rodeo season rolls around this spring, thus allowing Hoofbeats to ride at rodeos again. GP Stompede asked Hoofbeats to come and perform the same function as The Prairie Dusters which was the Grand Entry and the entertainment before the main rodeo. For Hoofbeats, this was an even exchange. The drill team had a place to perform and the rodeo had riders who would be able to carry the Sponsor Flags.

Cranberry Lake is another rodeo the team can’t wait to return to. Since the arena is smaller, Julie likes to take greener horses to give them training in crowds before taking them to the larger venues like GP Stompede. Hoofbeats was asked to come to Cranberry Lake for the last two years to perform and do the Grand Entry, just like at the Stompede. In exchange for a percentage of the door sales and 50/50 draw, the team did gate sales, the 50/50 draw, and security at some of the night time events. Once again, a very good exchange.

Teepee Creek was a way to provide support for team member Megan Pettyjohn as she ran for Miss Teepee Creek Rodeo Queen. By providing the team to do the Grand Entry flags, the team was there to help Megan with the challenges on her way to being crowned Queen in 2019.

The one thing Julie is really sad about regarding Hoofbeats is how the current situation in the world has lowered their numbers since they cannot get together and practice. There are about eight members right now including Julie as President, Megan Pettyjohn as Treasurer and Drill Coordinator Tammy van Solen. It is Julie’s hope to work on steadily increase the team’s numbers back to around 20 members so they can continue to perform at their rodeos and raise funds for their charities. To that extent, the team is always looking for new members who are safe riders on safe horses. She hopes to show young riders there are options out there other than the rough stock or timed events, especially to the young female riders. Julie wants to Hoofbeats to be a mentor to others in the rodeo world.

So if you are interested in joining, either on the ground or in the saddle, you can send a message on the team’s Facebook page or email hoofbeatsequineteacm@gmail.com. You can also find Julie at the Bezanson store, and she will be happy to talk to you about the whole program.

For Julie, one of the crowning moments for Hoofbeats is being there to support a team member who becomes a member of Rodeo Royalty. There has been three Rodeo Queens from Hoofbeats. They are Alexis Martinson who was Miss GP Stompede. Jessica Lavoie was crowned at three different rodeos – High Prairie, Grande Prairie and Teepee Creek. And Megan Pettyjohn is now the current Miss Teepee Creek Rodeo Queen. When I was there in 2019 for Megan’s second attempt at the crown, you could see her nerves right up until that contestant sash went on. Then, everything she learned about poise, horsemanship and dealing with the public as part of Hoofbeats, translated into winning that crown.

And, man, was the team every proud of her.

For all their own hard work, Julie knows Hoofbeats would not be where they are today without the help of some amazing sponsors and donation support from local businesses. Businesses like Reed Energy Group, Impact Promotions, Grant Evaskevich & Hidden Valley Ranch who helped with arena rentals for practices as well as the western shirts the team wears. There is also Avenge Energy Services, Maximum Tank & Truck Rentals, Alberta North Transport Inc., and Keddie’s Tack & Western Wear who gives discounts on tack and other gear when they can.

As the music fades and the applause rockets around the arena, the horses are held still by steady and strong hands before an unspoken signal sends the team out of the arena in a flash of blue, gold and black. It might be a memory right now but the team is keeping their fingers crossed for rodeos going once again this summer. They hope to hear thundering Hoofbeats once again raising funds, awareness and hope for the community organizations who can’t always do it for themselves. For Julie and the other members of Hoofbeats for Hope, that day can’t come fast enough.