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July of each year is referred to in the rodeo community as "Cowboy Christmas" due to the number of rodeos during that time. There are more rodeos in July than any other time of the year, and millions of dollars are up to be won.
Rodeo, the sport that symbolizes the United States, is a favorite fare of communities to celebrate Independence Day, and hence July is packed full of rodeos. This one month can well determine if a cowboy will make the top15 to go to the National Finals in December of that year. It is not uncommon for cowboys to enter and compete in 3 or 4 rodeos far apart from one another in the same day. While it is not an official standings, the PRCA also publishes the Cowboy Christmas standings, a list of the top prize money winners for July of that year.
Rodeo is not just the riding of wild or bucking horses, known as "broncs" in rodeo, but is also comprised of roping events as well as events where ladies compete to see who can circle three barrels in the shortest amount of time. Rodeo is the all inclusive term used for all of these events, much like the term "Olympics."
Male and female adults 18 and over participate in professional and full sized rodeo events, but the ladies only participate in the barrel racing for the most part. There is also the Little Britches Rodeo Association for children under 5 to 19, and the National High School Rodeo Association for high school students where many of todayfs rodeo stars got their start.
It is a mistake to say that horses and bulls are "made" to buck, since horses and bulls have a natural tendency to do so. Anyone who has watched a herd of horses for a given time would have seen horses bucking and kicking in play or to stretch. Bucking is the natural movement of horses and cattle to defend themselves against predators. So, if a horse or bull wants to buck, they will buck; at the same time, if a horse or bull doesnft want to buck, there is nothing you can do to make them buck. However, you can encourage them to kick harder. This is done in rodeo by tying what is called a "flank strap" around the flank, or waist, of the animal. The strap is nothing more than a cotton rope or leather strap covered in sheep skin and does not harm the animal. Since animals do not wear clothing, they are not used to having things tied to their body, and will kick hard in an attempt to get it off. It should be noted though, that even with a flank strap, animals that choose not to buck will not buck, and can not be made to buck with a flank strap.
Stock contractors, who make their living raising and renting stock to rodeos, breed their animals using systems that would rival the systems used for the most valuable thoroughbred race horses in order to produce animals that will buck and perform to the greatest degree. While mean or hard to handle animals from ranches were used in rodeos in the past, the animals today are created for the sole purpose of being used in the arena. They are in fact, "bred to buck."
During the bull riding, you will always see at least two individuals often dressed like clowns in the arena. They used be called Rodeo Clowns, but today are known as Bull Fighters, and perform the vital role of protecting the rider once he comes off his bull.
Even after a rider has come off his back, angry bulls will charge the rider and may severely injure him. That is where the bull fighter will jump in to get the bulls attention and pull him away from the rider. Bull fighters have taken many of the moves they use in protecting riders as well as a few others and formed their own event known as Freestyle Bull Fighting.
These men began being seen at rodeos around the 1950s when rodeo began to gain in popularity, but their roles at the time was mainly to entertain the crowds during lulls in the competition. Today, the individual in a barrel, known as a Barrelman typically assumes the role of entertaining the crowd, while the other two bull fighters concentrate on protecting the riders and very rarely take part in the entertainment antics.
As rodeo has evolved, so has the rodeo clown/bullfighter. While in the past it was common for most bullfighters to have been former bull riders or bronc riders themselves, the role of the bullfighter has become increasingly popular in recent years, and a large majority of the bullfighters today entered into rodeo with the specific purpose of being bullfighters; some, have never competed in any other rodeo event or been on the back of bucking stock. Bullfighting takes agility, stamina, quick thinking and unyielding bravery. Bullfighters exercise and work out regularly and are nothing short of world class athletes who take pride in the job they do.
The men who help a bronc rider off his bucking stock once the required 8 seconds has elapsed are called Pick-Up Men, and are highly skilled horsemen. They are able to approach a bucking bronc while on horseback, help the rider off and release the flank.
You may also see men on horseback with flags in hand. These individuals are known as Flag Men and assist the Timer by keeping the flag above their heads while the ride is ongoing or timed event performance is being performed, and once the rider dismounts or is bucked off, or the required motion is completed in the timed events, the flag will be snapped down to indicate it. The Timer is watching the flag and will stop their watch when the flag is snapped down. Being on horseback allows the Flag Man to have a clear, unobstructed view of the action and to lower the flag at the appropriate instant.
Written by Randy Reese
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