The Longest Eight Seconds
Story and Photography by John Denman
Stop off at a country rodeo and see why a few moments can seem like a lifetime.
There's no mistaking the atmosphere at a rodeo; the air is charged with it, as well as a fair amount of dust from the arena. Then there’s that perfectly still moment just before the chute boss opens the gate, then about half a tonne of beef launches itself into the arena, the crowd goes wild, and usually, the cowboy on top doesn’t stay there for long.
This time the bull is called “Forklift” and the cowboy is a young lunatic called Brad Ison. Forklift played his part to perfection with a premier display of twisting jinking and corkscrewing that threatened to buck his brand off. Brad ended up having a good ride, stayed on for the whole eight seconds, then jumped off to the acclaim of the crowd while rodeo clown Denis Johnson distracted the bull.
the USA, generally regarded as the “home” of Rodeo, things got going in
pretty much the same way. There are a lot of parallels to be drawn between the
two countries, but the American talent for organisation made it almost
inevitable that rodeo would become the high profile sport that it is today.
the States you can go to a Rodeo College where the entire curriculum is devoted
to matters related to rodeo. Students come to this college from all walks of
life, with a surprising number from the upper income and professional bracket.
Some of these “yuppie cowboys” have been known to take six months off to
attend Rodeo College.
wonder then that top rodeo stars earn six-figure annual incomes. And with rodeo
rating up near third place as a spectator sport, it’s right up there with
football and baseball in the US.
back here things are a little more down to earth. Most riders are still more
likely to be connected with a rural pursuit of some sort, and top riders are
happy if they finish the year with up to $50,000 earnings.
too shabby you might say, but the overheads are high. There’s a lot of
travelling with big distances from one event to the next, and of course
there’s always the down time after you’ve had a spill and hurt yourself.
Personally, I think that these people earn every cent they make. Even so, we are
gaining on the US, not only in the way we run our events, but also in the
quality of our riders. Australians now compete regularly on the US and Canadian
circuits, and North American riders frequently come her to see what we have on
roughriders had for many years stuck to the traditional ringer’s gear,
including the Australian stock saddle, at least until the mid-1960s. Since then
the sport has become more Americanised, with Australian saddles being largely
replaced by the US seat in the saddle bronc event.
competitors too have changed the way they dress. It was realised some time ago
that, regardless of our own origins in the sport, to draw the big crowds and
therefore the big prize money, spectacle was required.
today you can go to a rodeo and experience all the hoopla that the people in the
US and Canada get including the colorful shirts and chaps, 10-gallon hats, tight
jeans and cowboy boots, as well as the all-important rodeo queen. What more
could you ask?
Today, rodeo organisers can order their stock from specialist suppliers who train and groom bulls and horses purely for the rodeo circuit. To this end, the animals need to be easy to handle, at least until a rider gets on their back.
many cases the horse or bull will have a bigger following from the fans than the
best known riders will.
recent times one of the best known bulls was a handsome beast called Chainsaw.
They always give them names like that; after all, the name of the bull has to be
an indicator as to its potential. Names like Flossy just don’t cut it.
fact is that bulls like Chainsaw are so docile out of the arena they are often
led around on a rope to be patted by children. These are valuable animals.
a competitor sends in his entry fee, his stock is allocated by a draw. The
competitors' names go into one hat and the names of the stock animals go into
another. Stock are drawn on a random basis and, while the cowboy knows before
the event which animal he has drawn, at least he knows the draw has been fair.
the rough stock events the judges award points out of 25 for both stock and
rider. The rider must stay on for eight seconds to score, and the free hand must
be held well clear. If the hand touches any part of the animal or if the rider
is fouled in the chute, a re-ride can sometimes be awarded depending on
cowboy is seldom allowed to ride the stock to a standstill these days because
the aim is not to break-in the animal.
most people come to the rodeo for the rough stock events, there are a number of
other events that offer great examples of riders' skills, as well as skill in
animal handling. All these events have their basis in day to day stock work.
roping, barrel racing and calf roping all have their origins in cattle work, and
in the case of calf roping there is usually a fair bit of support from the crowd
on behalf of the calf. Once again, no stock are injured or mistreated in these
Organisers always try to minimise the dangers, but the law of averages will often catch up with someone.
the dust has settled you will probably agree that rodeo is hard to beat,
provided you’re in the stands and not down in the dirt.
Rodeos have also come to the Big Smoke with regular events being held in all capital cities. But the really big ones to look forward to are the Warwick (Qld) rodeo and the annual Mt. Isa rodeo. There is also a rodeo held every year at Tamworth to coincide with the Country Music Awards.
For a competitor to build his points up so he can compete with any degree of success at the major events, he still has to enter as many sanctioned events as possible.
For the spectator, there is just as much value in attending the smaller events.
The action is still there although some of the big name stock may not attend, and the smaller events have the advantage of having that indefinable small town feel about them.
Entrance fees are usually modest, seldom more than $10 or $15 per person, and you can bring your own tucker with you. It’s a pretty cheap day’s entertainment, and you can soak up some local color while you’re at it.If you get all fired up and want to compete, remember what one competitor told me about rodeo: “Being on a decent bull or horse may well be the longest eight seconds of your life.”