Rodeos and bull riding event organizers taking precautions due to COVID-19
for The Fence Post
While a few rodeos have flung open their gates for fans in the stands in May, several bull ridings have cautiously limited events to only the competitors bucking to hit the 8-second buzzer with completely empty stadium seats visible in the background.
When the International Pro Rodeo Association hosted a public rodeo in Locust Grove, Okla., over Mother’s Day weekend (Saturday, May 9), following two-months of event cancellations due to COVID-19, rodeo fans showed up en masse.
“We had a fairly good turn out,” said the IPRA’s Miss Rodeo USA Brooke Wallace, after the Saturday evening event known as the Annual Roundup For Jesus Rodeo, Wallace, who was crowned in January, was thrilled to get back to the rodeo.
“To say I’ve been ready to get on the road and back to the rodeos is an understatement.” said the 25-year-old Wallace, who connected with others over the past couple of months through the Zoom computer program for the first time posting live videos on social media. “This past weekend in Locust Grove reminded me how much I really missed working rodeos,” she said.
“The stands were full down both sides of the arena with a lot of people standing,” said Dale Yerigan, general manager of the International Pro Rodeo Association. “Everything went really well with big crowds and really big contestant numbers. Obviously I hope there’s no repercussions down the road but so far so good (referring to social distancing and the pandemic).”
For some parts of the country it’s going to take awhile for things to get started, Yerigan said. “We’re all having to wing it in these unprecedented times. We (and others) have one rodeo later this month in Georgia on the schedule and several in June, so hopefully they’ll be allowed to proceed.”
The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association has a limited rodeo schedule in May with only the Cave Creek Rodeo Days in Arizona May 22-24.
“Nothing until then and not much at all in May,” said Scott Kaniewski, PRCA. The PRCA June rodeos at this time include the Mesquite Championship Rodeo in Texas, the Weatherford, Texas Parker County Sheriff’s Posse Frontier Days Xtreme Bulls, as well as rodeos in Woodward, Okla., Belt, Mont., Goshen, Conn., New Jersey and Kadoka and Clear Lake in South Dakota.
The Professional Bull Riders returned to competition with closed-to-fans TV events on April 25-26 at the Lazy E Arena in Logan County, Oklahoma. The PBR’s Unleash The Beast event in May was also a non-public event. The PBR’s ‘Lucas Oil invitational,’ presented by U.S. Border Patrol) was also closed-to-fans May 16-17.
“We will take it day-by-day, and week-by-week and make a safe and responsible decision to buck bulls in front of fans when the time is right,” said PBR Commissioner Sean Gleason. “We appreciate our fans’ loyalty, patience and continued support during a difficult time for all of us. During this pandemic, there are many uncertainties. One thing that is certain is the unbreakable bond we share as members of the PBR community. We will continue to plan and strive to bring our fans, more great bull riding in the future, doing so safely and responsibly.”
Meanwhile, the PBR-based in Pueblo, Colo., has offered the bull riders physically and mentally re-energizing trainings available to all western sports athletes since July 2019 at the Western Sports Foundation also in Pueblo. The clinics provide information and techniques for the bull riders to better themselves as individuals and athletes. The three-day breakout sessions included financial planning, concussion education, sports psychology, nutrition, crisis management and personal training.
Bull riders Andrew Alvidrez and Austin Richardson raved about the training clinic.
“I had to come back,” said Andrew Alvidrez, bull rider and a two-time clinic participant. “I’m always trying to better myself. Who wouldn’t want to come better themselves? It’s like, I wish I lived here. Man, I’ll be the janitor. I’ll pay the electric bill.”
Another bull rider; Austin Richardson said when he first attended the camp there, he was just “coming back” from an injury.
“And right after that I went to a couple of Velocity Tour events, and I placed in the top 3. Then I took second at the Velocity Finals to go to the PBR World Finals. Right after I left this camp, everything was clicking, and I was just doing everything right. I couldn’t fall off anything I got on,” he said. “I love coming to this place. It’s the best. I wish that I could buy, even just a little trailer house or something, so I could live here and just come here every day, so I’m training to be the best that I can.”
Twenty-four athletes attended the last training in February. Also in attendance were Cody Casper, Dakota Louis, Ezekiel Mitchell, Jake Goodson, Joe Frost, Kache Moosman, Marcus Mast, Ounice Mitchell, Shad Winn, Thor Hoefer II, Tyler Werner and Venn Johns.
“The athletes were interested in the topics, asked great questions and all of them left the training wanting more,” said Aubrey O’Quin, director of programs and operations for the Western Sports Foundation. “The mental toughness workout session is always fun to witness. During the training, individuals became a team, encouraging one another, pushing each other and coming together as a unit. The athletes leave the training feeling prepared both mentally and physically for the next competition and also confident they have an organization that will be there for them in the future beyond competition.”
Two trainings are scheduled for July, depending on Colorado state restrictions for gatherings. If COVID-19 should prevent that, they’ll hold them virtually. The final 2020 training is tentatively scheduled for Nov. 16-18.
The PBR said they’ll continue following government guidance during the coronavirus pandemic, whether during bull riding events or clinics.
Also in this pandemic, PBR bull riders are donning PBR-branded masks made by Sew What? a theatrical drapery manufacturer based in Compton, Calif.
“We realized we were able to produce a very personalized mask, and could help clients by personalizing and developing brand-aware cloth face masks,” said Megan Duckett, founder and CEO of Sew What? “The orders from PBR have helped significantly to fill out our manufacturing schedule, allowing us to keep our sewing staff on full time.”
Getting back to business is important for nearly every person associated with rodeos.
“Our riders, stock contractors and many crew don’t get paid if we don’t have PBR events,” Gleason said. “We’re a family, and in hard times, you work hard to get your family back to work and help them through challenging times. I’m so proud of the hard work, pluck and ingenuity our (PBR) team demonstrated in working 41 straight days to create a comprehensive return-to-competition plan that’s now been shared with a dozen other leagues.”
Other lessons have also been learned while staying at home during these months. Miss Rodeo USA said after the hustle/bustle lifestyle for years, the stay-at-home quarantine has made her take a step back and slow down.
“It’s important to remember to not get caught up in the busy lifestyle all the time, and that taking time for yourself and to be with your family is just as important,” Wallace said. “I think I have learned it’s important to have a balance between the two.”
— Hadachek is a freelance writer who lives on a farm with her husband in north central Kansas and is also a meteorologist and storm chaser. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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