It has become legendary.
Kim Zierlein | Edited & Re-Written 3.31.2022
The rustic days of the “Old West” are gone, as are most of the unique characteristics that made up the American cowboy’s way of life. As cities continue to expand across the North American landscape devouring the remaining open country, the free-roaming lifestyle of the cowboy is changing. Cody, Wyoming is one of the only places left in the West that the cowboy still lives on today. “Cody is Rodeo.”
This great American sport born on the western plains started as a friend-challenging-friend to feats of horsemanship, roping, and stock handling. The cattle industry and open range grazing formed this way of life during the historical western expansion of the United States in the late 1800s and into the 20th century. From cattle baron to cowboy, it shaped the West. The settlement of the West led to a rich heritage for those of us still living a legendary heritage that was birth during the exciting and controversial time of westward expansion. We still live out that heritage to honor who we are, what we have come from, and where we are going. It’s our living epitaph; we live and breathe our legacy.
Rodeo took its form in cow camps of the West, gathering speed along the trails to northern grazing allotments, and steamrolling ahead to becoming a spectator’s sport in the arena in the modern era of the 20th and 21st centuries. Informal competitions sprang up among cowpunchers to determine the best riders and ropers. These prairie duels grew so popular they moved into towns where rules were established and standardized. Rodeo is the only sport derived from the grass roots of an industry...ranching.
In 1936 what we know as the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) was founded and is the oldest professional cowboy association today. At the inaugural founding of the PRCA modern rodeo was born into a sport. Only a decade after in 1948, the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA) was born. Making this an equality sport almost at its very inception.
In the arena today, rodeo unfolds into an entertainment-driven contest before the masses between cattle, wild horses, bulls, and the wild men and women matching their skill against beast. Rodeo keeps the skills of the West’s working cowboy and cowgirl alive. Jobs such as roping cattle and breaking colts, which were defined by the 19th century cowhands, continue today in the arena of competition. This can be likened to the West’s Colosseum, as a gladiator-like approach of man vs. beast on display before eager spectators.
Professional cowboys today unlike the here and there contests on the range, can compete in up to 100 to 125 rodeos a year! Rough stock contestants can fit closer to 125 rodeos in simply because they do not haul their equine athletes; they meet them in the arena for 8 seconds of fury. These pros are in search of the ultimate title. Like long ago on the prairies men were contesting to see who was best, today the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR) is the crown of professional rodeo. Where the best or the best qualify throughout the year to compete against the best to see who is called King of the cowboys.
No matter the level at which a cowboy competes from hobby to professional, this sport is one that is rich with heritage to share with the world of how a working skill and tradition born on the range can be carried on today as a professional sport in the rodeo arena.