Tom Bishop’s Wild West Show takes centre stage
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This article was published 28/03/2022 (361 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It has been 16 years since Tom Bishop and his travelling Wild West Show performed at the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair, and the days of trick roping and trick riding have returned in full swing.
More than 2,300 kilometres of driving separates Brandon from Tom Bishop’s 4B Ranch near Pelham, Ont.
In front of a raucous crowd at the Keystone Centre, Bishop and his two performers, Alyssa Remenda and Braillyn Giroux, delighted thousands of fans Monday afternoon and evening as they started off the week with a bang.
The Monday afternoon show included several hair-raising stunts as Remenda and Giroux took to trick riding off the side of Remenda’s horse, Chance, and Bishop showed the audience why he has a strong connection with horses, performing several lasso tricks and a math sketch with the animals that drew immense applause from the audience.
Remenda said it’s the moments leading up to performing that remain the hardest part of their whole set.
“It’s very hard standing there. You can’t wait to get in there and hear everyone cheering you on.”
Bishop, now a third-generation entertainer, horse trainer and animal wrangler, is continuing his family legacy in the business that traces back 108 years.
In 1914, Bishop’s grandfather, also named Tom Bishop, began the show that exists today. His grandfather, who came over from Edinburgh as an orphan, was given a horse named Saladin that had been taught to perform tricks.
The first Tom Bishop took inspiration from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, and was able to see his show performed live in New York.
In front of a sold-out crowd near Niagara Falls, Bishop’s grandfather and Saladin entertained residents while raising money for the First World War effort.
Saladin could climb into a wagon and pull the trigger of a shotgun, aimed squarely at a dummy of the German Kaiser, a popular display for spectators during the war, Bishop said.
His grandfather died when Bishop’s father was a teenager, but was fascinated to learn what he accomplished through a plethora of old photographs.
“It’s funny; he took pictures, which was very unusual for people to take so many at the time,” Bishop said.
“If he hadn’t taken those pictures, I don’t think I would have believed some of the stories that seemed too fantastic.”
Bishop recalled a time when he first started in the business, following in his father’s footsteps, often getting out of school early to perform in rodeos.
“I tried to go straight, but I remember as a teenager I got a job working at a grocery store and my father would say, ‘You have to have this day off, we have to do a show.’ There was no getting away from it.
“I suddenly realized, I guess this is what I like doing best.”
Over the course of their time performing, Bishop and his sister Sally, who lives in Alberta, have done everything from roping and riding to knife-throwing, Roman riding, sharpshooting and a bow-and-arrow act, where he would catch an arrow being shot at a target.
Remenda, who grew up not far from the 4B Ranch, told the Sun she first started trick riding seven years ago around the time of her 14th birthday. While watching a rodeo with her mom, she discovered Bishop was looking for a trick rider and was offering lessons.
“I fell in love with the sport. Seven years later, I’m on the road with them, and I haven’t looked back.”
She said when she is asked by a stranger what she does for a living in addition to working at a breeding facility for animals, people are often left with their mouths wide open in surprise.
“A lot of time now people don’t believe me, [they’ll say], ‘You do what now, like what people do on Heartland?’” Remenda said as she laughed.
Giroux, Remenda’s roommate in college, first got introduced to the show through her interest and couldn’t believe people from southern Ontario could take part in trick riding for a living.
“[I thought], wouldn’t it be cool if I could join the show. I got really lucky,” Giroux said.
“Eight months in, I was already performing.”
On Monday afternoon, Giroux successfully performed the suicide drag trick, in what Remenda and her described as the most dangerous trick in their routine.
“The suicide drag is one of the scariest for us. It’s where we hang by our one foot upside down and depend on your equipment and horse to behave,” Remenda said.
“It’s pure adrenalin,” Giroux said.
Bishop said his greatest fear during a show, rather than getting injured, is making a mistake.
When he’s not performing in front of a live audience, Bishop is continuing his father’s work in the film and television industry as a stuntman and animal wrangler.
Bishop’s horses have made appearances on “Murdoch Mysteries,” “The Handmaid’s Tale” and more recently, he worked and wrangled with a number of different animals for the limited series, “Mayor of Kingstown,” starring Jeremy Renner.
“It’s actually hard to train a horse to stand a few hours, then to tell them to rear and run,” Bishop said.
After years of working in the business, both Bishop and his performers share a deep connection with the horses that have kept them safe, night after night.
“My horse Chance, I’ve had her for two and a half years. We just bought her four months ago. She’s my best friend,” Remenda said.
“I do everything with her. If I’m having a bad day, I go out and sit with her. When I’m in that ring, I depend on her — for her to keep me safe. I trust her with everything no matter what happens.”
Chance is a paint Percheron cross born in Manitoba. Bishop currently has two Canadian-bread colts that are now two-year-old geldings and hopes in a few years they will be ready to perform.
“I can’t imagine living without horses. They are such special creatures,” Bishop said.
“It’s an amazing feeling to get up in the morning and see your horses waiting to say hello. My great love is performing and performing with horses.”
Bishop, Remenda and Giroux will be performing all week at the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair and are eager to delight audiences once again.
For more of the Sun’s conversation with Tom Bishop’s Wild West Show, check out the first episode of Sunny Side Up, a new podcast by The Brandon Sun.
» Twitter: @JosephBernacki