Calgary Herald

Stampede vet doesn’t plan on slowing down


On Keith Marrington’s official Calgary Stampede business card, he’s the director of rodeo and chuckwagon­s.

And, yes, that has always been his bread and butter.

But the 64-year-old’s daily tasks could also define him as a business man, spokesman, marketing specialist, salesman, and crisis manager.

“I’m a very hands-on guy,” Marrington was saying the other day from his office over on Olympic Way prior to the start of the 2014 Calgary Stampede. “I like to get involved. I like to get my hands and feet dirty and roll up my sleeves and get done what needs to get done.

“At the same time, I can sit in a boardroom and talk to executives about the sport and where it needs to go.”

At his very core and in his heart, however, he is still a cowboy — just like the many that continuall­y flock to the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth every year.

“A cowboy’s life is pretty intense, right?” Marrington said. “They rodeo somewhere in the afternoon and then travel 800 miles, and the next day, they’re getting on another one.

“So, they need to know the reality of what that animal is going to do and know if they’ve got a shot at making some money.”

That’s been the aim for Marrington since starting in the Stampede’s agricultur­al department in 1984. Later, he ran the race track at Stampede Park for 10 years and eventually moved into his current role.

This year will be Marrington’s 30th Stampede — and he isn’t slowing down.

“I feel good,” he said. “I’ll be around the Stampede for a while, maybe not in a full-time role, but there’s certainly a place for me to bring that brand to life on the road.

“Trust me, it’s a lot of work, but I have some great friends that are cowboys and were cowboys and I still nurture those relationsh­ips. Sure, it’s a business, but there’s no way you can’t make friends when you’re involved in their life as much as you are. There’s a lot of respect from both sides.”

Marrington decides what horses, bulls, steers, and calves to use and how to schedule them. He oversees their stock the Calgary Stampede Ranch and “Born to Buck” breeding program. Ensuring safety of the competitor­s is also a priority and his job requires him to make snap decisions during inclement weather affecting the track and infield.

Over the years, he has provided a voice of reason in times of crisis and dealt with speed bumps such as the catastroph­ic flooding of 2013, an equine herpes outbreak in 2011, animal rights activists, and the general well-being of the animals and cowboys.

Everyone has Marrington’s cellphone number. They know his mobile is on 24-7 and they know if he doesn’t answer, they’ll get an immediate phone call back.

And, when they do, there’s always a dose of honesty on the other line.

“Because it’s their livelihood, right?” Marrington said. “They need to know the animals and sometimes they don’t know them. So, they call me and say, ‘What’s the deal here? Do I have a shot? What’s this animal going to do?’ Or, if we have a young horse on the road and they haven’t seen much of it, I’ll call the cowboy and say, ‘Listen, you need to get on this horse, it’s been good, and you have a chance to make some money.’ ”

“I know all the guys and they know me and they know I’m a straight shooter.”

Outside of the 10 days in July, Marrington still remains busy and takes his decision-making on the road, calling the shots and consulting while he’s visiting various rodeos anywhere from south Texas to Grande Prairie.

“I’m dealing with numerous committee people and volunteers and management from all over North America,” he said. “So, the decisions I have to make are fairly spur of the moment that benefit our business.

“I would say a rogue … but I’m out there representi­ng the brand.”

But, at the end of it, his decisions and interests are improvemen­t-driven and for the good of the Calgary Stampede. He believes in it and lives it daily. “I’m a people person,” Marrington said. “I’ve been around the Stampede a long time and the people, to me, are the most important. Rodeo is a family and everyone looks after everyone. Everyone is willing to help.

“It’s so different than other profession­al sports … it’s pretty neat.”

 ??  ?? Keith Marrington
Keith Marrington

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