by Alyssa Reeves
Written for STATEments Magazine, Spring 2008
Wranglers face one tough ride
Written by Alyssa Reeves
Perhaps you’ve seen them around campus. They’re decked out
in Wrangler jeans and shiny boots, occasionally sporting the big hat. Several
of the cowboys and cowgirls who attend Kansas State
University are dedicated
athletes in the realm of collegiate rodeo.
Rodeo Club member Ashley Vann, Topeka sophomore, has grown up around rodeo her entire life. Though she is not a competitor herself, she often helps with the timing of events.
“My grandfather, uncle and dad all competed in rodeo. I love the sportsmanship that goes with rodeo,” says Vann. “It’s the only sport that contestants compete against one another then turn right around and coach one another.”
A unique breed
Not every student has what it takes to be involved in rodeo. K-State’s Rodeo Club President Tyler Langton, Perry junior, disagrees that anyone can just pick up the sport. This fact is reflected in the team’s membership: just 14 students are competing this year.
“You have to have an understanding of animals and how they will react in certain situations. It isn’t something that you could pick up easily,” Langton says. “It takes a lot of practice.”
Doug Muller, coach of the K-State Rodeo Club agrees; “It helps to have your parent’s encouragement. Training for rodeo often means attending clinics, and parents have to be willing to spend extra time and money.” Financial support is necessary since the cost of horses and trailers can run around $40,000. Riders often require four to five years of practice before being ready to compete, and they may even begin their training as early as four years-old, competing in youth rodeo. Then there’s athletic ability and quick thinking, essentials for successful competitions.
The rudiments of rodeo
Though small in number, this year’s rodeo team has already completed three rodeos in the fall and is preparing for seven this spring. Collegiate rodeo is a sport recognized by the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association. K-State faces competitors from other state universities in Kansas and Oklahoma such as Oklahoma State and Fort Hays State, and they also see teams from smaller colleges such as Coffeyville Community College and Fort Scott Community College.
A rodeo will typically lasts about three hours, consists of five men’s events, three women’s events and a team roping event, for both men and women. Men’s events include saddle bronc riding, bareback riding, bull riding, tie-down roping and steer wrestling. Rough stock events such as saddle bronc, bareback and bull riding require the riders to stay on the animal for 8 seconds. Riders are judged on their technique as well as the animal’s performance. When it comes to bull riding, strength and reaction are crucial.
“Watch the head. Wherever the head goes, the body follows,” says Muller.
In the men’s timed events, including steer wrestling and calf roping, contestants are ranked based on how quickly they can complete the task. The women’s events are barrel racing, breakaway roping and goat tying; all are timed events.
After the first long round of competition, the top 10 finishers in each event are given the chance to compete again for the prize during a championship round known as a “short go.”
Eye on the prize
Prizes for winning rodeo can vary from saddles, to belt buckles, to trophies, depending on the host school; and winners in each event usually receive money from entry fees. Although victory can be sweet, rodeo participants find other aspects of rodeo just as rewarding.
“The best part of going to rodeos would have to be the people you get to meet,” Langton says.
Even if a rider doesn’t win a championship round, he or she uses the experience to prepare for the next competition. The sport of rodeo has its roots in the everyday work of the range cowboy, and sometimes the opportunity to carry on similar practices is gratifying in itself. For example, team roping can easily relate to instances that cattle need to be caught on the farm: either to treat injuries, change brands due to transfer of ownership or to brand one that escaped branding as a calf. Not only does rodeo prepare athletes for future professional careers, it also trains them in the basic tasks required of modern cowboys.
Another one bites the
Like any sport, injuries aren’t uncommon in rodeo. While fatal accidents do happen, riders usually have to avoid being stepped on by the animals. Langton believes awareness is the best way to avoid injury.
“Just be as safe as you can and always know what is going on around you,” says Langton. Typical injuries include broken bones, bruises and concussions. “Ropers sometimes cut fingers off while competing,” he adds.
If you’ve never been to a rodeo, consider checking out the sport that claims to preserve Western heritage during one of their spring rodeos or stop by and watch the team practice on Monday and Thursday evenings at Cico Park.
An Amateur's Guide to Bull Riding
While we don’t actually recommend going out and riding a bull if you never have, it’s not impossible to learn from the best and practice. Here’s our short manifesto to bull riding.
Bull riding is the most popular of rodeo competitions. Cowboys can spend years perfecting their balance, flexibility, coordination and courage in order to successfully ride a 2,000-pound bull. In rodeo, bull riding falls under the category of “rough stock” competition.
The typical cowboy outfit isn’t just to look stylish. The leather chaps provide protection for the rider’s legs and thighs, and a glove prevents rope burn for the hand which is tightened to the bull. Cowboy boots often include spurs at the heels which can be used to keep the rider balanced and to spur the bull for extra points. To the inexperienced spectator, a sturdy helmet would seem safer than a light cowboy hat, but helmets actually make it more difficult for the rider to balance.
Points are scored on a scale of 0 to 100. Two judges award points to both the bull and the rider. As an amateur, don’t be discouraged if you get a score of 0; a lot of riders lose control of the bull just after it is released from the chute. Experienced professionals tend to score around 75 points, while scores above 90 are considered excellent. Judges look for constant control and rhythm, so the rider should try to match his movements with that of the bulls. Points are deducted if a rider is constantly off-balance.
For points to be awarded, a rider must stay mounted for a minimum of 8 seconds. The scores are based on his actions only during those eight seconds. Extra “style” points are given for spurring the bull. If the rider’s free hand touches the rope, the bull, or himself, he is disqualified. Bull riding may be fun to watch, but it’s a sport that takes years of practice to master.