Danger, excitement lure rodeo fans

Monkey cowboy is a favorite attraction on the rodeo circuit.

by Emily Ayshford

With the smell of leather and manure permeating the arena, Jason Wylie prepares himself for a jarring ride.

He spreads rosin on his glove and files the handle on his rigging, hoping the ritual will help him stay on a bucking horse for eight seconds.

Wylie, a bareback rider and Minnesotan, competed with nine bareback riders in the World’s Toughest Rodeo at the Xcel Energy Center last Friday and Saturday nights.

As a bareback rider, Wylie has no saddle, only a “rigging” – a handle strapped to the horse. During their rides, bareback riders’ spurs must be above the horse’s shoulder blades when its two front feet hit the ground. Riders also can’t touch any part of the horse with their free hand.

They must stay on the horse for eight seconds to be considered for competition.

While eight seconds might not seem like a long time, riding bucking horses for years can take its toll. After seven years of riding, Wylie has a plate and screws in his forearm, and he has suffered a bulging disc in his neck that kept him from riding for about two years.

The sport’s danger often lures fans to rodeos. Rick Lange, a 17-year-old from Lakeville, Minn., said he came to the rodeo Saturday in hopes of “seeing someone go to the hospital.”

Others came for the pure spectacle. It was 20-year-old Musictech College student Nick Mihalevich’s first time at a rodeo.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said.

Heather Jaus, a 20-year-old Century College student, said she also came to “see the show.”

Mihalevich’s only regret was that he missed Whiplash, the dog-riding monkey. Called “the world’s smallest cowboy,” Whiplash rides a border collie as the dog corrals sheep during intermission, and is a crowd favorite on the tour.

With Whiplash as their entertainment, 45 rodeo riders will go on to compete in bareback riding, saddle bronc riding, bull riding and barrel racing categories in 13 more cities across the United States.

Wylie placed second in the bareback category Saturday night, but he said the riders harbor no hard feelings toward one another – their biggest competitors have four legs.

“It’s more or less against the animals,” he said.