Tuesday, January 20, 2015


This weekend, we had tickets to see a real-life rodeo in action. It was the final event of the 2015 Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg, and we had ring-side seats!

It was a packed arena, and cowboy hats were de rigeur - there were lots of stalls outside selling Stetsons, cowboy boots and spangly belts, as well as Davy Crockett raccoon hats (and skunk...).

But the real action was inside.  After an introductory pageant of the American flag and all the competing cowboys / girls and their horses, the competitions began.

First up was Bare-Back Bronc Riding, where the rider attempts to stay on the bucking horse for 8 seconds with only one hand.  This made for some spectacular bucks for the horses, and some painful looking falls from the riders.  Apparently the horses are bred specifically for their strength, agility and ability to buck well!


Next came Steer Wrestling, where the rider chases a steer out of the box and attempts to drop from his horse onto the steer and wrestle it to the ground by its horns.  I didn't fancy being on the wrong end of some of those horns.

Then we had Team Roping - two riders chase the steer out of the gate - the first rider lassos the steer by the horns, the second rider ropes the steer by its hind feet.  The skill in the lasso work, whilst at speed on a horse, was fascinating.
Then came the Saddle Bronc competition (same principle as bare-back, but obviously with saddles).  More spectacular (and painful looking) throws and falls.

Then we had an interlude in the action, and a cowboy clown and his beautifully marked horse entertained us with horse tricks, including dancing, praying, sitting and bowing.

Back to the action with Tie-Down Roping - the aim of this is for a rider to catch a calf by lasso around its neck, then dismount and run to the calf to restrain it by manhandling it to the ground (literally) and then tying 3 of its legs together, all in the quickest time possible.  You can see how these events grew from actual working cowboy duties.


Then it was the cowgirls' turn, with a straight forward Barrel Racing competition - where the riders attempt to complete a clover-leafed pattern around 3 static barrels in the fastest time.  The speed they threw their horses around the turns was amazing!

The final competition was then good-old Bull Riding.  Very similar rules to the bronc riding, but on MASSIVE mean-looking, large-horned bulls.  As well as the rider, there are Rodeo Clowns, whose job it is to stay near the bull and help the rider when they get dismounted, aiming to distract the bull and protect the rider from harm.  Not a job I'd fancy - they had to be really quick on their feet and good at dodging / swerving when the bull lunged at them.  One of the poor rodeo clowns took a thump from one of the bulls and had to be stretchered off.  Many of the riders wore helmets (although some appeared to rely only on their trusty Stetsons), and unsurprisingly, bull-riders are known to have the highest injury rates in rodeo events.

Despite the dangers, it was a fantastic evening's entertainment.  Slickly organised, fast moving, exciting and visually entertaining, and appealed to my inner cowgirl.  Now I'm gonna get me some cowboy boots...

NB - Some people believe that rodeo events constitute animal cruelty. I was reassured to find that the PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) who ran this event has a strict commitment to the proper care and treatment of the livestock.

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