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Ride 'em, Cowboys and Cowgirls! Rodeos Keep Old West Spirit Alive



Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I’m Faith Lapidus.


And I’m Steve Ember. The spirit of the old American West can still be found at rodeos. Modern-day cowboys compete to stay on wild, jumping horses, or struggle to ride bulls that weigh up to a ton. Cowgirls also compete in rodeos.


Rodeos used to be found mainly in small towns out in the country. But today Americans in big cities also get the chance to shout "ride 'em, cowboy!"



The first major open-air rodeo of the season is called La Fiesta de los Vaqueros -- Spanish for the Celebration of the Cowboys. And the cowboys will be celebrating February eighteenth to the twenty-sixth in Tucson, Arizona.

Current and former world champions of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association will take part. In all, about seven hundred competitors will demonstrate their skills.

And if that is not enough, there is also the Tucson Rodeo Parade on February twenty-third. Organizers call it "the world's longest non-motorized parade." Who needs a motor when four legs and a horse will do?


La Fiesta de los Vaqueros is one of hundreds of professional rodeos in the United States.

Rodeos have long been a tradition in the West. But the sport is also popular in major cities in the Midwest like Chicago, Illinois, and Minneapolis, Minnesota. In fact, rodeos can be found from coast to coast. Georgia and North Carolina are two Eastern states with rodeo programs for high school students.

Some rodeos are held in big sports centers. And some are shown on television. A rodeo might also have related events. In December, the Minneapolis Invitational held parties to celebrate the New Year.

Rodeos have gone from small, local events to big business. For example, the National Western Stock Show and Rodeo took place in January in Denver, Colorado. It gave away five hundred thousand dollars in prize money.



American rodeos developed long ago from the skills that cowboys needed to work with cattle in the West.

Cowboys had to know how to train wild horses. They had to be excellent riders. And they had to know how to use a rope to catch and tie a runaway cow.

By eighteen fifty, cowboys were competing in roping and riding in New Mexico. But Pecos, Texas, is called the "Home of the World's First Rodeo." The event was held in eighteen eighty-three. It took place on July fourth, America's birthday. Other early rodeos took place in Wyoming, Colorado and Arizona.

In nineteen twelve, some wealthy businessmen in Canada agreed to pay for a rodeo in the town of Calgary, in Alberta Province. That rodeo was called the Calgary Stampede. If offered cowboys prize money up to a thousand dollars.


Today, rodeos include events like bull riding, calf and steer roping, steer wrestling, saddle bronc riding and bareback bronc riding.

Bronc is short for bronco. A bronco is a wild horse, or a horse that still acts like one. A steer is a young male cow that has been neutered.

Steer wrestling and bareback bronc riding developed as rodeo sports in the twentieth century.

Saddle bronc riding, however, was a traditional cowboy skill. It developed because of the need to train a wild horse to accept a saddle and rider.

The rider gets on a saddle bronc in a narrow space. But a good saddle bronc hates to be ridden. The horse will buck. It will jump up and down and kick its back legs high in the air. The horse wants to throw its rider.

The door is raised, and the animal and rider burst out in front of the crowd. The cowboy rides the horse as if he is riding an earthquake. He is supposed to stay on the bucking bronco for eight seconds. He also must show good form.

Professional rodeo judges rate each rider. Half the rating depends on how violently the animal bucks. So cowboys hope they get a really lively one.


Cowboys also compete to see who can ride a bull the longest. And they compete to see who can bring a cow under control the fastest.

In one event, the cowboy throws a rope around the neck of a calf, and then has to tie three of the legs of the young cow. In another event, the cowboy jumps off his moving horse to take a full-grown cow by the head. The cowboy has to pull the animal to the ground.

Cowgirls also compete in professional rodeos, but not to the extent they did a long time ago. In fact, men and women used to compete together in the same events.

Now at mixed rodeos the women take part in timed events in barrel racing. Barrels are big round containers. The cowgirls have to make sharp turns on their horses to race around three barrels. It takes a lot of skill.

There are all-women rodeos. And these are getting more popular. All-women rodeos include the same events that cowboys excite the crowds with.


Not everyone likes rodeos. In fact, some people hate the idea. Animal activists say rodeos are cruel to the animals. Rodeo defenders disagree with that.

There is no question that rodeos can be dangerous for the humans involved. A top competitor can earn thousands of dollars for eight seconds of work. But those seconds are hard on the body. And rodeo performers do not earn the millions of dollars that some athletes do in other sports.

Cowboys can suffer many injuries. Often, though, they simply get up and dust themselves off.



Now, meet some top rodeo stars. Ryan Jarrett wears the gold belt buckle of the all-around world champion of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. The champion has to win at least one hundred thousand dollars in a season.

Last year, at the age of twenty-one, Ryan Jarrett became the second youngest person ever to earn that title. And he did it in only his second year of championship competition. The youngest was Ty Murray. He was twenty the first time he became all-around champion in nineteen eighty-nine.

Trevor Brazile gave Ryan Jarrett strong competition for the title. Brazile is a three-time national champion. He often appears on television. He also helps advertise a number of products including cowboy hats.

Ryan Jarrett is known for tie-down roping. He won more than eighty thousand dollars in one event. When he is not competing, he helps his father operate a farm in northwestern Georgia.


Among professional cowgirls, Kelly Kaminski holds the current world title in barrel racing. Her horse is named Rocky. As they make the turns, trying to avoid the barrels, Rocky leans far to the side. He is so low to the ground, he looks almost like he is lying down.

Kelly Kaminski, the two thousand five champion, also won the gold buckle the year before. She formerly taught young children to read.

Some rodeo people lead two working lives. When Kappy Allen is not competing, she is a full-time lawyer in Austin, Texas. Kappy Allen won the world title of the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association in two thousand.

Perhaps the best-known cowgirl in America is Charmayne James. She won ten world championships, nineteen eighty-four through nineteen ninety-three. The first time, she was just fourteen years old.

Charmayne James won an eleventh world championship in two thousand two. The following year, she announced her retirement.


Now Charmayne James is raising and training barrel horses. She has taught barrel racing in the United States and internationally.

Her horse Scamper has an interesting story. No one thought he could be ridden until Charmayne James came along.

Scamper was named to the Professional Rodeo Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in nineteen ninety-six. That made him the only barrel racing horse ever to win that honor.


Another place to learn about rodeo's colorful past is the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. Visitors do even not have to travel all the way to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, to see it. Internet visitors just have to go to nationalcowboymuseum -- all one word -- dot o-r-g.



Ours program was written by Jerilyn Watson. Caty Weaver was our producer. I’m Steve Ember.


And I’m Faith Lapidus. Read and listen to our programs at And join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.