Bit-A-Bling team leader Sheila Hicks with the Canadian flag during the grand entry team’s practice at Stetson Bowl. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

VIDEO: ‘Bling’ in the Bowl: Rodeo’s dedicated grand entry team doesn’t horse around

Bit-A-Bling squad of women adds pomp and ceremony at Stetson Bowl on Victoria Day long weekend

As the sun began to set on the Stetson Bowl on a warm Tuesday evening, Sheila Hicks reflected on her horsing history in Cloverdale.

For nearly two decades, she’s been a fixture there on the Victoria Day long weekend, so this certainly won’t be Hicks’ first rodeo – but it will be for her newbie horse, Lev.

“It’s kind of a cool history with her,” explained Hicks, a co-leader of the Bit-A-Bling grand entry team. “I rode her mom in the rodeo for 11 years and then took time off to breed her, because I really liked her mom. And then I rode the sire, her dad, for two years in the rodeo while (Lev) was getting bred, and now she just turned five and this will be Lev’s first year here. It’s cool lineage – I rode the mom and then the dad and now their baby, so we hope she holds up to it. She’s still trying to decide whether she’s impressed or not, so we’ll see.”

Such family ties are special to the team, which adds a bit of bling to Cloverdale Rodeo every year thanks to a dedicated group of flag-carrying women and their faithful steed.

• PHOTOS: 2017 Cloverdale Rodeo and Country Fair heats up Surrey, from 2017.

Hicks, a commercial pilot who lives in Vancouver, captains the team in partnership with her husband, Joe.

“We run it together,” Joe said as Sheila and a couple dozen other riders prepared for practice. “It takes many people to make it happen, but we’re just the two chief victims who volunteer, help co-ordinate and put it all together. It’s a lot of scheduling and stuff, but we make it work. Sheila does a lot of it, and I just kind of fill in where needed.”

(STORY CONTINUES BELOW VIDEO)

To start each rodeo show in Cloverdale, the grand entry team parades around the Stetson Bowl and adds a good amount of pomp and ceremony to the occasion. The precision, synchronized routines require a lot of practice starting in January each year, both in an indoor arena and also outdoors at the fairgrounds.

This year, 25 women are on the team, 17 of them as riders.

“Four girls will do meet-and-greet, which is greeting audience members as they come in,” Sheila noted. “Two others will do victory or championship laps at the end of every performance – the winner of bull riding, barrel racing, all the kind of stuff, so two of our girls will ride around them with them and present them with their winnings.”

This is Sheila’s 19th year at the rodeo, and 11th with the Bit-A-Bling team she co-founded.

“I’ve been on several other teams,” she added. “Prior to this team, Cloverdale Rodeo had their own team and then it kind of branched off to a few others, and then myself and my girlfriend Corrie Bokenfohr, who has moved away, formed Bit-A-Bling.”

Sheila took control of the team eight years ago, with the help of others.

“I’ve been really lucky because there are eight or nine girls on the present team who have been with us since the beginning — we call ourselves the ‘originals,’ and there are girls who go to school, come back, go and be moms and then come back to be on the team, so we have a couple members who are returning this year after having kids and going to school.”

With “practice” flags in hand, the team makes the most of its twice-weekly rehearsals at the Stetson Bowl, where the trotting and galloping starts for real on Friday, May 18.

• RELATED STORY: Countdown to the 72nd-annual Cloverdale Rodeo and Country Fair.

The team has tryouts every fall, but those are pretty much “word of mouth” because there isn’t much of a turnover of team members every year. “We cycle about two new girls a year, so there’s not a lot of turnover, which is good, a lot of us have worked together for the duration of the team,” Sheila explained.

“It’s really fortunate,” she added, “because a lot of us girls wouldn’t have met each other if it wasn’t for horses and if wasn’t for rodeo. We’ve got paramedics, flight attendants, nurses, office managers, property managers, there’s welders, so yeah, some pretty strong girls on this team, which is good because anybody who rides 1,200-pound animals for fun, right, you’ve got to be able to hold their own.”

Most of the team members gather every summer for camping trips, birthday parties and other social events.

“Everybody’s like, ‘How do 25 girls get along?’ I don’t know, it’s because we’re all buddies, so we’re lucky. We’re friends inside rodeo and outside of rodeo, which makes it easy,” Sheila said with a smile.

This year, the team is working to add a couple of new patterns to its routine, including a “Clover Leaf” of four intertwining circles. The team’s “signature moves” will return, of course, with a few changes thrown in to keep things fresh.

During practice sessions, warmup maneuvers get the horses bending and flexing in preparation for the drills.

“Like any situation, right, the horses aren’t really used to being in an arena with 20 other horses, so it takes a little bit of time to get them comfortable with that,” Sheila said.

Behind a metal fence, Joe looked on as the riders warmed up wearing casual clothes. That all changes come rodeo time.

“The uniforms, that’s Sheila’s thing,” he said, “and we have lockers full of uniforms that are brought out, cleaned up and arranged, and there’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes.

“There’s a rotation of uniforms every year,” Joe continued, “and we change it up here and there. Sheila will sometimes look at footage from previous years and say, ‘Oh, on the Friday night we wore that, so let’s do this instead, let’s not wear that colour until Monday,’ that kind of thing. She’s up until the wee hours of the morning planning all this, and it’s impressive.”

On rodeo weekend, Joe helps out with the grounds here and there, drives a truck and serves as a team liaison on the production side of things.

“I ride, yes, but this team, it’s strictly a women’s team,” he explained. “This discipline, the grand entry team, is generally a female thing. People want to see good-looking girls go fast on horses, so it’s perfect for that. When I describe to my friends what this team is, what my wife does and how I help, I bring up the RCMP Musical Ride – it’s like that, but replace the police officer with 30 good-lookin’ girls and replace the national anthem with AC/DC, and they’re usually, ‘Oh yeah! I’d love to see that!’. That kind of puts the right idea in their brains, you know.”

Every spring, Joe says some challenges always materialize as the team comes together for the start of rodeo season.

“You can have a lady with a great personality, but you have to have the right personality with horses as well,” he said. “Anything in equestrian outside of this is usually just one rider, one horse, and for some of the riders, that’s all they do and then you throw them in something like this and say, ‘OK, now work together as a team.’ That’s not always so easy. It’s like a hockey team out here, and as a hockey player you need to work as a team member, not just be a good individual player, right? It’s not figure skating, right, so that part of it is unique. And the horses, too – some of them just can’t handle the loud music, the flags and the other horses being around them. This isn’t just riding in the park and being relaxed, there’s a lot going on.”

When the Now-Leader witnessed the team practice, rodeo general manager Mike MacSorley was also at the Stetson Bowl to greet the Bit-A-Bling team members.

“Sheila’s been running it since before I got here, and they’re really good ambassadors for what we do,” MacSorley said. “They work to promote our rodeo and they’re local and it just seems to be a really nice fit for us.”

This year’s Cloverdale Rodeo will host 96 of the world’s best cowboys and cowgirls in an “Invitational” format, starting May 18 at 7:30 p.m. The rodeo action continues on May 19 at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m., on May 20 at 2:30 p.m. and May 21 with the finals, also at 2:30 p.m. For event details, visit cloverdalerodeo.com or call 604-576-9461.

The grand entry team is online at bit-a-bling.com.

 

The Bit-A-Bling grand entry team practices at the Stetson Bowl in Cloverdale. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

The Bit-A-Bling grand entry team practices at the Stetson Bowl in Cloverdale. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

Bit-A-Bling team leader Sheila Hicks. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

Bit-A-Bling team member Shelley Kellner at the Stetson Bowl in Cloverdale. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

Bit-A-Bling team member Shelley Kellner preps her horse, Lacey, for practice at the Stetson Bowl. Lacey, a seven-year-old, will be doing her second rodeo this year. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

Bit-A-Bling grand entry team practice at Stetson Bowl. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

The Bit-A-Bling team in action at the 2014 Cloverdale Rodeo. (File photo)

Decal on trailer shows team logo.

Just Posted

COMMUTER ALERT: Motorcycle crash on major thoroughfare sends one to hospital

Mounties are still on scene of an afternoon accident at 64th Avenue and 168th Street.

Man facing seven charges after alleged threats at Surrey restaurant

Surrey RCMP say incident at Whalley business was ‘very traumatic’ for customers and employees

Witchazel rocks again with CD of ‘Lost Tapes’ from band’s ’80s glory days

Surrey bar a stage for ‘Cancer Killer Rock Party’ on Aug. 30

Record turnout for Five Corners concert in White Rock

Abba/Elton John/Billy Joel salute attracts an estimated 4,500 people

Delta police secure 94 charges in dial-a-dope bust

Seven people with ties to the Red Scorpion gang are facing drug and firearm charges

VIDEO: Surrey to host Western Regional Quidditch Championship in 2019

The fictional game in the Harry Potter series has become popular around the world, with 600 athletes in Canada alone

Women-owned businesses generate $68,000 less revenue than men’s: survey

When Dionne Laslo-Baker sought a bank loan to expand her burgeoning organic popsicle and freezies business in 2014, she was “shocked” by the feedback she received from one of the bankers.

Hedley frontman’s alleged sex offences case returns to court

Jacob Hoggard faces three sexual assault-related charges will return to a Toronto courtroom this morning.

Climate change likely to cause more sewage leaks, says environment minister

More than one hundred municipal wastewater systems did not report how much raw sewage overflowed from their pipes in 2017.

Priests molested 1,000 children in Pennsylvania, report says

The “real number” of abused children and abusive priests might be higher since some secret church records were lost and some victims never came forward.

Defiant as Trump rages, Omarosa says she won’t be silenced

Manigault Newman declared she will not be silenced by President Donald Trump, remaining defiant as her public feud with her former boss shifted from a war of words to a possible legal battle.

Death toll hits 39 in Italy bridge collapse; blame begins

The collapse of the Morandi Bridge sent dozens of cars and three trucks plunging as much as 45 metres (150 feet) to the ground Tuesday.

RCMP to search for body after man drowns in B.C.’s Buntzen Lake

Officers and fire crews responded but the man from the Lower Mainland is believed to have drowned.

Police chiefs call for stricter controls on pill presses to fight opioids

Canada’s police chiefs are urging Ottawa to beef up its fight against the opioid scourge by closely vetting people who import pill presses

Most Read