by D.J. Wilson
America has recently celebrated the Fourth of July, a day in which we commemorate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. Folks celebrate this federal holiday by attending ceremonies, fireworks and concerts and hosting fun family events such as picnics and barbecues. Here’s a lesser known fact about July 4th: Did you know the first rodeo was held on the Fourth of July in 1869, in the town of Deer Trail, Colorado? Rodeo is an exciting and competitive sport which grew from early cattle herding in Spain and Mexico. Today, it involves horses and livestock and tests the athletic skill of the cowboys and cowgirls who participate. The sport is considered controversial by some animal rights groups; however professional rodeos are run under the sanction and governance of both the PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) and WPRA (Women’s Professional Rodeo Association). These associations are concerned for the welfare of the rodeo animals, and make strides to protect them by improving medical and safety requirements.
The word rodeo first appeared in the English language in approximately 1834 and referred to a cattle round-up. Rodeos are part of America’s history, especially in states such as Wyoming, South Dakota and Texas. The first professional rodeo to charge admission to the public and award trophies began in 1888, in Prescott, Arizona. Shortly after, rodeos grew in popularity due to Wild West Shows featuring the likes of Buffalo Bill Cody and Annie Oakley. Eventually, the popularity of rodeo type events soared in big cities such as New York, appearing at large venues such as Madison Square Garden. It is estimated that today’s rodeo cowboys annually compete for over $30 million at about 650 rodeos. Rodeo is a popular sport in Canada; with many citizens hoping to one day make it the official sport, especially of the province of Alberta.
Professional rodeos incorporate timed events and “rough stock” events and generally offer “western-themed” entertainment. Roping competitions, like calf roping, are an important part of the rodeo. The cowboy throws a type of rope with a loop and attempts to lasso and tie cattle. Based on traditional ranch practices, this is the oldest of rodeo’s timed events. Barrel racing is also a timed sport which requires great agility on the part of the horse and rider. In this event, horse and rider gallop around a pattern of cloverleaf placed barrels, and make swift turns without knocking the barrels over. This is generally performed as a women’s sport. Steer wrestling involves a rider jumping off his horse to wrestle a steer by its horns. This is considered a rather dangerous sport as the rider runs risk of injury by landing improperly or getting injured by the steer’s horns. Though steer roping has roots in cattle history, it is not an acceptable PRCA event due to the risk of injury and issues of animal cruelty.
Bronc riding and bull riding fall into the category of “rough stock” events. In bronc riding, the animal usually emerges the winner. “Broncs” are not wild horses, but are likely to be horses bred as bucking stock or are considered spoiled riding horses. Bareback bronc riding is where the rider is only allowed to hang onto a bucking horse. In saddle bronc riding, the rider uses a special western saddle with a horn for safety and hangs onto a lead rope attached to the horse’s halter. In bull riding, the cowboys ride full grown bulls instead of horses. “Rodeo clowns” are used to distract the bulls during competition, attempting to keep fallen riders out of danger. Though all riding requires skill, the level of danger is elevated in bull riding due to the temperaments of the bulls.
In the town of Pilesgrove, Southern New Jersey, there is a rodeo with great claims to fame. Not only is it the longest running weekly rodeo show since 1955, it celebrates a long history of operation since 1929. Part of the First Frontier Rodeo Circuit, it is also one of three weekly ongoing rodeos sanctioned by the PRCA. The other two are located in Mesquite, Texas and Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Cowtown Rodeo is still owned and run by the same folks, the Harris Family. If the name sounds familiar, it may bring back memories of the 50’s and 60’s, when Cowtown Rodeo was featured in its own nationally syndicated television show. Still situated amongst farmland and open fields, its well-suited location makes it an easy drive from two major cities; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Wilmington, Delaware.
Cowtown Rodeo is described as a “family kind of place” due to its hometown feel and friendly and welcoming atmosphere. The program begins with the Grand Entry, where competitors parade into the ring on horseback, waving to the crowd and doing loops, with the leader of the procession riding and carrying the American Flag. The singing of the Star Spangled Banner, the delicious aroma of roasted peanuts, and the ensuing action and excitement of the show, render Cowtown Rodeo a thrilling event. Experience all seven rodeo events sanctioned by PRCA in the outdoor arena which seats 4,000, and proudly watch contestants of national caliber competitively perform. Cowboy hat or no cowboy hat, all are welcome to attend Cowtown Rodeo each Saturday night at 7:30 pm, from May through the end of September. Celebrate the history and style of the old west by experiencing a professional rodeo show, steeped in American tradition.
For information and pricing on Cowtown Rodeo, please visit their official site: http://www.cowtownrodeo.com/