May 23, 2024

The first European settlers of what would become the state of California were Spanish ranchers, who used the fertile land of the coastal plains to graze large herds of cattle. Eventually, American ranchers came to California and continued the state’s long history of agricultural industriousness. One of the features of ranch life in California and the southwestern United States is the sport of rodeo.

Courtesy of Valerie Reyes Cowboys pose for the camera at the local rodeo. 

Rodeos are competitive athletic events where cowboys use their roping and riding skills to participate in events that mimic the everyday activities of ranchers.

“Rodeo is more of a lifestyle than anything,” said Gracie Beth Sutton, California high school state champion in cutting, breakaway roping, and two-time high school national qualifier in breakaway roping. “Rodeo is one of the most dangerous yet most rewarding sports out there.”

The sport of rodeo is a hugely popular affair, with professional organizations like the Professional Bull Riders (PBR) and Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) drawing huge crowds and major sponsorship deals.

Courtesy of Valerie Reyes Cowboys pose with their horses and flags at the local rodeo.

“Rodeo is different from other sports in that it is made up with several events,” said Amanda Sutton, California High School Rodeo Association (CHSRA) District 8 Vice President and Arena Director. “Team Roping, Calf Roping, Steer Wrestling, Bull Riding, Saddle and Bareback Bronc, Barrel Racing and the recently added Breakaway Roping are the events offered at the professional level.”

While professional rodeo is the most well-known, thousands of young cowboys train and compete in the various associations that are organized for different ages groups. 

“Rodeo is similar to other sports because it takes a lot of time, dedication, practice, hard work and teamwork,” said Valerie Reyes, freshman health science (pre-med) major at California Baptist University and rodeo competitor. “You have to make sure you are focused and alert on what your every move is going to be.”

There are sometimes misunderstandings about the treatment of animals at rodeos. Most people do not realize, however, how much the ranchers and cowboys involved in the sport care for the animals they are competing with. Oftentimes, the livelihoods of the competitors depend on the health and safety of the animals involved.

“There are many misconceptions in the treatment of the livestock used in rodeo,” Sutton said. “Stock contractors (those who provide the animals for rodeos) take better care of their livestock than many pet owners. Their livelihood and future are insured by the health and performance of their animals. These animals are treated humanely and most often live longer, better quality lives than those not involved in the rodeo industry.”

The sport of rodeo hearkens back to the history of the southwestern U.S. and California, when hard-working farmers and ranchers staked their livelihoods on their efforts in the fields and pastures. Spectators today can attend rodeo events across the country, including in Riverside, to witness the memory of a different age of U.S. history.

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