The calls of the roping team echo through the corral and across the field while fellow competitors, some mounted, others standing, relax and watch the chase. Small children run across the grass and climb fences to watch the riders or to get a closer look at the brahma bulls. At some point, the lights around the coral are turned on, illuminating the haze of dust in the air as the riders continue to demonstrate their skills in the hope of taking home a share of the winnings.
Welcome to the rodeo. However, this isn’t the rodeo most people are thinking of?it’s a ranch rodeo. There’s one planned for Friday evening, Aug. 9, at the Crawford County Fair.
Yes, there is barrel racing and bull riding. These folks love their sport and their animals. But, the real focus is on the practical skills of working with animals. It takes an understanding of cattle, their body language and thinking, communication and coordination amongst the riders, and control and cooperation between horse and rider.
Loading and penning are two of the events. Teams are made up of four riders who have 60 seconds to gather the named calves and load or pen them while keeping the unnamed calves in a specific part of the corral. Run overtime or let one of those unnamed calves cross the ‘trash’ line and you’re out of competition for that ride.
Roping is also a featured event.
“There are a lot of rules about what you do to protect the animals,” said Tracy Byl, an event organizer. “We don’t want animals being hurt or mistreated.”
The cattle are a significant investment on any farm. Byl and her husband Ken supply those used in the ranch rodeos held in Gays Mills.
“Any age can ride,” said Byl. “You have to have a horse to ride and three members to compete.”
This season, competitors from eight to 70 years old have mounted up to compete. Byl expects anywhere between 12 to 20 teams at the county fair.
Competition winners earn a portion of the proceeds, or payback, as it is known. Entry into an event is $25 per rider.
The event is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m., though Byl expects to not begin until after 6:30 or so to give attendees time to get there after their workday.
There is no admission for those who would like to watch the ranch rodeo, though admission to the Crawford County Fair is $5 per person for everyone over nine years of age.
The rodeo does offer some concessions and more will be available at the various fair concession stands. Seating is quite limited, so if you don’t care to sit or lean on the fence, you may want to bring a folding chair.