Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The 2016 World Ranch Rodeo Championships

Teams assemble before competition.
Photo @ Debi Lander
Debi says,

The only rodeo I ever attended was years ago in a small town in South Dakota.  I ‘d certainly never been to one with hard working ranch hands and real cowboys. I was ready for some action.

From the moment the  arena lights were dimmed and the announcer took to the mic, excitement could be felt. The various contestants rode in bearing flags from their state and ranch. After all were on the floor, a rider circling the arena proudly presented the American flag.  A rousing version of the National Anthem was sung by the crowd.  These ranchers are a patriotic group and they showed their true colors. 

Bringing in the flag. Photo by Judy Wells.
First up was the Ranch Bronco Riding event or what I’d call bucking Broncos.  No bull-riding here, ranchers must break their horses and these guys are the best of the bunch. The rules say to “Ride as ride can” for eight seconds. Eight seconds can be awfully long when you are on these wild horses.  I can’t comprehend the impact this must take on the body, but these cowboys struggle to control the assigned horse in the allotted time.  In case they fall off, and some do, clown cowboys try to attract the riderless horse away from the fallen contestant. This event really grabs your attention.

Ride 'em cowboy! A rider holds on in the Ranch Bronco Riding Event
Photo @Debi Lander
Next was Roping or officially, Stray Gathering event. A group of four riders enters one end of the arena while cattle enter the opposite.  The riders are timed as they try to single out and lasso a calf.  Then their helpers jump off their horses and tie the calf’s head and feet.  When the steer can no longer escape, the clock is stopped. 

The Roping Event
Photo @ Debi Lander
Wild Cow Milking proved to be a bit humorous. This event includes another four-man team: a roper, milker and two muggers!  Only the roper is on horseback. (Honestly, the term mugger is what they are called.)  Like roping, cows were lassoed but this time held down by teammates.  One is assigned to get milk and must run it up to a judge for verification. The judge will pour the milk out of the bottle.  Sometimes, there is not enough milk and sometimes the cows break away. The crowd responds with enthusiasm or laughter.  

Judy says:  Usually both.

The Milking Event
Photo @ Debi Lander
Team Penning was one of the most fun events.  Teams of four riders are assigned a number.  All the cattle are marked with numbers, so the contestants must pick out the correctly numbered calves, and move them down to the opposite end of the arena and into a pen.  Often times two or three of the needed four are penned, tbut hey somehow they make a fast break and escape, causing the riders to start all over again.

Team Penning
Photo @ Debi Lander

Judy says: This task can take a l-o-o-o-n-g time to complete because most calves want to rejoin the herd. For some reason it took all four team members to cut the laggards out and herd them to the others which gave the others plenty of time to find the open gate and escape. Never could figure out why one team member wasn't left behind to tend the penned ones.

During a break in the contests, the Budweiser Clydesdales Team and Beer Wagon, complete with a Dalmatian riding on top, entered the track.  These huge beautiful beasts prance so delicately.  I especially loved when they crisscrossed their hooves, side stepping to turn the wagon 180 degrees.  These are expertly trained performers and a real joy to watch.  

Judy says: Dressage fans will recognize that as coming from the half-pass  (which the Clydesdales did crossing the arena at a diagonal) and to see these behemoths handle it like dainty ballet dancers is remarkable.
Budweiser Clydesdales
Photo @ Debi Lander

Team Branding consists of four- to six-man teams: a roper, two flankers, a brander and two herd holders. Two calves must be roped and pulled to what is called the fire.  But, at the rodeo, these calves are not really branded with a hot iron.  They used some sort of dark chalk.  Two teams compete at the same time, so there are anxious moments between teams.

The night ended with a second group of competitors in Bronc Riding.  These horses didn’t seem to buck as wildly as the first group.  But, maybe I’d just gotten used to all the action.  I especially loved trying to take photos of the horses when all four feet when in the air.   

Hand on Cowboy!
Photo @ Debi Lander
I found the Ranch Rodeo absolutely fascinating and the time flew by.  I was sorry when it ended.  I would definitely go again if I lived in Texas. Hee-Haw!

Judy says: Teams qualify by competing in 22 sanctioned  Ranch Rodeos in Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas and Wyoming throughout the year. The WRCA  Championship Ranch Rodeo in Amarillo goes on four days, with half the teams competing per night. Championship is announced and prizes are awarded on the final night (Sunday).

During the day, competition for junior riders fills the arena and performances by cowboy poets and musicians take over the complex's large side rooms so there is always something to see. 

The horses used by the teams are judged as well as those back at the ranches. Ranches, by the way, are rarely in one location; many have operations in more than one state. Each year the ranches are judged on the quality of their remudas, cowboy for the herd of horses used by the cowhands. It is the ultimate award for a ranch owner.

Sportsmanship is key and it is normal for one ranch to assist another, even during a competition. If a team finds itself short of a rider, they can borrow one from a competing team!

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