The insidious virus may still be here, but there are signs we are coming out the other end of this pandemic. Case in point, on a recent August weekend a lot of cowgirls and cowboys gathered at Neosho’s Rock River Ranch for the first summer rodeo of 2020 on The Little Britches Rodeo circuit. The all outdoor event created little concern about spreading the Novel Coronavirus. The talk instead was about horses, family, saddles and bulls.
“It’s horsemanship,” said Oconomowoc’s Nate Kummrow as he stood holding the reins of his daughter’s rodeo horse. “Companionship with the animal, hard work and it pays off when they get to go in the arena.
The weekend featured barrel racing, poles, roping, an exercise known as goat undecorating, bull riding and more as a fundraiser for Rock River Ranch’s therapeutic riding program.
“This is our fifth year,” said Rock River Ranch founder Mike Furlong as he sat at the helml of a four wheeler. “This is a great fundraiser for our ranch and all of the money goes to helping people, youth use horses and their brains to help people with mental issues, PTSD and disorders.”
This reporter was on hand for the rodeo because he is a rodeo parent who loves watching his 8-year-old son, Colton, loping into the arena aboard his great-granddaughter of Northern Dancer, Nobel Essence. What he likes less is watching that same boy put on a kevlar vest and hockey helmet, then climb on the back of a bucking bull or steer for a competition the cowboys call “bareback.”
“You’re putting your 8-year-old boy on a bull, the biggest thing that you’ve got to do is you got to trust your bull fighters,” bullfighter Sawyer Gough told me as my child positioned himself on a steer spinning in circles in the chute. “You got to trust that the bullfighters out there in any situation are going to make sure that your kid gets out of there safe.”
Despite the bullfighter’s firm confidence, this rodeo dad was a nervous wreck as he saw his little boy bust out of the chute with one arm up in the air aboard a steer that appeared to be beyond angry. My cowboy clung to his bull fearlessly for several seconds before exiting out the side door and eating a faceful of dirt. Still, the kid was back on his feet quickly, slapping dirt off his chaps and giving high fives to his fellow cowboys. The boy’s father had shot video of the event and was soon checking his own pulse to make sure he was still alive.
The weekend ended with a rainstorm and an outsized New Holland tractor towing Ford F-150’s and horse trailers out of the mud, but the cowgirls, cowboys and their parents were all upbeat about the fact that rodeo was back and the subsequent weekends would be filled with boots, chaps, horses and competition.
“We just keep going,” said rodeo mom Larissa Nelson as she stood beside her daughter Aislynn who was perched atop her quarter pony, Jordan. “Rodeo keeps on rolling and they all help each other. It’s a good rodeo family!”