Buffalo Bill Rodeo committee works to make arena dirt better for animals | TheFencePost.com

Buffalo Bill Rodeo committee works to make arena dirt better for animals

Ruth Nicolaus
for the Buffalo Bill Rodeo
The Buffalo Bill Rodeo in North Platte has worked on the condition of its arena to make the footing safe for the horses and bulls at the rodeo. Organic sulfur was added to the dirt in April.
Photo courtesy David Fudge

NORTH PLATTE, Neb. — The rodeo people in North Platte care about their animals.

They are improving the conditions of the dirt at the Wild West Arena for the Buffalo Bill Rodeo, so that horses are less likely to slip while competing at the rodeo.

The Buffalo Bill Rodeo committee was part of the SAF (Safe Arena Footing) program, in conjunction with the Women’s Pro Rodeo Association.

Twenty samples of dirt from the arena, plus a water sample, was submitted for testing for particulate size, composition, and the percentage of clay, silt and sand in the soil.

An expert analyzed the soil then made recommendations for what should be added to the dirt already in the arena.

It’s all for the safety of the animals, especially the horses, said Jack Morris, chairman of the rodeo committee. When horses make sharp, fast turns, there’s the possibility of falls or injury, if the ground is slick, and that’s something the committee and rodeo contestants don’t want. “It’s for the well-being of the animals,” Morris said. “This is an animal welfare project.”

Results showed that particulate size and composition was within the acceptable range, but that adding organic sulfur would help reduce compaction and the stickiness of the soil. The sulfur reacts with the clay in the dirt, to make the clay “less sticky,” Morris said, “so it wouldn’t gumball so bad.”

The arena also became compacted in the paths where horses ran, packing the soil. The sulfur will prevent the soil from compacting so easily.

Two tons of organic sulfur was put on the arena in early May, and a reclaimer machine, much like a huge rototiller, was used to work the sulfur in.

The results also recommended that aluminum sulfate should be added to the water that is spread on the arena, to also help control compaction. About 500 pounds of aluminum sulfate will be added to the water truck before the water is sprinkled on the arena the days of the rodeo.

The committee also borrowed a machine to rip up the hardpan but not pack the dirt down to what it had been.

Good arena conditions are what every performance horse owner and competitor prefers, said barrel racer Gayle White, who lives near Dickens, Neb. The cowgirl, who has been a professional barrel racer for more than 20 years, said that ground doesn’t have to be deep, “like where horses sink in for 8 inches, because that’s also hard on horses. But it has to be of the composition where they don’t slip and slide, can run full speed, and turn at a fast rate.”

White said the cost of performance horses, including barrel horses, is high. “In the pros, they will go up to $250,000, and you won’t find one that can run with the professional cowgirls for less than $50,000 to $70,000.” She also said there are expenses beyond the cost of the horse, including veterinary bills, with simple checkups running up to $1,000. And if a horse is injured, the rodeo athlete is without their animal and unable to compete. “If a cowgirl is working to make the National Finals Rodeo, an injury pretty much stops her. I don’t think people realize how fragile these performance horses are, to be able to work at the top of their game.” She is pleased with the work the rodeo is doing. “Kudos to the Buffalo Bill Rodeo committee,” she said.

Safety for the animals is paramount, Morris said. “The last thing we want is for somebody to cripple their horse,” he said. “That’s an absolute unacceptable option. Whatever we can do, we have to stay on top of it.”

The Buffalo Bill Rodeo takes place at the Wild West Rodeo Arena in North Platte June 12-15 with performances beginning at 8 p.m. each night.

Tickets for the rodeo can be purchased at the NebraskalandDays office, online at NebraskalandDays.com, and at the gate. For more information, visit the website or call the office at (308) 532-7939. ❖