Rodeo still remains true to its roots

By Karl Terry: CNJ columnist

I got a chance to do something last week I haven’t been able to do in 35 or 40 years. I sat through a performance Thursday at the Pioneer Days Rodeo.

I’ve been to lots of rodeos in three different states in that time, but I’ve always been there as a journalist getting a story or a photo. I haven’t had the chance to simply sit through the entire rodeo without taking photos or tracking down interviews with contestants and organizers. Usually it meant staying just 45 minutes or an hour and hustling back to get the story in the paper.

Getting the chance to watch a world-champion roper like Trevor Brazile take a run in Clovis was truly a treat. Add to that an exciting but scary wreck by up-and-coming professional bull rider L.J. Jenkins of Texico and it’s no wonder I kept my seat until after 11 that night.

Growing up we helped rope, castrate and brand my granddad’s calves. On branding day all the cousins were together and I had the opportunity to ride a steer on his farm but that was as close to participating in rodeo as I ever wanted to get. I never had a horse and having a bovine toss me on my head never appealed to me.

I always liked watching rodeos of all descriptions though. My other grandparents lived directly across from the Roosevelt County Mounted Patrol Arena. If we couldn’t convince my grandmother to take us across the road to the rodeo we could sit on the porch and listen to the rodeo announcer on the loudspeaker.

A couple of my favorite movies, “The Rounders” and “Junior Bonner,” were about over-the-hill rodeo riders. Those movies portrayed a pretty hard existence for a rodeo cowboy in the 1960s and ’70s. It was obvious the rodeo, while it’s still a young person’s sport, has come a long way since those movies were made.

With the National Finals Rodeo now televised and marketed into a major event each year and the Professional Bull Riders, Inc. (PBR) riding a wave of popularity, rodeo is making in-roads into the world of professional sports. Still, it pales in comparison to football’s Super Bowl, basketball’s NBA Finals and baseball’s World Series. The earnings for the athlete only support the very best of the best in the rodeo world and the venues and fan base is in a completely different league.

The sport and those who pursue it are both still, for the most part, pretty humble. That in some ways isn’t a bad thing. It’s kept rodeo wholesome and connected to its roots in tight-knit Western communities. You don’t have to ride or rope yourself to appreciate the values the sport projects.

Karl Terry writes for Freedom New Mexico. Contact him at: