By Kylah Comley
You bust out of the gates, your hand grips the rope as your horse blows out. Your horse rears up, your butt is thrown out of the saddle, you let go of your saddle while you throw your feet forward and lift on the reign. You’re back in the drivers seat. As the horse hits the ground, you throw your body back to absorb the shock. Ten feet below you see the dirt, determined to stay on, you ignore the thought of being thrown off. One second. Only seven more to go.
Staying on a bucking horse for eight seconds may look easy to some, but, according to Sterling High School senior Tim Williams, it’s harder than it looks.
“I do bronc riding for the adrenaline rush. Not just that, though, it’s the hardest event in rodeo to learn. The learning curve is straight up, and you either do it or you don’t and I like the challenge,” Williams said. “If you don’t do one thing right, if just one thing is wrong, you’re off the horse in half a second.”
There are many techniques that come with learning how to bronc ride, many of which determine how long you stay on your horse. For Williams that is the trick to riding the complete eight seconds.
“The hardest part about learning how to ride for me was learning how to let go of the saddle, which makes no sense at all, but you have to let go of it to sit back down and get in the driver’s seat, which is where you want to be, the only time I’m really in my saddle is when the horse hits the ground,” he said. “I’ve ridden a couple rides out, and it’s the craziest feeling ever, better than anything else in the world. There’s not really a word to explain quite what that feels like. I’m always shaking from the adrenaline rush when I get off.”
Williams suffered from the fear of getting bucked off of a horse in his early days of riding.
“I used to get really scared of being on a horse like that,” he said. “But I got used to hitting the ground. I’ve done front flips and landed on my shoulder blades and all kinds of stuff while being thrown off. I’ve landed on my head so many times, it’s no big deal now.”
Williams was introduced to rodeo by his dad who participated in events until he met his wife and started a family.
“We grew up cowboyin’ and stuff all the time, ranchin’ all most. Dad had a bunch of pastures we would check, and we would get paid per cow. We did that during the summer time, and that’s how we paid for our horses and for them to eat and stuff,” he said. “I was probably around 6 when I first started youth rodeo, and I’ve been hooked on it ever since.”
While bronc riding is Williams’ favorite event, he has also participated in breakaway, goat tying, ribbon robin, calf roping, light riffle and trap shooting.
“I pay for my own entry fees. That was kinda the deal when my brother and I started rodeo — we would pay the fees and my parents would get us there,” he said. “My parents are my biggest supporters and without them there’s no way I would be able to do any of this.”
The average entry fee for bronc riding is $50, and it costs anywhere from $375-$500 to take care of one horse for a month.
“Because rodeo and having horses are so expensive, that puts a little more pressure on winning. Rodeo is the only sport you can make money off of,” Williams said. “Of course professional athletes get paid, but I can win money for doing well at my age now. I won $1,500 off of roping one day.”
Despite the pressure and fees of rodeo, Williams feels that the feeling of success makes it all worth it. He has competed in Nationals five times since his career began in 2005.
“Nationals is the worlds biggest rodeo by numbersI think there’s more than 1,500 contestants who enter,” he said. “To be able to be a part of that is a pretty big deal.”
While Williams has found success in rodeo for 11 years there are other students at Sterling who are new to his world. One of which is senior Clayton Duft, who competed in bareback riding his first rodeo last August.
“I come from a rodeo background, both of my parents used to do it,” he said. “It wasn’t until I went to a few professional rodeos that I decided that I wanted to start competing. I haven’t placed in any events yet, but I think naturally with more practice I will get better.”
Sterling freshman Eryn Spangenberg, a more experienced rider, spends most of her weekends competing in barrel racing, breakaway, goat tying and pole bending.
“Pole bending is my favorite thing that I do in rodeo because of the adrenaline rush and because I win a lot,” Spangenberg said. “You basically run straight forward with your horse and run in and out between six poles, and then you sprint back.”
She takes part in Kingman’s Heartland Youth Rodeo Association season. Twice she has won overall pole bending champion, meaning she was named best rider in that event over the course of 14 rodeos. On Feb. 21 she was also awarded the Reserve All-Around Champion, which means she was the best all-around female rider for all events in her age group.
“I don’t think that many students know that this is something I am good at it. They just know I rodeo,” she said. “Rodeo is a competative sport to me, and many people don’t realize how competative or challenging it is.”
Sterling sophomore Mardee Thompson feels rodeo is a new interest she would like to continue.
“I just started working at it at the end of the summer, and my first rodeo was in November,” she said. “I have shown horses all my life, and I was just losing interest in it and wanted something new. So I started thinking about rodeo and what great opportunities it could bring me.”
Though Thompson is just beginning and seeing success in roping, there are many years of riding ahead of her.
“I really enjoy it because it makes me work for it and it’s challenging at first. I know that most of the time that things go right it’s because the hard work has paid off,” she said. “I want to continue pursuing that passion and getting better and competing at a higher level and see where it takes me in my life.”
Comley is a senior at Sterling High School north of Wichita. She is the editor of her student magazine. This story is being published by Wichita Family in recognition of her journalistic accomplishment and abilities as a student journalist.