Life Lessons from the Western Rodeo Circuit The National Western Stock Show and Rodeo is the biggest event of the year in Denver, drawing cowboys and spectators from all over the country. Most of the competitions center on a single cowboy, but one event — team roping — involves two cowboys attempting to tie up a 400-lb. steer.
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Life Lessons from the Western Rodeo Circuit

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Life Lessons from the Western Rodeo Circuit

Life Lessons from the Western Rodeo Circuit

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliott.

It's the last day of the National Western Stock Show and Rodeo. That's the biggest event of the year in Denver, Colorado. The show draws hundreds of thousands of spectators from all over the country. Competitors show off their cattle, horses, llamas, bison, yak, while cowboys show off their roping skills. Usually they compete alone, but there is one team event. In team roping, two cowboys attempt to tie up a 400-pound steer.

NPR's Jeff Brady sends us a little slice of the action.

JEFF BRADY: Thirty-three-year-old Kirt Jones is a team roper and a 21st century cowboy. There's the hat, the boots, the jeans, but also some very nice Versace glasses.

Mr. KIRT JONES (Cowboy): These were on sale. And I thought they were awesome, so I bought them. But yeah, they're - yeah, I don't know. That is funny. I've caught a little heck from my buddies. They're like, hey, you're wearing designer glasses. You look pretty sharp now.

BRADY: Jones grew up on a ranch in New Mexico. He's a third-generation roper and started displaying his skills early on.

Mr. JONES: I was roping when I was seven years old, swinging the rope, roping something - my sister, which my dad didn't like, but other things too.

BRADY: After college, Jones decided to become a professional cowboy. For him, that means about a hundred rodeos a year and not making wagonloads of money.

Like most rodeo sports, team roping evolved out of ranch life. The goal is to tie up a steer. On the ranch, this is usually done to wrangle animals that are too large for one person to handle.

In the arena, two cowboys are working against the clock. There's a header - he lassoes the horns - and the heeler, like Jones, who lassoes the steer's hooves.

ANNOUNCER: Next team is from old Colorado.

BRADY: Just before the event, Jones and his partner are in a paddock at the edge of the arena, sitting on horses, ropes in hand. The steer is between them.

ANNOUNCER: But once this steer is loose (unintelligible) in front of the header almost instantly. The minute he leaves the box, look at him start to move left.

BRADY: The announcers play loud, dramatic music once the steer and the two cowboys explode onto the dirt floor.

(Soundbite of applause)

ANNOUNCER: (Unintelligible)

BRADY: The entire event is over within 10 seconds. Jones and his partner don't succeed in tying up this steer. In fact, the first couple of teams all fail to do this.

Jones says he just couldn't get his rope around the steer's legs. He says one important life lesson in the rodeo is humility and picking yourself back up after a loss.

Outside the arena, vendors are selling everything from pink cowboy hats to kettle corn.

Spectator Johnnie Mayhan says he found a close-knit community as a young cowboy that persists today.

Mr. JOHNNIE MAYHAN (Cowboy): Us rodeo people, we got friends all over the United States. I can go from here to Seattle and never spend the night in a motel. Friends along the way to stop and stay with.

BRADY: Mayhan says the most important thing about rodeos is that they keep Western history alive, and they give a 21st-century cowboy a way to make a modest living. And for most, the money is modest. Kirt Jones, the team roper, says it all depends on how many steers he successfully ropes and how much individual rodeos pay.

When he's not doing well, he earns almost nothing. But in the good years, when he makes it to the national finals in Las Vegas, earnings can top $100,000.

Jeff Brady, NPR News. Denver.

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