Living The Rodeo Life

There is probably not a more romanticized character than the American cowboy. He was a central figure in the conquest of the vast, rugged, and hostile landscape that was the Wild West and we have immortalized him in story, song, and on the silver screen. And a significant subset of the cowboy genre centers on the rodeo. Thanks to George Strait we have songs like “Amarillo by Morning” – although frankly I prefer the original Terry Stafford version – and the George Strait movie “Pure Country.” Films such as “J.W. Coop” with Cliff Robertson, “Junior Bonner” with Steve McQueen, and “8 Seconds” with Luke Perry, have helped to further the image of the rodeo cowboy who is down on his luck and has taken more than his share of bumps, bruises, and broken bones – and not just in the arena, but in life as well.

What would you say if I told you that the rough and tumble rodeo life would get your kids’ backsides off the couch and into a saddle instead? All while teaching them responsibility, teamwork, sportsmanship, critical thinking, self-discipline, and crazy-good coordination and motor skills – maybe even better than an Xbox? 

Well, that’s what Junior Rodeo can do.

The Doña Ana County 4-H Rodeo (held July 11-12 at the Southern New Mexico State Fairgrounds) had participants from 9 to 19 years of age competing in sixteen events – Barrels, Poles, Flags, Goat tying, Break-away roping, Step-down roping, Ribbon roping, Tie-down roping, Team roping, Steer stopping, Steer wrestling, Bareback Bronc riding, Saddle Bronc riding, Steer riding, Junior Bull riding, and Senior Bull riding.

The 4-H (Head, Heart, Hands, and Health) has been around since 1902 as a youth development and youth mentoring organization with more than six million participants nationwide. Doña Ana County has the largest number of 4-H clubs (15) in the state and offers 200 projects – including rodeo – for its members. 

When I was growing up in the Texas panhandle, even my little town had its rodeo grounds. I’m pretty sure they still do. So I was aware of the rodeo – certainly the major events such as bronc busting, calf roping, barrel racing, and bull riding. (And let’s not forget the rodeo clowns. They perform a vital service by helping to protect the thrown riders from those bulls. But let’s face it – those dudes are nuts.)

I wasn’t, however, familiar with some of the other aforementioned events, so here’s a brief rundown: Barrels – horse and rider attempt to complete a cloverleaf pattern around preset barrels in the fastest time; Poles – horse and rider maneuver “slalom-style” through a six-pole course; Flags – rider must pick up a flag from one dirt bucket and deposit it in another; Goat Tying – rider approaches a staked-out goat, dismounts, puts the goat on its side, and ties three of its legs together; Break-away roping – rider ropes a calf with a rope that is tied to the saddle by a string which releases so the calf is not pulled down; Step-down roping – the rider steps down off the horse when the calf is roped but the calf is not thrown down and tied; Ribbon roping – the rider ropes a calf and removes a ribbon from its tail so the ribbon can be run back to the starting line; Tie-down roping – the calf is roped, thrown down, and its legs tied; Team roping – a steer is roped around the head by a “header” and the legs are roped by a “heeler”; Steer stopping – the rider ropes the steer around the head; Steer wrestling or bulldogging – the horse-mounted rider chases a steer, drops from the horse to the steer, then wrestles the steer to the ground by twisting its horns; Saddle Bronc riding and Bareback Bronc riding – the rider tries to stay on for eight seconds using a specialized saddle in Saddle Bronc, or a leather rigging in Bareback; Steer riding – the rider tries to stay on a younger, castrated bull for eight seconds; Junior Bull riders (ages 12-14) and Senior Bull riders (ages 15-19) try to stay on the grown, intact bulls. In all of these events, safety training and animal welfare awareness are emphasized. And there are a wide variety of videos on YouTube that show examples of all these events.

I wasn’t really aware of youth rodeo, but it makes sense that those guys and gals out there riding and roping had to start somewhere. And sometimes they start really early. 

Avery Ledesma has been involved in rodeo since the age of two. Both Avery’s parents are horse people, and they began involving her with riding and doing “lead-line” events when Avery was just a toddler. In these events an adult or older youth leads the horse with the youngster aboard, and then the younger rider dismounts to do the actual skill involved. Avery began participating in rodeos sponsored by the Las Cruces Horseman’s Association because she wasn’t old enough to be in 4-H. 

The now eleven-year-old has three horses – Fly, Streak, and Desi. Her favorite event is Goat tying, but she also does Barrel racing, Pole bending, and recently started Break-away roping. She aspires to one day be a professional Barrel racer.

Avery is a well-spoken, poised young lady who presents herself extremely well. Her mother, Angela, is completely sold on the benefits to her daughter’s development both athletically and socially. And if Avery is an example of the type of girl who is a product of her involvement in youth rodeo, then I think more parents should consider having their kids “Saddle Up!”

For more information about 4-H go to their website www.4-h.org. Or contact Teresa Dean, Livestock/4-H agent, through the New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service at 575-525-6649.

Summer 2015
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