do what you love | OUTVisions for LGBT Professionals

do what you love

living the western life

do what you love
janice ford-spencer

A common and insightful adage, ‘tis often easier said than done. Yet for some, against all odds, they persevere. And with a little tenacity and a lot of luck there are those who not only do what they love - but with whom they love.

Such a person is Janie Van Santen. At 55, she has been partnered for 28 years with life companion Dale Tamblyn. Together they have always done what they love. While sharing a passion for the Alberta Rockies Gay Rodeo Association, they held respective careers in the realm of public service. Van Santen worked for the Calgary School Board while Tamblyn the Calgary Health System. It was with pride and dedication they fulfilled their occupations, but doing what they love came with a price. “It was not okay to be ‘out’ in those days,” says Van Santen. “Dale and I came from united families who supported us, but we struggled being gay in the business world. Now we are retired and simply don’t give a damn...and it allows more time for the rodeo!"

Van Santen can’t remember a time that she didn’t have a keen interest in the Western lifestyle. It was in 1993, upon hearing about Canada’s first gay rodeo, Van Santen and Tamblyn ‘cowboyed up’ and went to the rodeo. Since that day, Janie Van Santen has never looked back. Embracing a new lifestyle, she lives and breathes the Alberta Rockies Gay Rodeo Association (ARGRA).

“I loved it from get go,” says Van Santen. “I didn’t realize I had it in me to have so much fun”.

Initially a spectator, in 2000 Van Santen literally took the bull by the horns and became a competitor to be reckoned with. Not for the faint of heart, her choice event is Chute Dogging. Similar to Steer Wrestling, one shares limited quarters – with a 400-500 pound steer.

“I call for the chute gate to open, drag the animal 10 feet out into the arena and wrestle it to the ground. First attempt I was literally dragged out of the chute and thrown on my face; but I talked myself into trying again and actually brought my steer to the ground. I was hooked from that moment on.”

ARGRA is not just a rodeo... it is a way of life. Celebrating 23 years, it honours not only the sport but the gay community. From people who have learned the hard way, ARGRA challenges the spirit and encourages humanity.

In 2002, Van Santen joined the committee of the Alberta Rockies Gay Rodeo Association. Having spent six years organizing and hosting the annual rodeo, she joined the Board of Directors as Rodeo Director and is currently holding a three-year term as Trustee. “ I am responsible for the continued and effective representation of ARGRA on the international level and representing it to the International Gay Rodeo Association (IGRA).”

Not an easy task, all members of the Board are volunteer based. “The charity side of ARGRA is huge and that’s the draw, “ says Van Santen. “There is not a paid person in any of the associations and rodeos in North America. We pay out of our own pockets to go to a rodeo and it’s not cheap. You have travel costs and entry the fundraisers; it can be thousands - and it all goes back.”

Where does it go? It goes to help their own...those who have been where they have been.

Working within the gay community ages 13 upward, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been given to local charities by each association. ARGRA works very closely with a number of Calgary’s local groups such as SHARP - Society Housing AIDS/HIV Restricted Persons, Camp Fyrefly, Miscellaneous Youth, Pride Calgary and more. “It’s our premise to support associations that support our community. All member associations in Canada and USA are either non-profit, not-for-profit, or charities.”

Sensitive to the hardships of being gay, Van Santen says the association’s dedication to help others is paramount. “ARGRA, itself, is still quite young on the gay rodeo circuit, with some of our sister associations celebrating over 30 years of gay rodeo.”

Having embraced the rodeo life on an international basis, Van Santen admits she didn’t realize she had the ambition. Now she can’t imagine it any other way.

“Recently we have had a number of our ‘family’ diagnosed with cancer and the fundraising efforts and mental support have been overwhelming. We are a very close-knit group and will stand up for each other every step of the way. I know that if I ever need help with anything all I have to do is put it out there and my ‘family’ will rally.”

As relentless in competition, so she is in her devotion to ARGRA’s charities. Van Santen has it all - the opportunity to love the rodeo and help others while doing it.

“It is our belief that there will always be a need for what we offer. It is healthy fun and we hope to be around for many years to come. It’s a lifestyle, it’s an extended family...and there isn’t a day go by that I don’t say ‘I love my life’!”

Take a page from Van Santen’s book - though perhaps a bumpy ride; ‘do what you love’...


The 2014 Canadian Rockies International Rodeo and Music Festival returns June 27-29, 2014. With more than 3,000 attendees expected to come to the various events this year, it’s important to know the rodeo basics before heading there. Here’s a rundown of rodeo events – one major difference in gay rodeo events compared to others is that men and compete in parallel events.

At a gay rodeo you will see women bull riders and men doing barrel racing.

• Bareback Bronc Riding: an arena-bred event that pits a contestant against, roughly, eleven hundred pounds of mean muscle, for a score-qualifying six second ride. 
• Barrel Racing: Contestants vie for the fastest time by racing their horse around three barrels set up in a cloverleaf pattern. 
• Breakaway Calf Roping: Breakaway roping is a timed event between a quick, agile calf, and skilled roper mounted on a highly trained horse.
• Bull Riding: Traditionally, the last event of the day, it is also the most dangerous one for rodeo contestants. With erratic bucking, violent twists and leaps, these bulls challenge the toughest of competitor to stay on for six-seconds.
• Calf Roping on Foot: This event allows anyone an opportunity to try their skill at throwing a lasso over the head of a calf. The contestants are allowed a maximum of 20 seconds to make a qualifying catch.
• Chute Dogging: Chute Dogging, or steer wrestling on foot, is another arena-born event where the contestant races the clock to wrestle a 400 to 500 pound steer to the ground.
• Flag Racing: The Flag Race is a contest of speed, control of the horse, agility, and aim of the rider. The course is set in a triangular pattern, the same size as for the Barrel Race. Instead of the top end barrel, a pole is used.
• Pole Bending: Pole Bending is an excellent test of skill at controlling the horse. The rider and horse try to achieve the fastest time while weaving in and out through 6 six-foot poles that are equally spaced at 21 feet apart.
• Team Roping: Team Roping is a timed event with two ropers – the “header” and the “heeler”. When the steer leaves the roping chute, the header follows and throws the loop around the steer’s horns or neck.

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Authorjanice ford-spencer

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