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An all Indian Rodeo, From Cowboys to Critters

“There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.” –Winston Churchill

Indian ranches raising Indian livestock to be used in an all-Indian rodeo — it doesn’t get much more authentic than that.

Staying true to tradition, the Indian National Finals Rodeo — the biggest and longest-running rodeo organization in the world — not only imports its Native American cowboys from around the country, the sponsors bring in their own livestock.

“Even though it’s more expensive to have all Indian-owned stock, we made a commitment to showcase rough stock from around Indian Country brought here by Indian-owned contractors,” says INFR’s Perse Hooper.  “We’re an all-Indian rodeo from our cowboys to our critters,” adds INFR general manager Donna Hoyt.

Last year the rides — and the ridden — came from some 40 ranches in Montana; South Dakota; Arizona; Wyoming; New Mexico; Florida, and Alberta, Canada, all ending up in Las Vegas at the South Point Arena and Equestrian Center, home turf for the annual INFR festivities which this year celebrate the 37th gathering of broncs, bares, and bulls.

One of the long-standing INFR Native stock providers is Kenny Young of K/L Bucking Bulls in Page, Arizona.  “Our goal each year is to provide a special pen of stock that adds to the caliber of desired performance — stock that will challenge riders to do their best and give them a chance at a winning score,” says Young’s daughter, Michelle McCabe.

“It’s a balancing act.  We look at degree of difficulty and a bull’s bucking style because we want bulls that provide a high score for the rider.  When the team of rider, bull, and livestock supplier click, it’s a job well done on all fronts.  We enjoy being a part of the experience in making champions.”

John Marchello, born and raised in Montana cattle country, has been around livestock all his life — as a rodeo performer and a livestock provider.  “Last time I counted, I’d supplied stock for over 3,000 rodeos — including timed-event stock and dogging steers for INFR — with several semi-trucks hauling livestock all over the country.”

Providing rodeo livestock and hoping to make a good living at it is not a business for the faint of heart.  “To be a good livestock contractor, you have to invest a lot of money, especially if you’re on the PRCA circuit.  This is not a business for the timid or the undercapitalized.  If you don’t have some top stock, you’re not going to get the big contracts.  That’s why many livestock contractors have a Monday through Friday job to earn a living that allows them to provide rodeo stock on weekends.”

Now working as a meat scientist at the University of Arizona College of Agriculture Food Products and Safety Laboratory in Tucson, Arizona, the industry veteran says there’s no way to know at birth whether an animal will become a star or a slug.

“You can run animals through roping chutes to train them to run straight and be able to go into a stripping chute…getting them comfortable with the loading and exit process…but there’s no way to tell their eventual prospects.  A lot of contractors will take livestock to amateur rodeos to see how well they perform and proceed from there.  If a good bull or horse is discovered, it quickly goes bye bye to one of the 30 or so PRCA contractors in the U.S.”

Marchello says that bull riding and barrel racing are the two top rodeo crowd pleasers.  “The regular spectator, not the died-in-the-wool fan, can relate to barrel racing pretty easily because of the understandable criteria of timing and dexterity.  And, of course, bull riding is the macho event where Type A cowboys try to best Type A bulls.  If you don’t overuse the animals, they’ll last a long time in the arena with some bucking bulls performing as long as 10 years.”

And that’s a lot of determined cowboys along for the wild ride.

The 2012 Indian National Finals Rodeo is scheduled for November 6-10 at South Point Equestrian Center in Las Vegas.  Visit www.INFR.org for details.

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