Keeping Tradition Alive at the Coombs Rodeo Grounds

By Amber-Lea Marie
Photos by Brian Argyle

The Coombs Rodeo Grounds – where generations of history-rich stories continue to rise from the dust thanks to the steadfast determination of a small group of local individuals.

Three of these locals, tied together with tradition and a sense of nuanced country swagger, are Ray Aebig, Kimberly Cooper and Jim Brown, who have been working together to highlight the importance of participation and bring about a sense of belonging while ensuring crowds continue to be dazzled by events at the Rodeo Grounds.

Ray Aebig is a founding member and the President of Vancouver Island Western Heritage Association (VIWHA) – the organization that hosts Coombs’ annual Bulls, Broncs and Barrels event. He humbly took on the responsibility earlier this year, striving to keep rodeo alive within our community. VIWHA’s right-hand woman, and fellow founding member and secretary, Kimberly Cooper, is also of keynote importance when it comes to making sure that traditions are upheld and events run smoothly.

“It all started because the Salvation Army had the only ball field and they would not let people play ball on Sundays,” remembers Aebig, scratching the historical surface of his early memories of the Coombs’ Rodeo Grounds, and recounting  how VIWHA came to be. “The original building on the property was an old Scout hut, and now, its part of the office,” Aebig says, mentioning that it was in his youth when he first became interested in rodeo.

“I have always enjoyed being a spectator at Rodeo events since I was a little kid,” he adds. Years  later, he passed his torch of rodeo passion to his daughter whom participated in barrel racing. “It was her favorite thing to do,” he says, touching on the fact that 2008 was the last year that the Coombs Rodeo was alive.

After years of rodeo hiatus within the community, Aebig spurred up, together with the help of former Coombs rodeo members, the first annual Bulls, Broncs and Barrels event in 2015. “It was a success and has grown every year since,” Aebig says.

Four overall events take place annually at Bulls, Broncs and Barrels. Aebig points out  that Bull Riding, Bare Back, Ranch Bronc and Barrel Racing are the main-stay sports, and that most participants are active cowboys and cowgirls. “Many of the contestants rode in the Coombs Rodeo,” says Aebig. Although the number of contestants who will participate in each of these events is unknown until entries open in August, there is plenty of organizational assistance and support to help keep the flow of things. “We have many volunteers, sponsors, and contractors,” saysCooper. “All of our directors have come from helping with the Coombs Rodeo.” In addition, Vancouver Island Steel Buildings, Aebig Painting, R&H Printing, and Island Radio (The Wolf, The Beach, and the Eagle), are all sponsors this year.

Seemingly an event in and of itself,  The Bare Back Riders Pot of Gold is the sought after prize of the weekend, cashing in for Hall of Fame rights. “The weekend winner of the Bareback event will receive a lifetime membership to the Canadian Rodeo Hall of Fame, which is big,” says Cooper. Alongside the grandiose Pot of Gold winner, the Vancouver Island Coastal Cowgirls Drill Team will be attending from Victoria, to do the event’s grand entry and to perform during intermissions. Cooper states that Squirelly Earl – the Rodeo Clown ­– will be attending as entertainment, and a full concession and beverage garden a part of the day as well. “We also have our Country Dance that happens on the Saturday night,” says Cooper. “And Montgomery County is coming to play for us!”

A touchstone piece of animal rights importance, Aebig and Cooper mention that there is an on-site Large Animal Veterinarian at all events, including Bulls, Broncs and Barrels, to ensure all animals are well taken care of and safe. “I have watched our stock contractor with his animals and he treats them like they are his babies,” says Cooper. “The events that we do are not harmful to the animals, and I do believe that the bulls and horses are athletes and that they enjoy doing what they do,” Cooper adds. Aebig explains that they stick to the rough stock events – Bulls and Bucking Horses. “These animals choose at a young age if they want to buck. If they are good bucking stock, they are treated like athletes – they get the best feed and are treated like one the the stock contractor’s pets,” Aebig said.

In addition to VIWHA and the goings on of all events under the organization’s umbrella, Aebig also stepped up to take on the Presidential responsibilities from his former director’s role at the Coombs Hillier’s Recreation and Community Organization (CHRCO) – the organization that owns and takes care of the Coombs Rodeo Grounds, which puts on all events that take place at the Grounds. 

Despite the fact that Bulls, Broncs and Barrels is not in association with CHRCO, many events are; the annual Coombs Bluegrass  Festival atop the charts. “The Bluegrass Festival is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year,” says Jim Brown, long-time founding member of the festival and active member of CHRCO. “Headlining the festival this year is the band, The Lonesome Town Painters.” “All bands this year are Canadian, coming from Coombs, Sooke, Powell River, Victoria and Vancouver.”

Dust off your cowboy hat and dig in your spurs, as The Coombs Bluegrass Festival kicks off on Friday August 3, 4 and 5, followed by Bulls, Broncs and Barrels on August 18th and 19th, starting at 1 p.m. on both days at the Coombs Rodeo Grounds. Everyone is welcome.

For further information regarding Bulls, Broncs and Barrels visit www.viwesternheritage.com

For more on The Coombs Bluegrass Festival; www.CHRCO.org