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Oklahoma Rodeo Celebrates Western Traditions

Rodeos are hugely popular sport events in the Western states of America, where horseback riding, livestock animals and fancy rope skills are featured.

Thousands of cowboys and cowgirls compete to see who has the best rodeo skills. They celebrate the cowboy traditions and culture that is rooted in the West.

Rodeos are also big business for those states. Many of the participants are from families who have been in the industry for several generations. The competitions bring in about $250 million dollars of revenue each year.

VOA Learning English recently attended a rodeo in Oklahoma. The Elk City Rodeo of Champions began entertaining crowds 77 years ago. The three-day event is the third-largest rodeo in the state. About 14,000 people attend each September. About 300 people compete in the events.

​All the action at the Elk City Rodeo took place outside. It began with a daring skydiver who floated into the middle of the arena with a huge U.S. flag. Then the crowd stood for an a capella version of the National Anthem.

The competition kicked off with bareback bronc riding. A bronc is a horse that bucks, or jumps and kicks high to throw off its rider. A bareback bronc rider has to stay on top of the bucking horse for eight seconds to qualify for judging.

Cowboy Will Lowe of Texas was among the competitors. We asked him about the horses he rides. A bronc, he said, “it's just a wild horse, one that’s never been broke and is getting to play and do what it really wants to do.”

And that play is bucking. Without it, the competition could not happen.

“You really want them to jump real high in the front end and you want them to extend their back feet all the way. You want them to try to buck you off.”

With one hand, the rider holds on to a small device that is attached to the horse. His other hand must not touch the horse. The rider wins points based on his form. The judges also consider the horse’s performance. A horse who behaves more wildly can give the cowboy more points.

We asked Lowe how and why he got into this dangerous line of work. “Well it started when I was real little,” he said. “I wanted to ride bulls when I was little, and my parents wouldn’t let me ride bulls. So we had bucking horses so I got to ride bucking horses ... and it just stuck.”

Cowboy Will Lowe at the Elk City Rodeo

Cowboy Will Lowe at the Elk City Rodeo

Will Lowe has had great success. He has won the world championship three times. He hopes to compete for his fourth world championship in December.

Bareback bronc riding is among what is called “rough stock competition.” Saddle bronc and bull riding are also in that category. Rodeos also have timed events, such as calf roping and barrel racing.

Rodeo cowboys are not the only performers that face danger in the arena. Rodeo clowns, called bullfighters, have a very risky job as well. The clowns are trained to distract the bull when a rider falls off. This helps keep the rider from being trampled on. Bullfighter Justin Rumford calls it “playing with the bulls.”

Elk City Rodeo, September 4, 2015

Elk City Rodeo, September 4, 2015

Rumford was among those clowning around at the Elk City Rodeo. He wore crazy, colorful clothes, joked with the audience and performed some silly stunts.

Rumford has been a rodeo clown for six years, and he receives more than just laughs. Rodeo’s governing group, the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, has named him Clown of the Year three times.

However, the clown has also taken some hard hits as a bullfighter. He said he had broken many bones, injured internal organs, and spent time in the hospital. But he still loves what he does, he said.

It takes a huge number of people to organize and put on a rodeo. A main feature of the event is livestock. The Beutler and Son Rodeo Company is the stock contractor for the Elk City Rodeo and many others. The family business is based in Elk City.

Rhett Beutler is a leader of the company. The Beutler brothers have been in the rodeo business "since 1929. I’m the fourth generation, my son’s the fifth generation, and this is our hometown show, here at Elk City, and we just bring all the bucking horses, the bulls, the calves, the steers -- everything involved with the rodeo -- we bring it all to town and try to put on a good show for everybody. “

The audience on Friday night cheered for their favorite riders and ropers, laughed at the clowns, and rocked to country music at the Elk City Rodeo of Champions under the stars.

For VOA Learning English, I'm Jill Robbins.

Now it's your turn. Are there events like the American rodeo where you live? Write to us about them in the comments section.

Caty Weaver wrote this story for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson and Kathleen Struck edited it.


Words in This Story

kick off - n. the start of something

distract - v. to cause (someone) to stop thinking about or paying attention to someone or something and to think about or pay attention to someone or something else instead

clown - v. to act like a clown; to say funny things or act in a silly way - often followed by around

stunt - n. a difficult and often dangerous action

livestock - n. farm animals (such as cows, horses, and pigs) that are kept, raised, and used by people

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