Nebraska's Big Rodeo

Rodeo returns to Burwell this year much as it did in 1921 when Homer C. Stokes started the town's first-ever rodeo in 1921 with wild horse race, bronc riding and calf roping.

The facilities at Nebraska's Big Rodeo are listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, so care is taken to try and keep the event very similar to the way it was presented in the 1920's. The facilities boast one of the largest outdoor rodeo areas in the world, so the rodeo committee tries to use it to it's fullest potential.

Few rodeo shows offer action both on the track and in the arena simultaneously. Events like clown acts, the dinner bell derby, a mounted flag presentation and much more may be happening at the same time as regular events take place in the arena. Many visitors say they must return just to see what they missed the first time.

Nebraska's Big Rodeo and the Garfield County Fair feature facilities which capture the rustic charm and importance of the annual event. The rodeo and fair are held each year on a sprawling 40 acres of grounds, and have plenty of room to accommodate the growing needs of such a popular event. Features of the facility are:

· One of the world's largest outdoor arenas.

· 3/4 mile track surrounding the arena.

· Original covered grandstands built by the Garfield County Ag Society.

· Ten bucking chutes, roping chutes, newly installed pens and sorting corrals.

· Outdoor dance pavilion.

· 4-H Extension building, animal exhibits and barns, and continuous youth shows.

· An established midway with permanent stands and a large community building.

· Nostalgic ticket office and booths.

· Centrally located on Highway 11, near the City of Burwell.

· Beautiful grounds which are recognized throughout the country and which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 2006 crews worked for several weeks to paint and refinish several areas at the fairground including the North covered grandstands which appear in their signature red and white colors. The Rodeo Board and community groups work year-round to maintain and add to the beauty of their fairgrounds.


The History Of Rodeo

Rodeo, one of the most exciting spectator sports, was believed to be born in 1864, when two groups of cowboys from rival ranches met in Deer Trail, Colorado to settle an argument over who was the better cowboy. This meeting was believed to be the first true "rodeo" and thus began the evolution of a true American sport.

The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) was created in 1936 through necessity when a group of cowboys walked out of a rodeo held at the Boston Gardens in protest of the refusal of rodeo promoter W.T. Johnson to add the cowboys entry fees to the prize money. Johnson, recognizing a formable foe, finally gave in to the cowboy's demands. The success of the "strike" led to the formation of the Cowboy's Turtle Association.

The colorful name, Cowboy's Turtle Association, was chosen by the cowboys because although they were slow to organize, when it came down to the wire, they weren't afraid to stick their necks out to get what they wanted.

The Cowboy Turtle Association changed their name in 1945 to the Rodeo Cowboys Association and again in 1975 to the current name of the organization, the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, PRCA.


Roughstock Events

Roughstock events, named for the obvious hazards to life and limb, include bareback riding, saddle bronc riding and bull riding. The contestant's score in these three events is dependent upon both the performance of the cowboy riding the animal and the animal's ability to rid itself of the rider.

Eight seconds can be a lifetime in the roughstock events, and 8 seconds is the time a cowboy must stay on a bucking horse or bull, hanging on with just one hand, to have a qualifying ride. A cowboy is disqualified if he touches the animal with his free hand.

An additional challenge to the cowboy in the saddle bronc and bareback events, is the "mark out " rule. A cowboy must exit the chute with his spurs above the horses shoulders and remain in this position until the horse's front feet hit the ground after it's initial jump from the chute or he is disqualified, in other words, the cowboy "missed him out".

Bareback Riding

Bareback Riding combines extreme physical strength with the ability
to adjust to the motions of the horse in a split second. It is one of
rodeo's most physically demanding events, taking a heavy toll on the
cowboy's body. A successful ride depends on the cowboy's spurring
technique and his ability to look good while being tossed about on the
back of the bucking bronc. As there is nothing attached to the horse's
head, the cowboy never knows exactly where that horse is going, and
must take what suprises come in stride. The cowboy once again is
required to hang on with one hand only to a specialized piece of
equipment called a bareback rigging which fits over the withers
(top of the back above the shoulders) and is attached by a cinch
around the belly.



Saddle Bronc Riding

Saddle Bronc Riding is a classic rodeo event requiring strength, style, grace and precise timing. The rider must synchronize his moves with the motion of the horse, the performance goal being a smooth ride and a high score. A thick rope rein is attached to the horses halter and the cowboy is seated in a special "bronc saddle". If the rider touches any part of the horse or his own body with his free hand he is disqualified.









Bull Riding

Bull Riding is the most dangerous event in rodeo and likewise the most popular with spectators. Every bull is unique, with different dispositions and styles of bucking. Some bulls buck straight ahead, some are "spinners", bucking and jumping in tight circles and some bulls, the "bad" bulls, have only one thing in mind, physical revenge. Serious injury or death are always a possibility to riders in this event. The bulls used in this event weigh in at a ton or more and often have dangerous horns. Bull riding requires balance, flexibility, coordination, quick reflexes and intense physical strength. Courage is also a prerequisite for a bull rider. Riders are judged on their form and style and are disqualified if they touch the animal with the free hand.

Protective equipment wore by bull riders, such as vests and headgear are becoming more prominent in the arena. The protective vest worn by many athletes was invented by PBR Vice President and former bronc and bull rider Cody Lambert. The vest not only absorbs shock, it dissipates it over a larger area. The vest is made of a material called Kevlar, the same material used to make bullet-proof vests. Since the athletes began wearing the vests, the number of internal injuries has dropped dramatically. (Source: Professional Bull Riders Association).





Beating the clock is key in the timed events. The goal is to post the fastest time in each event and speed is crucial.

Steer Wrestling

Steer Wrestling is one of the quickest events in rodeo and also one of the most challenging. The cowboy must leap onto the steer from a galloping horse and wrestled the steer to the ground. Steers usually weigh more than twice the weight of a cowboy so strength coupled with speed and precision are important.


Calf Roping

Calf Roping showcases the skills of both the cowboy and his horse. The cowboy must throw his rope accurately and the horse must pull back hard enough to take of the slack in the rope, but not so hard as too pull the calf of it's feet. Horses are trained to come to a stop after the calf is caught and to watch the calf at all times, keeping the rope tight. After the cowboy has tied the calf's legs, the cowboy mounts his horse and moves forward to create slack in the rope. For a qualifying score, the calf must stay tied and not kick free. The combination of the cowboy's skill with a rope, coordination and sprinting ability and the horse's athleticism come into play in this fast paced event.




Barrel Racing

Barrel racing , is a rodeo event that features a horse or barrel racer and one rider, running a cloverleaf pattern around three barrels in a triangular arrangement.

The cowgirl or cowboy (though barrel racing is traditionally a women's event, at the non-professional level many men also compete) will take a running start on his/her horse and ride towards the first barrel. At the first barrel, a rider should come at a slight angle. It's easier on the horse if you don't come at it straight on. They must make a complete turn around the barrel then race toward the second barrel. At the second barrel, they will again make a complete turn, which means they will make the turn in the opposite direction as the first barrel then accelerate toward the third barrel. At the third barrel they will again make a complete loop in the same direction as the second barrel and then run back across the starting line which also serves as the finish line.

The racer may go to the right barrel first and turn it to the right and the second and third barrel to the left, or he/she can choose to go to the left barrel first in the triangular shaped pattern and turn it to the left and the other two to the right. The choice of which barrel to go to first is usually made by the racer based on the specific abilities of his/her horse and if they turn better to the right or to the left. The racers will pass through an electronic timer entering and leaving the barrel pattern and the elapsed time is the time for the event. However, if the racer tips a barrel over, he/she will be pentalized by getting five seconds added to their time and in this competion where thousandths of seconds make the difference between first and second place, the extra five seconds will entirely take the racer out of the competition.

Since going wide around a barrel is slower, a delicate balance of speed and control must be made to achieve the fastest times. The time of the event is affected by the size of the arena in which the event is held and the distance between each barrel relative to the others and the time line. The stardard barrel pattern looks like an isosceles triangle with a base of 90 feet and sides each of 105 feet. The distance from the first barrel to the time line is 60 feet. These distances can be adjusted to fit the size of the arena in which the event is held, but the distance between the corner barrels and the top barrel must be equal.

A cowboy hat is part of the dress code for the event; if the riders hat falls off during a race, a rider will be fined $10-$25. This fine is unique to barrel-racing, though it is falling out of favor in non-professional competitions. The western shirt ,jeans , cowboy boots, and western belt (usually with a prize buckle the competitor has won) complete the dress-code of the barrel racing event.

The sport is governed by several bodies. The Women's Pro Rodeo Association (WPRA) governs on the professional level and several amateur associations exist, including the National Barrel Horse Association (NBHA).

Team Roping

Team roping also known as heading and heeling is a rodeo event that features a steer (typically a Corriente ) and two mounted cowboys. The steers are moved through narrow pathways leading to a chute with spring loaded doors. A rope of designated length determined by the length of the box is fastened around the steer's neck which is used to ensure that the steer gets a head start. On one side of the chute is the header whose job is to rope the steer around the horns, neck or half-head, and turn the steer to the left. On the other side of the chute is the heeler whose job is to rope the steer around the hind legs.

The header sits on his horse to the left of the steer in an area called the box . A taut rope fastened with an easily broken string called the barrier runs in front of the header and is fastened to the rope on the steer. When the header is ready, s/he calls for the steer and the chute help trips a lever opening the doors. The suddenly freed steer breaks out running. When the steer reaches the end of the rope, the string breaks and simultaneously releases the barrier. The header must rope the steer around the horns and then take a dally , that is a couple of wraps of the rope around the horn of the saddle. Speed is important and some have lost fingers in this event. Once the header has made the dally, he will turn his horse and the steer will follow, still running.

The heeler waits until the header has turned the steer. When he has a clear way, he throws a loop of rope under the running steer's hind legs and catches them. As soon as the steer is stretched out, an official waves a flag and the time is taken. The steer is released and trots off. There is a 5 second penalty for roping only one hind leg and a 10 second penalty for breaking the barrier.

The event takes between 4 and 12 seconds for a professional team. Originally cowboys employed this same technique on the open range to work cattle.


The Rodeo Clown/Bullfighter

A rodeo clown or bull fighter is a rodeo performer who works on bull riding contests. His primary job is to protect the rider from the bull after he dismounts or is bucked off, by distracting the bull and providing alternative targets for the bull to chase. Additionally, bull fighters may improve the bull rider's score by turning a bull back that runs down the arena (e.g., by grabbing his horn or getting the bull to follow him while the rider is on his back. Rodeo clowns also provide traditional clowning entertainment for the crowd between rodeo events, often parodying aspects of cowboy culture.

Rodeo clowns enter the ring on foot, before the bull is let loose, wearing bright, loose-fitting clothes. Their role is particularly important when a rider has been injured, in which case the rodeo clown interposes himself between the bull and the rider, or uses techniques such as running off at an angle, throwing a hat, or shouting, so that the injured rider can make it out of the ring.

Typically, rodeo clowns work in groups of three, with two free-roaming bullfighters and a third rodeo clown who is known as the barrel man . The barrel man uses a large padded barrel that he can jump in and out of easily, and the barrel helps to protect the rodeo clown from the bull.

Rodeo clowns have one of the more dangerous jobs in show business, because their job's stuntman requirements -- improvisational comedy with half-wild bulls -- expose them to a range of potential injuries from the bulls. As a result, injuries to rodeo clowns are common.

Well known rodeo clowns include Quail Dobbs ,Johnny Tatum , and Slim Pickens.

Motor Cycle Dare Devils - FMX

Chapter 11 FMX Motorcycle Extreme Will Appear at all four performances of Nebraska's Big Rodeo.The motorcycle free style team consists of seven riders, Jason Ebel, Aryln VanDemarl, Eddie Spaulding, D.J. Umphries, Brandon Peters, Karlvon Knobelsclorff and Denim Cox. This is an exciting addition to the traditional outstanding talent at every performance of Nebraska's Big Rodeo.









Chuck Wagon Races & Chariot Races

The Chuckwagon and Chariot Races at Nebraska's Big Rodeo are one event in which people can get as much excitement from the owners and operators of the rigs as they do from the actual races. The wagons/chariots are drawn by a team of four ponies, bred for speed and agility, and driven by gutsy people. The race begins with a blow from an airhorn and a fast figure-eight around two barrels, and continues with an all-out pony race around the track and to the finish line in front of the grandstands. The wagons adorn the names of local businesses, so fans have plenty of opportunity to cheer for their favorite team!



Wild Horse Race
The wild horse race is one of the most popular and dangerous events held at Nebraska's Big Rodeo.








Junior Steer Riding

Steer riding was introduced to Nebraska's Big Rodeo approximately fifteen years ago. The directors of Nebraska's
Big Rodeo were looking for an event that would capture the heart of the Rodeo fan and has proven to be a crowd favorite. A steer rider has to be nine to twelve years of age. They get to rub shoulders with their Bull Riding idols back behind the chutes as they are preparing for their event.

The steers used are steers that were retired from professional Rodeo competition that were previously used in Steer Wrestling or Team Roping. They temporarily leave their retirement long enough to give a young Bull Rider of the future a boost up the Rodeo ladder.










The Dinner Bell Derby

The Dinner Bell Derby began as a race to see which colt actually got its dinner first. This race was changed to the Dinner Bell Derby because like many horse races, there were many fights and disagreements. The winner of the Dinner Bell Derby is the first colt to cross the finish line. This is still one of the most loved events of the rodeo.









Trick Riders

Trick riders and speciality acts add excitement, color, and pageantry to any rodeo
performance. Although trick riding today is seen as "rodeo entertainment" it was
once a competition.





Health and Care of Rodeo Stock

Healthy, athletic livestock is essential to the success of professional rodeo. In every event, the performance of the animal is as important as the performance of the cowboy. No cowboy can win if his animal doesn't perform well.

It stands to reason then, the better the livestock is treated, the better it will perform. It has long been gospel among cowboys that their animals will be fed and cared for before the cowboy thinks of himself.

Timed-event cowboys regard their horses as partners, knowing success requires the best effort of each. Most time-event horses of PRCA cowboys are registered American Quarter Horses.

The calves and steers used in timed events are equally as vital. A quick and alert calf or steer is essential for a winning run.

As an incentive to owners, the top professional rodeo animals are rewarded each year through a variety of sponsor programs.

Copenhagen-Skoal Pro Rodeo presents bonuses to the owners of roughstock animals selected by top PRCA cowboys as the best bucking stock of the year.

The American Quarter Horse Association annually recognizes the top horses in professional rodeo's timed events-calf roping, steer wrestling, team roping (both heading and heeling), steer roping and barrel racing - and their owners.

The PRCA boasts more than 60 stock contractors, and the competitive nature of the business offers them incentive to buy and maintain the heartiest animals possible.



To spectators in the grandstands, the rodeo cowboy might seem the embodiment of a fading American dream, a rugged individual with no bosses to answer to, no time clocks to punch, no rigid workday schedule to follow.

All that may be true. But rodeo life is also tough, a long shot at fame and fortune and a better shot at broken bones and long roads.

Events sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association comprise one of the fastest-growing sports in America. But, to the cowboys and cowgirls who compete, rodeo is more than a sport - it's a lifestyle that offers heartbreak and reward in equal measures. The cowboy doesn't compete at rodeo as much as he lives it.

The most successful cowboys - those who finish in the Top 15 and qualify for the National Finals Rodeo - might travel to as many as 125 rodeos per year, covering perhaps 100,000 miles.

Ask a cowboy why he competes, and he might shrug and answer, "Why not?" Rodeo encompasses the attributes America covets in its sports - explosive action, danger, extraordinary skill and refined talent - and the cowboys who ride are some of the most rugged individualists in athletics.

Cowboys still drive pickups, still work cattle, still say "ma'am" and "sir", and still wear jeans and boots. But today's cowboy is a businessman as well as an athlete, as likely to have refined his skills at a rodeo school as on a ranch.

They pursue glory in the dust and mud of rodeo arenas across North America. But, unlike other professional athletes, the rodeo cowboy must pay to compete. Every rodeo requires an entry fee, which guarantees only a promise to compete for prize money. One missed throw, one slipped grip and the cowboy doesn't recoup his entry fee.

While many traditions of rodeo remain intact, some innovations by today's rodeo cowboy have improved competition conditions and the cowboy's opportunity to make a living in the arena. One of those changes is the PRCA's buddy group system, a concept that allows rodeo partners to travel together and to compete at rodeos during the same performance.

Rodeo is demanding. But the life of the American cowboy has never been easy.

Professional rodeo is the only American sport that evolved from skills required in a work situation, and it's one of the most punishing sports in the world. The events of professional rodeo were drawn directly from the tasks of the range cowboy - primarily roping calves and riding broncs. The typical cowboy of the 19th century worked 18-hour days, seven days per week. And on any given day, he might be thrown from a horse or charged by a wild steer.

The demands faced by today's rodeo cowboy are different, but no less daunting. Behind every eight-second ride and every cheering crowd are countless hours of traveling and competing.

But the cowboy's life is a special one, envied by many and experienced by few.


Browse Barns

Come visit the browse barns on the west side of the fairgrounds which are packed with booths full of crafts, food, exhibits, and other items of interest. Also located in one of the barns is the open class exhibits featuring garden stuffs, photography, quilts, and many other exhibits. The browse barns are a great place to spend time before or after the rodeo performances. "Browse" through and plan on doing some early Christmas shopping.



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