Rodeo attracts best crowds in years
People dusted off their cowboy hats and broke out their denim wranglers this past weekend as cowboys and cowgirls rode into Truckee’s McIver Arena with the spirit of the Wild West for the 29th annual Truckee Championship Rodeo.
The festivities started on Friday night with 28 teams gathering to compete in the Sponsors Team Penning. The event consists of four people on horseback, two steers and a pen. The four horsemen try to get the two steers and one rider into the pen in two minutes or less, the fastest time wins. This year’s winner, with a time of 21 seconds flat, was the Sierra Pet Clinic.
Saturday afternoon the largest crowd in years gathered at McIver Arena to see rodeo.
The announcer, Don Jesser of Twin Falls Idaho, has announced the Truckee Championship Rodeo for 12 years. Jesser rode a five year-old American Paint horse named “Amazing Gazley.” Gazley is a full blood Quarter horse with the color of a Painted horse.
“The Truckee Rodeo is unique in the fact that it has more personality in the setting of the arena and the fans.” Jesser said. “It’s Wild and Western, and it makes everyone feel like a cowboy for a few days. It shows people rodeo is a way of life.”
“The Reno Rodeo is the one of the biggest in the country. Everything is so slick and professional,” said rodeo fan Ray Poage. “The Truckee rodeo is more small town and homey. I like it because you can get closer to the action,” Poage said after his first visit to Truckee’s McIver Arena.
Bull riding started off Saturday’s competition, as Jesser said, “You paid for the whole seat, but your only going to need the edge.”
The introduction of the first bull rider resembled the announcing of the starting line-up at the Super Bowl. The music pounded through the speakers as the crowd began to roar.
The first bull out of the gate, Black Gold, was a little more than anyone bargained for. Black Gold quickly threw off his rider and ran from one end of the arena to the other. When the cowboys finally roped him, he broke the lasso. Black gold was rounded up several bulls later; but not before the rodeo clown and barrelman, Barry “Boom Boom” Johnson, was nearly run over.
The rodeo clown and rodeo bullfighters play an intricate roll in the sport of bull riding. The rodeo clown, or barrelman, is in charge of entertaining the crowd along with the announcer. The bullfighters chase the bulls and distract them so the bull riders can safely exit the arena. In the event a bullfighter is in danger, the rodeo clown attempts to distract the bull from his stationary barrel.
Eric Olson, a bullfighter, rode bulls for 8 years until he broke his back. “After that, I’d had enough,” Olson said. For the past 12 years, Olson has been described by many as a “Western Matador.”
In bull riding, the rider must stay on the bull for eight seconds to receive a score. The score is split down the middle, with half of the score going to the performance of the cowboy, and the other half going to the performance of the bull. “The good bulls give it everything they’ve got just like the cowboys,” said 25 year-old bull rider Shane Gordon. Gordon has been a bull rider for 8 years. “I just always wanted to do it, so I gathered up the nerve and found someone with a bull.” Gordon said.
For many in the sport, bull riding is a lifestyle. Doug Taliaferro, 18, has been bull riding for the past five years. Taliaferro is currently driving from rodeo to rodeo and sleeping where ever he likes. “I’ve won enough money to take some time off (from having a job besides rodeo),” Taliaferro said. Taliaferro stood talking with another bull rider, Frank Freitas, after Sunday’s rodeo concluded.
Freitas, who lives in Reno, knew he wanted to be a bull rider since he was a little boy. “I watched the movie “Great American Cowboy” when I was six years old, and I knew that’s what I wanted to do with my life,” Freitas said. Freitas, 39, has competed in bull riding for 27 years. He rode in the Truckee Championship Rodeo with a broken elbow. “My elbow is split in two different places,” Freitas said. “But I have a lot of friends and sponsors in this area, so I wanted to compete to pay them back for all the support they’ve given me. If I were a pro football or baseball player I wouldn’t have to play if I were hurt. But in rodeo you know your going to get injured. That’s the way it is; you just hope it’s not major.”
For JD Murray, bull riding is a family tradition. “My Grandparents, my dad and all my uncles are bull riders,” Murray said.
Each competition riders draw the name of a bull to ride. “It’s different everytime, you just use your basic techniques and it will usually get you through no matter how they buck,” Murray said.
But bull riding itself is often not as dangerous as getting off the bull after the ride is over. Freitas and Taliaferro agreed getting thrown off of the bull is usually the safest way to end a ride. “The bull will throw you away from it,” Freitas said. “By getting thrown off, you’ll land away from the bulls legs and you won’t get stepped on or kicked,” Taliaferro said.
Freitas and Taliaferro average around 50 to 60 rodeos a year.
The next event on Saturday was the mutton busting. Jesser claimed mutton busting is Truckee’s version of daycare. In this event, kids less than 60 pounds attempted to ride sheep out of the starting gate. Most of the rider experienced difficulty staying on top of the sheep, but one rider manager to ride his sheep over half-way across the arena.
The next event was the tie-down roping. In this event, cowboys attempt to rope a calf that is given a brief head start. The cowboys lasso is tied to the saddle horn. Once the cowboy ropes the calf around the neck, his horse maintains constant pressure on the rope as the cowboy wrestles the calf onto its back. Once on its back, the cowboy must tie one of the calf’s front legs together with both of its back legs. Once tied, the cowboy mounts his horse and creates slack in the rope around the calf’s neck. The rope around the calf’s legs must remain tied for six seconds in order to receive a score.
Jesser assured the first-time rodeo goers which seemed a little shocked with this event, “Animals in the rodeo have a four-time greater life expectancy than ones on the feed lot.”
Following up the tie-down roping was the boot race. Kids put all of their boots into a pile, and then raced out to the pile to put their boots back on and cross the finish line.
Steer Wrestling was the next event to follow suit. This event had two cowboys on horseback riding after one steer. One cowboy rode along the steer and tried to keep it on a straight path while the other cowboy rode up along side the steer and slid off his saddle, grabbing the steer by its horns and wrestling it to the ground. The steer must have all four of its legs off the ground to stop the clock; the fastest time wins.
For the next event, cowboys attempted to ride a horse bareback. To receive a score, cowboys must remain on the horse for eight seconds. Adding to the difficulty, cowboys are allowed to hold on with only one hand. If the cowboy’s free hand touches anything, the score does not count. Like bull riding, half of the score comes from the rider and the other half comes from the horse’s bucking. On rider found himself doing a front flip over the horse and onto his back.
The next event was saddle bronc riding. Again, half of the score comes from the horse and half from the cowboy. Riders must stay in the saddle for eight seconds to receive a score. In saddle bronc riding, the cowboy “Must give the advantage to the bucking horse,” Jesser pointed out. This means the cowboy must have his boots above the horse’s shoulders during the first buck to receive a score.
The team rope was the next event. Two cowboys rode after one calf in this event. One cowboy ropes the head and the other cowboy ropes the calf’s hind legs. The team to do it the fastest wins.
The next event was the steer tie. This year the event was held in memory of Keith Bergstrom, who competed in the steer tie for many years.
The steer tie was conducted differently on Saturday and Sunday. Saturday, the teams lined up half way across the arena and ran towards the steers as the steers were released from the pen. Teams tried to tie a ribbon around the tail of a steer, and then attempted to guide the steer across the finish line. One team member grabbed onto the steer’s rope and was dragged 15 feet before he let go. Another man was kicked in the chest as he tried to sneak up on a different steer. On Sunday, the teams were given a rope to the steer before the steers were let out of the pen. But this did not seem to make much of a difference. Competitors still chased the steers frantically around the arena after the steers pulled away. Last year, Dave Summers received stitches to his head after head butting a steer. This year he walked away with another gash on his forehead. The steer tie or steer decorating, whatever people call it, definitely came across as one of the roughest events in rodeo.
Women’s barrel racing was the next event. Cowgirls rode around three different barrels to form a triangle and then rode across the finish line. Knocking over a barrel resulted in a five-second penalty. After the women showed the crowd how the event was done, Truckee Celebrities showed how it was not done. On Saturday, Mike Horn of Trukee Rents won the event. Matt Rusanoff of the Noon Rotary, and Michelle Larson of Tahoe Forest Therapy also competed. On Sunday Becky McCluggage won the event as she stood in for the Pharmacy’s Lacie Pearson. Gary Botto of the Truckee Fire Department and Mayor Ted Owens also raced in the event.
“If entertaining the crowd through complete humiliation was the goal, than it was a success. My horse went from 20 mph to a complete stop in three feet. A saddlehorn in the rear along with a mouth full of funny tasting mane was interesting,” Owens said. “They were accurate when they said the horse I was ridding didn’t like arenas with a lot of people and hates barrels.”
Both of the days ended with more bull riding.
“This year was the biggest Saturday we’ve had in a long time. Typically Sundays are down 30 percent in attendance from Sunday, but this year Sunday’s attendance was outstanding,” said Carol Pauli, co-chairman of the Truckee Championship Rodeo. “All of the money we make goes back into the community and this arena. Hundreds of kids have learned to ride a horse because of McIver Arena.”
“The Truckee Rodeo is great because it has good cowboy hospitality,” Freitas said. “And cowboy hospitality is what makes the rodeo a rodeo.”
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Students frustrated at the cancellation of sports waved signs and delivered speeches at a Truckee High School protest in an attempt to return to the field this year.