High school rodeo requires safety seminars

Tuesday , March 18, 2014 - 2:21 PM

Joel Gallob

ROCK SPRINGS, Wyo.— Every participant in certain riding events in the National High School Finals Rodeo had to attend safety instruction seminars before the rodeo started.

"This is required," bareback riding safety seminar instructor Kelly Wardell said.

There were three sessions — one for bareback riding safety, one for saddle bronc safety and one for bull riding safety. After that, riders had to bring their gear forward and have it meticulously checked by more experienced adults.

"We want to make sure everything is according to the rules," Wardell said. "You guys know how to get rigging on your animal, but this is a big rodeo. It’s exciting. You can forget something, and we don’t want anybody to get hurt."

Nobody would be allowed to participate in these events without taking the appropriate seminar, Wardell said.

Fritz Maier, co-chairman of the Rodeo Association Safety Committee, discussed how to get on a horse with only the miniature saddle that goes with bareback riding. He said the saddle is like a suitcase handle with a small curved leather body under it.

Maier put his bareback riding rigging on the top horizontal bar of a metal chute where a horse was ready and kicking.

One of the first concerns, Maier said, is for riders to make sure they don’t hurt the animal.

"Check your equipment," he said. "Make sure there is nothing on it that might hurt the horse. Take as good care of your horse as you do of yourself."

He said the mini-saddle should rest in the pocket behind the horse’s shoulder and riders should make sure the rigging is in straight.

"I’ve seen guys wreck out because the rigging was off," he said.

He said the rodeo officials and those in the chute area will give each rider plenty of time to get equipment examined and positioned.

Maier said riders should be sure the blind is on the horse, they are ready for the gate and somebody is holding the horse’s neck rope so the animal can be properly led into the arena.

Maier said the rodeo has experienced pickup men who help individuals thrown from an animal get to their feet quickly and safely in addition to stopping the horses.

Buddy Mills, the Florida High School Rodeo Association state president, said, "The key to riding is making the equipment last. Get the mud off. See if it is damaged in or after the rodeo. You want to have it packed and ready for the next ride. And check it again before each next ride. The longevity of your career can be cut short by faulty equipment. You can have all the talent in the world, and if you don’t take care of your equipment, you won’t be doing it for long."

Phil Smith, the safety instructor for the saddle bronc riding contestants, urged listeners to inspect their equipment. He said a saddle could have been damaged in the previous event and riders might not know it if they don’t double-check every part and piece of equipment.

He said the people manning the chute will give bronc riders lots of time to get ready.

"They’ll tell you there are five, four, three, two horses ahead of you," Smith said.

He put his saddle on the horse in the stall with help from another rodeo association instructor.

"Get it straight and pulled up like you want it set," Smith said. "Pull your own saddle to get it right."

Smith said he once saw a cowboy who allowed his friends to put the saddle on for him and they did not get it right, leaving it cocked to one side. That rider, Smith said, had to adjust it at nearly the last moment.

"If the saddle ripped half way through in the last event, it could rip the rest of the way through in the next," he said. "You might not see it if there is dirt on your saddle. Check every one of your straps to make sure none it is clean and nothing is cracked."

He also told saddle bronc contestants to watch their spurs.

"If you get hit by surprise by something sharp in the side, you are going to jump. And if you accidentally hit the horse in the side with a spur, what do you think he’s going to do?" Smith asked. "If you’re in the chute and he jumps to the other side, you can break your leg hitting that other side."

He told riders not to move around once they were in position atop the horses.

"Once you are in there good, let it be," he said.

He also said they should be sure somebody is there on the animal’s neck rope to lead it out of the chute.

He also reminded the contestants that the ride is not over when the rider gets off the horse. He said riders should know where the pickup men are waiting because a bucking bronc could come back and kick.

"It can come and mow you over. It happened to me one time," Smith said.

Colorado Northwestern Community College head coach Jed Moore discussed bull riding safety.

He reminded all contestants to check and wear their helmets.

He said some bull riders use a helmet without all the straps or with broken straps. He said to use them all and check them all.

"It won’t save your melon if you do not wear it," he said.

Moore said if anybody has a problem with straps, hooks, mounts or anything else on a helmet, they should speak to an association representative to get it fixed or replaced.

He said riders must make sure their vests are fully functional with fully-functional zippers.

He also said participants should not have anything on boots or straps that could hurt the animals.

"You don’t want anything pointed on there. Wire it so your clips are on the outside. Tape it down. You do not want to cut one of the bulls," Moore said.

Turning to the leg attire known as chaps, Moore said to adjust them so the fringes or chaps do not drag on the ground.

"You don’t want to be tripping on your leggings and then wrecking out," he said.

Moore got on the top bar of the chute while a bull waited inside. He said most of the rodeo’s bulls would have experience with riders.

He urged the riders to hustle in and out and not waste any time because that would be time when something might go wrong.

He said riders should slide down slowly on the animal and let the bulls know they are there. Next, he said riders should use the rope on the bulls to get the animals positioned well. If a bull has its head down, he said the rider should get the head up because it will leave slack in the rope the rider will use to stay on the animal.

Moore had an associate, or spotter, place a hand on his chest. He said spotters should keep their hand on their friend’s chest until rider and bull exit the chute.

"The big thing is your spotter is saving you if the bull kicks. If somebody asks you to spot for him, he is trusting you," Moore said. "Keep your hand on the rider’s chest so he cannot be thrown forward."

Moore reminded the bull riders they must wear mouthpieces. He said this will prevent a concussion if riders get thrown and slam their teeth together.

When riders get thrown off the bull, he said they should signal the pickup men to let them know which side they will get off.

"Step off into your hand," Moore said.

He said right-handed riders should get off to the right and a leftie should head to the left.

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