Rodeo: Extreme sports culture
With more than 100 years of history in Jackson Hole, rodeo is a blend of family fun, daring athleticism, and Western tradition.
By Miller N. Resor, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
June 6, 2012
Rodeo is both an extreme sport and a reflection of this town’s Western roots.
Long before an official rodeo ground was established in the center of Jackson in 1911, ranch hands would gather in Wilson or at far-flung dude ranches to show off their skills and test their mettle.
It seems that even the first settlers of this town were inclined to crazy acts of athleticism and ego-bolstered feats of daring.
The 2012 edition of the Jackson Hole Rodeo kicked off Memorial Day weekend and will continue every Wednesday and Saturday at 8 p.m. throughout the summer.
“Pretty girls, warm weather and bucking horses.” That is what Mark Nelson, the 2011 Jackson Hole Saddle Bronc Champion, is looking forward to this summer at the Jackson Hole Rodeo.
Nelson scored 137 points over the course of last summer’s rodeos to secure the buckle and, in the process, take home more than $2,400. Nelson, 47, has ridden saddle broncs most of his life. He won his first championship in 1985.
He explained that the rough stock events — bareback, saddle bronc and bull riding — are scored on a point system based on two rides per night. Judges grade the rider’s style and technique as well as the animal’s meanness and fight. Final scores are based on 100 points, and the top three places take home money.
“You pretty much have to ride in them all if you want to win,” Nelson said, explaining what it takes to be named champion. There are 35 rodeos during the season. “If you get hurt and miss some, it definitely hurts your chances.
“Sometimes it’s hard to get up in the morning,” he said. “Sometimes I ask myself what the heck I’m doing.”
Just like any other sport, rodeo takes hard work, practice and training. To stay in shape, Nelson boxes, climbs Snow King and plays hockey. Hockey, he said, is great for his ankles, which he has broken repeatedly in his bronc-riding career.
“The better shape you are in, the better you are,” he said.
Kelly Merriott, the 2D and 3D Champion Barrel Racer two years running, agrees. She said that keeping herself and her horse sound — riding him frequently and feeding him right — is essential.
She prepares herself in many of the same ways she did when she rowed crew. “You have to be prepared mentally and physically,” she said.
Merriott races in the 2D and 3D categories — below the fastest 1D category — because she has a family, a full time job and doesn’t feel she can train enough to race at the top level. Her husband ropes, and her daughter also barrel races, so Merriott said the rodeo is “a huge family thing for us.”
“It’s also all about enjoying myself with family and friends, and, of course, doing as well as we can,” she said.
The Wilson family, the current owners of the rodeo, do an excellent job, she said.
“With everything from the announcers to the grand entry at the beginning of the rodeo, they really bring out the Western heritage that is at the heart of the rodeo. It is a very special thing to be involved in.”