Rodeo spirit lives on in Indiana cowboys, cowgirl youth



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Bo Davidson’s jeans needed stitches. Enough to keep a Singer busy repairing for some time.

He was lucky it wasn’t his leg slashed, though.

Davidson, 11, of Brownstown did his best to WWE a steer to the dirt in the Jackson County Fairgrounds arena in chute dogging Sunday. But despite his finest hold around the beast’s neck, he was dragged over the ground and stepped on.

The jeans, previously worn just twice, were a casualty, sporting a hole the size of the Grand Canyon. Davidson, a novice at this event, had to wonder what he got into.

“Dad just signed me up for it,” he said.

The two-day Indiana High School Rodeo Association event featured high school and junior high school-aged competitors from around the state, including cowboys and cowgirls from Jackson County, an intrepid local bunch riding in the Old West spirit of Buffalo Bill Cody and Annie Oakley or Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.

There were 67 entries signed up, amounting to 300 tries at bareback steer riding, saddle bronc, barrel racing, pole bending, goat tying, team roping and more with some young people in three or so events.

For the most part, these are kids who lean toward the Western lifestyle over commonly contested high school sports, even if they are growing up in the Midwest, not on the plains or in the mountains in Wyoming or Montana.

“It’s really hard to do school sports and rodeo,” said roper Colton Whittymore, 16, of Brownstown. “It’s harder in the Midwest than in the West where there is a practice arena 10 minutes away everywhere.”

For the locals, this is their largest nearby rodeo of the year, when instead of driving hours to a competition, the rest of the state, cowboys and cowgirls from Zionsville, Sheridan, Rushville, Muncie, Otterbein, New Castle and elsewhere, comes to them.

Chris Meek, one of the association’s southern district directors, said the next-closest rodeo for Jackson County competitors will be in Salem at the end of October.

Rodeo is probably the most patriotic red, white and blue sport in the United States, perhaps more so than even NASCAR racing, and each rodeo begins with a prayer, and of course, the national anthem. While the competitors definitely want to win, Meek said the atmosphere is lighter than in many other sports.

“In what other sport do you have kids cheering for the other kids to beat them?” he said. “It’s a family thing in the end.”

Some 300-plus fans paid admission to the Saturday night performance, but Sunday’s rodeo was lower key. It also played out in wickedly scorching conditions with the temperature touching 90 degrees and the heat index climbing higher.

As evidence this was summer rodeo, cowboys, cowgirls and adult officials all wore lightweight white hats. It was not because they were the good guys but because wearing black might have helped melt their heads.

Horses and bulls relaxed in the arena, gently being gathered by riders making soft “Hey, hey, hey” herding sounds. Music played over the loudspeaker, “Cowboys and Angels.” In a smaller adjacent pen, cowboys and cowgirls warmed up their horses.

Warming up may have been redundant under the blue, cloudless sky, but at least a little trotting loosened horse muscles. It was at times a bit crowded in the confined space as the 10 a.m. start time approached, but the Jackson County riders took advantage.

Breakaway roper Amy Hall of Freetown, junior breakaway rider Wyatt Mann of Brownstown, Raelyn Richey of Brownstown, Bo and Paige Davidson of Brownstown and Colton Whittymore of Brownstown were raring to go but didn’t want their horses rarin’ up.

Admission was free, but money brought in Saturday, as well as sponsor support, was earmarked for scholarships, to fund awards and help with travel expenses for local kids to take road trips to bigger rodeos.

“The stands were packed,” Meek said.

Angela Hoagland, another southern district member of the board of directors, said whatever cash is taken in “helps them later.”

A year ago at this event, Mann, 12, was breaking in a new white cowboy hat. It fit snugger now and had been through some rodeo wars, been broken in.

“It has been stepped on,” Mann said.

This year, Mann was breaking in a new horse named Poncho, who is partial to apples as snacks. Mann kept busy entered in breakaway roping, ribbon roping and goat tying. Mann particularly likes the speed of breakaway roping, galloping into the arena, twirling the rope and trying to catch a dashing calf around the head.

“It’s fast,” he said. “Two swings and you’re done.”

That family thing Meek noted is true of the Davidsons. Bo, whose blue jeans received that dramatic hole courtesy of a steer, is the younger brother of Paige Davidson, 15, who dabbles in several events but focuses on barrel racing.

Bo showed he was resilient by coming back and competing in goat tying. Also, while lying on the ground after his steer incident, he gave a thumbs up to the crowd, prompting the announcer to say, “That’s a tough cowboy right there.”

Paige harbors greater rodeo ambitions than most Indiana rodeo riders. Her goal is to make it on the professional circuit, but she has stalled out somewhat over the last year.

Barrel racers must develop kinships with their horses similar to those with their siblings, pouring hours of training into developing their responses, speed and instincts as they do figure-eight turns around the barrels.

This past school year, however, Davidson also played basketball and soccer at Trinity Lutheran. Harley, 23, the older of her two veteran horses, was in Brownstown this day, and she didn’t think she had trained him as well as necessary for success.

“Rodeo’s No. 1,” Davidson said. “Barrel racing is always going to be No. 1. Harley has been around the track, and I’m not letting him do his job. It has not been going good. This might be my last year in sports. I might have to quit sports or quit rodeo. It’s about time I have to choose.”

The choice favors going in on rodeo. It helps that she has a young horse at home — ZSpecialDolly — that is maturing and may represent the future.

Davidson blames herself for some of Harley’s subpar performances because of the demands on her time, stretching her thin in school, on Trinity sports teams and in rodeo.

Just prior to analyzing her situation, Davidson had a rough ride in pole bending. In that event, six colorful poles are spaced in a row inside the arena. Riders dart out of the gate, then guide their horses in and out and around the poles.

Speed counts, but going too fast is reckless and can result in knocking down the poles. The event measures horsemanship. Davidson KO’d three poles and did not even get a finishing time. It was a reminder practice is imperative and the need for practice time is critical.

Harley seemed to listen in on Davidson’s report of their status but issued no comment.

“He just eats grass,” Paige said.

Whittymore has qualified for national events in Guthrie, Oklahoma, and Lincoln, Nebraska, after improving his calf roping and team roping. He is intrigued by roughstock competition, riding bulls and broncs, but is forbidden by his father from jumping into those events.

“I think I’ve gotten better,” he said of his roping. “I can practice once or twice a week just to maintain. I would like to rodeo in college.”

Whittymore tries to practice more regularly when a rodeo is sneaking up on the calendar, but it is a challenge in Indiana where cowboys are scarcer and the Western lifestyle is more often witnessed on television than by walking out the door.

Rodeo may be Whittymore’s favorite sport to contest, but he thinks opportunities seem more ready-made for young competitors starting out in the Western states.

“They’re born on a ranch and they’ve got a rope in their hands,” Whittymore said.

In Indiana, you’ve got to find those ropes, those horses and invest TV time in John Wayne movies to help keep the old cowboy way strong.

“We try to keep it alive,” Whittymore said.

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