Dina Bennett takes her camera to the 2012 Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo.

“The Daddy of ‘em All” goes down during the last two weeks in July, showcasing events that have grown out of the cowboy way of life.

In the four hours of rodeo activities each afternoon, you’ll see the classic roughstock competitions of bareback, saddle bronc, and bull riding, plus timed events like steer wrestling, barrel racing, and team roping. Not one of these is easy. Bucking event riders risk their life every time they mount a bronco or bull. And the ropers and steer wrestlers spend years training both themselves and their horses.

But then again, at this year’s Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo, they could earn over $15,000 per win, requiring no more than 24 seconds of their time.

1

Saddle bronc

Would you climb aboard a one-ton Brahma bull capable of tossing you to the ground like an NFL football after a touchdown? Or risk having your head split like a ripe grape by a flailing hoof from a saddle bronc? Nearly 1,200 cowboys and cowgirls answered 'yes' to these questions, and paid from $200-$425 for the privilege. The youngest was 16.

2

Bull rider

The Daddy of 'em All awards nearly a million dollars in cash and prizes, the latter including finely tooled western saddles and silver belt buckles as large as a cup saucer. In the bucking events, each competitor gets two rides. To even score, he has to stay on the thrashing animal for 8 seconds, and the first 8 places earn cash. The biggest payout comes if you also place in the CFD final, on the last day of the rodeo.

3

Team roping

A successful cowboy in the Professional Rodeo Cowboy's Association (PRCA) can earn over $100,000 a year. But the odds are not on success. Of the 77 entries for bull riding this year, only 17 stayed on their bull the required 8 seconds on both rides. Most cowboys in this and other rodeos go on down the road empty-handed, or just covering their expenses.

4

Taping up

Broken bones and painful strains are the name of the game when you're holding with one hand onto a thousand pounds of horse intent on getting you off his back, while you wave your free arm in the air and jerk your knees up and down. In addition to supple leather gloves, colorful fringed chaps, and regulation rounded spurs without spikes, a cowboy's gear bag contains a cornucopia of tape, braces, and splints. Some will also have a rigid padded neck brace to keep their spine from snapping as their head is whipped around in the bucking motion.

5

Ready area

For all the drama going on in the arena, there's a lot of down time between rides. The ready area below the arena, where the cowboys hang out, is a quiet place. Each spends his time preparing his gear by rubbing sticky resin into gloves, chaps, ropes, and bareback rigging to make them less slippery. In a corner, a few cowboys seek feedback on the nature of the bull or bronco they've drawn, or the next rodeo where they'll meet up. Those not thus engaged stare into space, perhaps visualizing their coming ride. Or praying.

6

Ready to ride

Bucking animals are bred to buck, just like thoroughbreds are bred to run. Though rodeo stock used to be a sorry sight, these days good stock providers invest a lot in their operation. And they treat their animals accordingly. There are vets on site throughout the rodeo and strict PRCA guidelines on animal care are followed. Roughstock contractors provide 110 bulls, 170 bucking horses, 446 steers, 268 calves. None of the animals work for more than 60 seconds; bulls and bucking horses typically are used only twice, for a maximum work time of 16 seconds.

7

Barrel racing

Though there's no prohibition against women entering any rodeo event, the only one in which they star is barrel racing. Three barrels are set up in a triangle, with 90 degrees separating the two barrels at the base of the triangle, each of which is 105 degrees from the barrel at the triangle's apex. The cowgirl who rides the fastest cloverleaf around the three barrels,wins. This year's winner cleared all three in 17.29 seconds, which is less time than it takes me to walk up one flight of stairs.

8

Tacking up a bronc

It takes a lot of riders and horses to put on a safe rodeo, and more time is spent getting roughstock loaded in the chutes, or wrangling them out of the arena once a rider's 8 seconds are done, than in the actual ride itself. Sometimes the hardest-working horses are those who chase after a steer that's just been wrestled to the ground, or a bull that's given its rider a two-second flight into the arena sand.

9

The midway

CFD isn't only about thrills of the animal kind. Behind the rodeo arena is a boldly colored carnival midway. All sorts of things which are forbidden in normal life are possible here for a handful of dollars. For instance, you can purposely crash a car into your best friend or sibling, no driver's license or insurance required. Then strap yourself into a chair on the Dive Bomber, where you'll be treated to a memorable view of the entire fair grounds as you rise 50 feet in the air before plummeting back to earth.

10

Food booth

Even though I've done nothing but watch other people exert themselves, attending a rodeo always works up my appetite. Like any good rodeo, CFD's midway abounds with foods whose relationship to their original ingredients is questionable. Still, this is the day to ignore my normal skepticism and indulge.

11

Bareback bronc

Each bucking event has its prescribed form. Take bareback bronc riding. When the chute gate opens to release the bronc into the arena, the rider has to be lying back on the horse, his heels above its shoulder, or he'll be disqualified. Over the next eight seconds, the more able the rider is to maintain that position, the better score he'll get. And of course his free arm has to wave like he's hailing a cab from five blocks away. His score also depends on how good a bucker his bronc is. The more the horse twists, turns, kicks, and dives, the higher the score.

12

On the sand

The middle of the arena is a lonely place to be after a ride that ended before the buzzer.

View 1 comment