When the Lone Star Rodeo rolls into the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center this week it will do so as a family company that has been intact for nearly seven decades. On the face of it, this is astounding. You wonder why roping bulls and riding a horse through barrel slaloms stays exciting over the better part of a century, but then you realize that it stays popular in the same way that a bunch of guys throwing a ball to one another is. There is something elemental about physical skill and competition that we never can get enough of, and the rodeo adds the element of danger as well as some entertainment in a way that is uniquely its own.
Rachel Fowlkes Boyd grew up in the rodeo that her father founded and now runs it with the rest of the family, but she wasn’t raised to be an organizer, that just happened. From the time she was very young she learned to rope and ride and became a competitor, qualifying for ever bigger prizes awards and, most important, the right to compete in regional and national championships.
Rodeos are a lot like marathons that way. At certain levels anyone can compete, but only the top prize winners are invited to compete in, say, the national championships. Lone Star is one of the oldest and biggest rodeo producers in the country, running more than 40 rodeos annually in the eastern half of the country. Rachel said that local semi-pros and amateurs can and do compete against national title holders in Salisbury in an attempt to break into the sport, or at least to get a sense of how committed they are to going pro.
Danger at Every Turn: The Bulls Are Real
Keeping the competitions competitive has to do with more than making certain there are plenty of talented professionals on hand to keep things interesting. I asked Rachel how she keeps the bulls from getting bored and she told me that they just keep a lot of bulls. Although they’re a traveling rodeo, the keep the bulls on their Kentucky farm, driving different bulls to each event as a method of keeping the bulls at the top of their game.
Although I guess bulls can be “broken” that isn’t the point of the competition. The point of the bull riding competition is to see how long a rider can hang on, not whether the rider can tame it. Bulls are selected for the ability to throw riders. They are selected for stamina. Many are bred specifically to throw guys of their backs. Similarly, the clowns who run at the bulls to distract the riders are professionals, they just aren’t bred to it.
Clowns, in addition to distracting the bulls also have a different part to play. They are there to entertain the crowd between events while the staff resets the field for the next competition. This is the first of many things that separates rodeo as part entertainment and part sport. Keeping kids interested, especially young ones is an important part of the rodeo’s continuation as well as its mystique. Rachel and the staff go out of their way to make it a children friendly affair.
Beyond just having the animals there, which is always a treat for kids, the Lone Star Rodeo also has a best dressed cowboy and cowgirl competition and a Gold Rush wherein prizes are hidden in hay for the children to discover by digging through it. Rachel said they also sell plenty of authentic and replica western wear, in case people want to dress the part.
The 2016 Lone Star Rodeo takes place Friday and Saturday, Jan. 22 and 23 at the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center. For more information visit the website here.