Kelly Roderick / For The Lantern
While the thought of riding a bull might intimidate many, some cowboys are so comfortable with the sport they’ve turned it into a career. Columbus witnessed such tough cowboys and cowgirls over the weekend.
One particularly brave cowboy turned his back to the bull as it was released into the arena, and then back-flipped over the animal as it tried to strike him with its horns. The move drew a roar from the crowd.
The World’s Toughest Rodeo came to Nationwide Arena Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Some young fans took a particular liking to the show.
Eight-year-old Kylie Manley has always liked horses, and recently started riding them regularly. She’s taken up such an interest, that on Saturday night, her aunt, Cathy Donovan, took her on an hour drive from her home in the rural Fredericktown, Ohio, to Nationwide Arena to watch other female riders compete in a rodeo.
“We’re waiting on the barrel races,” Donovan said during the rodeo’s brief intermission, referring to the only event in which women participated Saturday night.
After the break, three white and red barrels were arranged in triangle in the center of the arena – which was covered a thick surface of mud for this event – and several women rode their horses through the barrels in a cloverleaf pattern, each trying to get through in the shortest amount of time.
Donovan and her fiancÃ©e, Tim Barre, also brought Kylie’s 5-year-old brother, Konner Manley.
“She likes the horseback riding,” Donovan said. “He likes the bull riding.”
“I like seeing people fall off,” Konner interjected.
There was no shortage of riders being thrown from angry animals at this rodeo.
Thirty-six cowboys and cowgirls took part in five events. The first was bareback bronc (bronco) riding, where cowboys tried to stay atop a fearsome bronco for eight seconds, while the animal seemed to do everything in its power to throw them off. Those lucky enough to still be riding after the allotted time was up were given a score out of a possible 100 points by several judges.
“Half the points come from the animal, half come from the rider,” said Steve Remplos, the president and CEO of the Star Sports television network, on the sidelines as a rider struggled atop a particularly vicious horse.
Judges awarded points based on how difficult the horse was to ride, he said. They also judge the rider’s form. Each rider has one hand secured firmly to a handle fixed atop the horse’s back, and one hand in the air. Riders are given a penalty if they grab the handle with both hands before the eight seconds is up.
“(Judges) try to see if the rider is in time with the horse,” Remplos said.
Saddleback bronc riding was the next event, followed by barrel racing and then bull riding, which was scored the same way as bronc riding.
The headline event was extreme bullfighting, in which a bull, chosen for its ferocity, is released into the arena and a cowboy tries to avoid being trampled by it.
“You’ve never seen anything like this in Columbus before,” an announcer said to the crowd as the rodeo began.
The stadium went dark as the bullfighting began, with only a pair of spotlights illuminating the bull and the bullfighter.
The bull-fighting cowboy is awarded points based on how close he can get to the bull without being hit by it, Remplos said.
Participants said they had to train for years before they could participate in the rodeo.
“I was 10 years old when I started,” said Luke McCoag, a bull rider from Ontario, Canada, “and I was 15 by the time I got on my first bull.”
He started on a stationary machine designed to mimic a bull trying to eject a determined rider, and then moved to smaller animals, like sheep and calves.
“A lot of rodeo is mental,” he said. “Once you’ve done it for so long, you learn to get into the right mindset before a ride.”
Spectators varied in age, and many were children who came with their parents.
Tangy Joyce, who lives in Granville, Ohio, sat seven rows from the front, surrounded by her three children.
“My husband is friends with some of the band members,” she said, referring to the band backing up country music star Randy Houser, who played a concert after the rodeo concluded.
Her children, however, said they came to watch cowboys and cowgirls.
“I love it,” said Carly Joyce, Tangy’s daughter.
Her favorite event, she said, was the bull riding.