The Cowboy Way

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    By Jillian Ogawa

    SALT LAKE CITY – When the Delta Center is covered with dirt and sprinkled with the smell of hay and manure, you know it”s rodeo season in Utah.

    Dubbed as the original extreme sport, the rodeo has a modern flair with a rich past.

    “Rodeos go with the pioneer heritage with Utah,” said Kelly Christensen, co-chair of the Days of 47 Rodeo. “Utah was a cowboy country at first, and there is a lot of land here that cowboys operate.”

    The word “rodeo” comes from the Spanish word, rodear, meaning “to surround.” When the West was Spanish territory, the cowboys, or vaqueros, used their horsemanship and herding skills to manage the open rangelands. American cowboys soon adopted the same way of life, but it was short-lived because cattle drivers were soon replaced by railroad conductors.

    But there were always informal competitions among cowboys to determine who was the best at roping a cow or riding the bull. These competitions began to develop-more money was waged, the events had more organization, and soon the rodeo became what we know it as today, an event drawing the same kind of “awes” heard when witnessing a motorcycle stunt.

    “Rodeo itself isn”t really a sport, but a way of life,” said Dave Burnett, co-chair of the Days of 47 Rodeo. “Most of the events you”ll see out in the arena are actual working events that still happen on cattle ranches today.”

    This week, Utah is hit hard with three rodeos along the Wastach front: The Ogden Pioneer Days Rodeo, Spanish Fork Fiesta Days Rodeo, and the Days of 47 Rodeo.

    The Days of 47 Rodeo is considered the biggest because of its central location, and the large prize money, said Burnett.

    Although there are rodeo participants who do it as a hobby, there are others who compete year round. Burnett noted at least one cowboy who competed in the Days of 47 Extreme Bulls competition on Thursday and will hit four other rodeos before he comes back to Salt Lake City on Tuesday night, July 22.

    “It”s all about the dollar, every dollar is a point, every point counts toward the national finals; more bang for your buck if you will,” Burnett said.

    The Professional Rodeo Cowboys” Association, or PRCA, sanctions most of the rodeos in Utah. This year, they will sanction 24 rodeos in Utah, with prize money amounting to around $500,000. Last year, the combined prize money was around $14,000, said Ann Bleiker, senior public relations coordinator at PRCA.

    Each day different cowboys compete in the individual and overall events in the Days of 47 Rodeo. The seven competitions are the all-around title, bareback riding, calf robbing, steer wrestling, barrel racing, saddle bronc riding, team roping, and bull riding. The judging criterion is different for every event, but all are timed events. Perhaps the most famous event the rodeo is known for is bull riding.

    The bull riding participant has to stay on the bull for eight seconds before being qualified. If one rides the full eight seconds, the participant receives a score on how the animal reacted, how they did on the animal, and if they followed proper style, meaning the cowboy has to have one arm up and back arched, said Kelly Christensen, a co-chair from the Days of 47 Rodeo.

    “It”s the most dangerous, and obviously the hardest to do, and the highest paying as in the reward money and prizes,” Christensen said, noting the bull-riding prize money is around $50,000.

    Lisa Bryant, a resident from Dallas, said she”s been going to rodeos for about 10 to 15 years.

    “It”s something new every day even with the same people,” Bryant said. “Each night is a new match-up with a cowboy and a bull.”

    The Days of 47 Rodeo, the Ogden Pioneer Days Rodeo and the Fiesta Days Rodeo in Spanish fork continue through July 24.

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