Sunday, May 21, 2017

Payson's Gary Hardt Memorial PRCA Rodeo

(c) 2017 MJ Miller

I unabashedly love rodeo.  It's more than just the pleasure of watching the rough stock riders, barrel racers, ropers, and corny clown gags; it's the value system, the tribute to western history, the lifestyle. It's the pure joy of patriotism and the hearkening back to a simpler time when we all seemed to know which way was up and who the good guys were. It's the rodeo kids and the value of taking a risk and the fact if you're going to win, you've got to stay on the horse - and when you fall, you fall hard, but you get up anyway. And when you get up, everyone in the stands is with you because they want to see you succeed. 

Rodeo Royalty
(c) 2017 MJ Miller

Every rodeo has its own unique flavor and energy. Some are heavy on fanfare, rules, and over-crowded stands; others are small-town events, casual and welcoming.

We headed to Payson last night to the Gary Hardt Memorial PRCA Rodeo - my first visit to that particular event. It's named after Payson native Gary Spillsbury Hardt, who rode bulls for twenty years before competing in roping events. Hardt died in a construction accident in Flagstaff in 1987 when he was only 44 years old, leaving five children behind.

Rodeo's like that. It honors those who've gone before and it faithfully pays homage to those who've earned it. It's heavy on flags and, as announcer Reed Flake reminded us, last night was "Red, White and Blue night" as well as "Armed Forces Day."  As such, in addition to the ubiquitous U.S. flag, singing of the national anthem, and color guard, last night's performance included a display of the flag for each division of the nation's military - and the POW / MIA flags as well.  

Honoring the USMC
(c) 2017 MJ Miller
Larger rodeos don't have the same feel as the small-town events. I'm a fan of the latter. The Hardt rodeo brings the mutton-busting and steer-riding events for the newer generation of competitors right into the prime-time performances. Mutton-busting is for the little ones: kids (both boys and girls) cling to sheep for their score. The older youth ride steers - castrated male cattle, for you sheltered city types - and hone their skills for potential bull riding in the future.

A Top Contender in the Mutton-Busting Contest
(c) 2017 MJ Miller

The two boys below are young "bullfighters" working the mutton-busting event. Adorned with the scarves and colorful socks the professional "bullfighters" wear as they protect riders from the livestock, the boys were quick to console and praise the children competing.

Young "Bullfighter" Encourages Mutton-Buster #177
(c) 2017 MJ Miller
The Young "Bullfighters" for the Mutton Busting Event
(c) 2017 MJ Miller

Rodeos run in some families the way Ivy League educations run in others. The "pick-up men" at the Payson rodeo were brothers. It's not uncommon to see teams of brothers in the team roping, or family members serving as "hazers" in the steer wrestling. 

A "Pick-Up Man" Assists a Roughstock Rider in Safely Dismounting
(c) 2017 MJ Miller

Small-town rodeos depend on sponsorships from local businesses, many with long-time ties to the community. Roy Haught Excavating sponsored the Saddle Bronc event; the Haught family were pioneers who settled the Tonto Basin. The rodeo queens represent rodeos throughout the state and promote local businesses, carrying their banners into the arena at a dead gallop in between events. 

Saddle Bronc Rider

Saddle Bronc, Sans Rider

Another good thing about rodeo? The clowns aren't scary. They're good-natured, upbeat, and predictable in their down-home humor. At one point I completed one of the jokes before it was delivered. Husband-person turned to me and said, "You've been to too many rodeos."

Idaho Rodeo Clown, Don Landis, Entertains the Crowd
(c) 2017 MJ Miller

Husband's wrong, though. You can never go to too many rodeos. 

(c) 2017 MJ Miller

Copyright (c) 2017 Marcy J. Miller * All rights reserved * No part of this content, including photographs, may be reproduced without the express permission of the author * Links, however, may be freely shared and are greatly appreciated * Thank you for liking, linking, sharing, tweeting, and otherwise helping grow my audience * Most of all, thank you for visiting and for enjoying our great American West.