A Passion to Compete
As a barrel racer and roper for the better part of two decades, I am intimately familiar with the ups and downs of the rodeo circuit. The ultimate goal of most rodeo enthusiasts is to become a professional and run with the best in the business, but that's a long, hard battle. Some competitors don't have professional aspirations and are content competing in smaller, local rodeos. Each potential contestant must assess his or her skills and pick the event they are best at. Timed events take skill, finesse and strength, while rough stock riders must be powerful, well-balanced and coordinated to stay aboard for a full 8 seconds. Most competitors simply pick the sport they enjoy the most and participate in that, even if they don't excel at it. Contestants practice each and every day to hone their skills and train their bodies to react and adapt in the event of a mistake, a necessary part of bringing home the big money. Rodeo can be a tough sport, and, for many competitors, even a bad day in the arena beats a great day anywhere else.
Life on the Circuit
Living on the road is the most difficult part of competing. Instead of sleeping in your own bed at the end of a long day, you crawl into a sleeping bag on an air mattress, or, if you're really lucky, a strange bed in an unfamiliar hotel room. Waking up at the crack of dawn to drive down a lonely stretch of highway to another rodeo hundreds of miles away leaves plenty of time to think about the comforts left far behind at home. Too much gas station coffee and fast food meals leave the belly longing for a home-cooked meal. Too little sleep leaves the body aching for rest, a luxury that is reserved for lazy days at home. Timed event competitors have their horses to care for, sacrificing their own comfort to keep their equine partners comfortable on the road. The rising sun, gently washing the surrounding landscape in pale fire, is one of the few comforts found on the road; a promise of a new start at the end of each dark, lonely night.
As dismal as life on the circuit often seems, the highs of a good run are worth every lonely minute. The gritty smell of dirt rising from the arena, the sweet light scent of hay from the feed bag, and the oily tang of concession stand combine in an unforgettable medley. The booming voice of the announcer calling each contestant into the arena and the ensuing cheers from the crowd leaves a lasting impression engrained in the memory. Saddling up a sleek, >muscular horse and walking into the warm-up arena is like calming therapy in a sea of commotion. The fluid movement of a well-trained horse is good for both body and soul, washing away worries and helping a competitor to focus on making a winning run. Stepping into the arena can be a little nerve wracking, but executing a perfect run or staying on for 8 seconds is an undisputed adrenaline rush. The crowning glory comes at the end of an event, when the winners are announced. The satisfaction of pocketing a big paycheck at the end of the day makes the loneliness a little easier to bear, and makes all the hours on the road well worth the sacrifice.