Rodeo Cowboys Talented, Versatile Athletes

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Rodeo cowboys are widely considered to be among the most talented and versatile athletes in professional sports.

Although they are not asked to snag a spiraling football out of the air, swat a 90 mph fast ball or slam dunk, the feats they must perform require they have a rare combination of technique, timing, conditioning and strength.

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Whether a rodeo cowboy is taking on a bull, participating in bareback or saddle bronc riding, tie-down or team roping, or steer wrestling, he must be as well conditioned and expertly trained as any professional athlete. But unlike the pros of football, basketball, baseball or hockey, a rodeo cowboy has no astronomical salary or ‘posse,' he travels the circuit in solitary fashion and gets paid only if he wins.

Quintan Richardson swished three-pointers with amazing efficiency during the last NBA season, but it's doubtful the former Suns guard could drop from a horse, grab a steer by the horns and wrestle it to the ground as quickly as possible.

Cowboy Luke Branquinho steer wrestled well enough in 2004 to earn $193,614 in prize money.

The rodeo event is so demanding and difficult that no cowboy has won back-to-back titles since Ote Berry did it in 1990-1991.

Also, not many professional baseball or basketball players have the ability -- or desire -- to ride a wild, bucking horse for eight seconds, holding nothing but a single-handhold rigging cinched around the horse's girth.

Rendering bareback riding even more frustrating is the rules which state if the cowboy touches himself, his equipment or the animal with his free hand, or if he is bucked off before the eight seconds, he has no pay day.

In a day of guaranteed salaries and injured reserve clauses, not many professional athletes, other than cowboys, would compete knowing if he lost or were injured, he wouldn't get paid.

At most every rodeo, saddle bronc riders -- who climb aboard some of the rankest of unbroken horses --rove they have the determination and skill required of all topnotch athletes.

The synchronized spurring action they perform atop the bucking horse requires some of the same skills a basketball player must have.

In tie-down roping, it takes a great athlete to chase a 250-pound calf down an arena, rope it, dismount the horse, run down the rope, lay the calf on its side and tie three of its legs together with a piggin string clenched in the cowboy's mouth.

All that must be done in just a few seconds.

For cowboys who possess good upper body strength, flexibility, a sense of balance, and yearn for a bit of unpredictability, bull riding is the event of choice.

The ones who possess those athletic qualities can usually manage, at least a few times, to ride a 1,000-pound bull for eight seconds while holding only to a rope looped around the animal's midsection.

The determination and athletic ability of the professional rodeo cowboy has not gone unnoticed. In 2005, television will again showcase some of the nation's top cowboys competing in rodeos around the country. CBS, ESPN, ESPN2 and OutdoorLife Network will televise day-to-day coverage of several championship events.

TV viewership of professional rodeo was estimated last year at more than 60 million people.

But watching the action on television is nothing compared to seeing it live. So, come out to the 121st World's Oldest Continuous Rodeo and see master athletes in their element Aug. 19, 20 and 21 at the Payson Event Center.

For more information, call the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce, (928) 474-4515.

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