Rodeo - A symbol of the American Wild West

(VOVWORLD) - For a long time, the images of cowboys roaming freely on horseback on vast ranches have been popular in the Western United States. Once cattle herders, many cowboys nowadays have earned a new status: professional athletes, making millions a month by showcasing their artistry in one of the most popular sports in the US – rodeo.

Rodeo - A symbol of the American Wild West - ảnh 1Calf roping event at a rodeo (Photo: FranHogan/Wikimedia Commons)

As one of America’s fastest growing sports, rodeo attracts a fanbase of approximately 35 million people. For a sport that dates back as early as the 19th century, rodeo is also a highly egalitarian event with a sizable proportion of Hispanic, African American, Native American and female contestants at a time when racial and gender discrimination was still prevalent. Its diverse demographic was a direct result of a multicultural influence – the daily life of Spanish ranchers and Mexican vaqueros.

John Kent, an avid rodeo fan from Idaho, US, said: “Rodeo is a very well-known sport in the US. It is primarily located along the center of the United States, from Texas up through Montana. I believe the history of rodeo in the United States started way back in the early times when settlers were still roaming in the western United States and there were vast lands to explore. Riding on horseback and corralling wild animals was a daily chore. Over time, that faded away as we got more modern farming and livestock practices. And rodeo was born from essentially those sports and those traditions, with people wanting to keep the tradition alive. Many of the rodeo events are based around horseback riding and doing tricks and pulling off stunts.”

Originating from the daily chores of cattle herders, rodeo is now a coveted sports event in the US. Its popularity was further enhanced with the birth of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) in 1936. Every year, the PRCA sanctions 650 rodeos across 44 states. As the sport grows, John said the range of contests in a rodeo also expanded.

“Horseback riding is the main skill for rodeos. However, there are multiple other events that take place throughout a rodeo. There is steer wrestling. Bull riding is also another very difficult one. That is actually quite popular. You can do tie-down, where you rope and gather pigs, as they attempt escape. You can also do some saddle bronc riding or team roping events. There’s also barrel racing, which is actually very popular, especially for ladies. And towards the end of the competition, they usually have a team wild horse race, where you have to capture a horse, tie it down, saddle it, and then ride it for one full lap, which is usually a pretty entertaining event,” said John Kent.

Rodeo - A symbol of the American Wild West - ảnh 2Rodeo represents the Wild West spirit (Photo: John C. H. Grabill/Wikimedia Commons)

According to the PRCA, some cowboys earn as high as 7 million USD a month. Nevertheless, being a millionaire from riding the horses is no mean feat. Instead of getting a salary like other sports, rodeo contestants have to pay an entry fee to participate in a competition. If they lose the game, they lose the entry fee, travel expenses, and may even suffer injuries. Rodeo is a gritty, high-stakes sport, yet people still love it due to the thrilling performances and nostalgia for the Wild West. John explained:

Kent said: “I believe the biggest reason that news refers to rodeo as a Wild West tradition is because of its roots, where it came from and how people were raised throughout their life. The term Wild West comes from the frontier which is basically west of the Mississippi. Frontier life was very rugged and harsh. Winters are very tough where they can get down to around 40 degrees below 0 in some locations. Cowboys would typically work on a ranch. They were well-known for their skills in herding of cattle, horseback riding, and it became a lifestyle for the people of the West. It was kind of a wild time in the USwhere there was a melting pot of many different influences including European settlers, African-American slaves, the Mexican vaqueros, and Native Americans. And they all influenced the formation of the Wild West.”

Attending a rodeo event is like being on the set of a Western cowboy movie. The contestants don their best cowboy gear, and the spectators also arrive with an unspoken Western dress code. John again:

Kent added: “I believe the outfits that are worn during the rodeo, at least for the competitors, traditionally begin with blue jeans as a staple. They also have a cowboy hat that goes along with some boots. Depending on the contest, they’ll have some spurs on their boots. That’s really the primary wear. It’s usually quite hot north of 36 to 38 degrees Celsius, so you’re wearing something that is typically made of cotton so you can breathe easily in those hot conditions. For shirts, guys are usually wearing a flannel shirt. And there are also accessories that are worn such as belts. Ladies will sometimes have jewels on their belts. They also have that big belt buckle. But overall, it’s mostly rugged wear that you traditionally see in Western films.”

Rodeo - A symbol of the American Wild West - ảnh 3Western cowboy fashion (Photo: cjuneau/Wikimedia Commons)

Apart from the main contests, many people are drawn to rodeos because of the fair rides, concerts, or traditional food, said John. Many even come not for the game, but for the chance to socialize with friends and families, as well as enjoy the electrifying competitive atmosphere.

“Last year, I actually went to “Frontier Days” which is the mother of all rodeos. It’s the main event where, following all the competitions for the full year, everyone that is ranking high competes for the final challenge to become number one in the world for all the different events. The atmosphere around a rodeo is usually one of everyone cheering enthusiastically. Everyone is cheering for their favorite. “Frontier Days” is one of the best rodeos in the world,” said Kent.

Traditionally, rodeo season runs from spring through the fall. But in some places where rodeo is popular such as Texas, every season can be rodeo season. If you happen to be in the western US this summer, don’t forget to book a ticket to a rodeo to immerse yourself in the Wild West spirit.

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