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On The Rodeo Trail


On The Rodeo Trail

A peek behind the scenes at a small, local rodeo.

Photo © Mary Vogt
For die-hard rodeo fans, nothing beats a day filled with bulls, broncs and cowboys. Rodeo is one of the fastest-growing sports across the country, and thousands of eager cowboys and cowgirls travel far and wide in the hopes of bringing home a big paycheck. It's not unusual for a busy rodeo to last all day and well into the night, for competitors and spectators alike.

Up With the Sun

A rodeo competitor's day typically starts well before sunrise. Many cowboys and cowgirls travel to rodeos hundreds of miles from home, and preparing for a big event may take hours of preparation. Rough stock riders have saddles, bull ropes and saddle bronc halters to clean and pack, and timed event competitors have horses to groom, trailers to hook up and tack and ropes to load up before they hit the road. Some participants choke down a quick breakfast, while others depend on a thermos of hot coffee to fuel them for the day. Most competitors favor outfits of crisp denim and button-up shirts, although many barrel racers opt for flashier attire covered in rhinestones to add a little sparkle and flair. Once all the gear is packed and the critters are fed, it's off to the truck to hit the open road.

At the Rodeo

Parking is always at a premium, and many cowboys and cowgirls opt to arrive early to secure a prime parking spot. The entry office is the destination of choice, as competitors review the available events and sign up for their sports of choice. Some larger rodeos offer early registration, and competitors mail in their entry form and fees prior to the rodeo to streamline the entry process. All contestants are given a number that serves as identification during the rodeo, and must be worn at all times during competition. Rough stock riders then look over the draw list for the events. The draw list pairs cowboys up with broncs or bulls, and competitors often compare notes to get an idea of the rankest bulls in the pen. Those entered in timed events head back to their trailers to groom and tack up their mounts. A good warm-up for the horse is necessary to prevent injuries, and gives the competitors time to practice their skills before hitting the arena.

In The Chute

Rodeo events run in a predetermined order, and contestants are notified at check in where their event appears on the schedule. Rough stock riders normally hit the chutes at the beginning of their event to prep their gear before they climb aboard. When their mount hits the bucking chutes, it's time to climb aboard. Chute workers help the cowboy mount up and secure his gear on the animal. When he's fully secured, a quick nod to the gate man opens the gate and plunges the cowboy into a world of furious, bucking chaos. Ropers gather near the arena's entrance gate and wait for the chute workers to call their name. They back their horses into the roping box while the calf or steer is loaded, and a brief nod tells the chute man to release his bovine target. Barrel racers are unique in the rodeo world as they are the only competitors given a running start. As each competitor is called, the gate area is cleared and the rider is allowed to charge into the arena at a full gallop on her way to the first barrel. Results are announced at the end of each event, and the winners head to the cashier's window to pick up their checks. Most contestants are up before the sun and heading home well after dark, but the satisfaction of a winning ride is worth every bit of effort.

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