Rodeo Competitor

Insider Info

Heart throbbing! That's how Mike Gill describes riding in the Calgary Stampede when he was 12. There he was on horseback in full western wear in front of 50,000 people.

"I ended up fifth in steer riding," says the 16 year old. Across North America, the revival of country music, cowboy boots and even line-dancing has created new interest in everything western, including rodeo.

Gill is a member of the British Columbia High School Rodeo Association. He competes in team roping, steer wrestling, and bull riding.

"I got into it from a couple friends who are older. They rodeo for a living and they started me out. I've been hooked ever since," says Gill.

"Sixty percent of our membership is first-generation rodeo, meaning the parents aren't involved," says Kent Sturman. He is the head of the National High School Rodeo Association based in Denver, Colorado.

As you can see, the rodeo is not just for cowboys.
Courtesy: Kent Sturman of the National High School Rodeo Association

The NHSRA has an annual membership of over 13,000 students from 38 states and four provinces. It sanctions over 1,100 rodeos each year. Sturman says that makes it one of the fastest growing youth organizations in the nation.

"These things can go in cycles, but our numbers have held steady the last couple of years," he says. The National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association is a recognized rodeo organization at over 135 colleges and universities. Members compete in approximately 10 rodeos a year. They try to earn a trip to the college national finals rodeo.

"You're on a team at the college level," says Nora Hunt. "You practice as a team just like any other college sport, except you can win individual titles as well."

Hunt's team from the University of Nevada at Las Vegas won the nationals for breakaway roping, goat tying and barrel racing. With three events, she practices a minimum of two hours a day.

"It's kind of like doing a job and not getting paid. You practice all week long, and at the end of the week you go to the rodeo," she says.

At the college and high school level, winning at the rodeo can win you scholarships and prizes. But even the most ardent rodeo fan will tell you that does little to offset the costs of participating.

"You can't win all the time," says Gill. "And you need money to feed your horses, and pay for gas, hotel and food along the way."

"It's costly, pretty costly," agrees Neil Gill, Mike's dad. He's the secretary of the BCHSRA. "So far this year, I've spent $1,600 in travel for my son and myself."

"Unlike other school sports, we don't get any tax dollars," explains Sturman. "But I don't know if I could give you a figure. If you're a bull rider you need your own bull rope, and chaps and a safety vest. That starts at $250 and can go up to $500 or $600."

There is also a physical cost to rodeo. Injuries go with the territory. "I had a saddle bronco horse step on me," says Gill. "He tore my pec [pectoral muscle] and I was out for a week."

Sturman says the association stresses physical fitness for both horse and rider. "It helps you perform better, and prevents injuries," he says.

Sturman says there's also room at the rodeo for physically challenged riders. "I've known several over the years," he says. "Some events [like cutting, or separating cattle from a herd] don't require the participants to leave their horseback."

While many high school and college rodeo participants will go on to compete in professional rodeo, Sturman says the percentage of cowboys and cowgirls who can make a living at it is very small.

"One thing about rodeo is you don't get paid if you lose. Unlike basketball, where you're paid to practice and paid to play."

However, he says there are many careers which can keep you involved in rodeo. "There are stock contractors, promoters and producers, announcers, judges, specialty acts, photographers, rodeo marketing and media, and national office staff."

Getting Started

The national office would be glad to refer you to a NHSRA branch in your region. The NHSRA offers members a chance to compete and training.

Sturman says a lot of professional cowboys put on rodeo schools as well. "It is a good opportunity to go and learn techniques, safety issues and all over physical conditioning. They're put on all across North America."

Sturman says your best bet is to go with an instructor sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.


National High School Rodeo Association, Inc.
11178 N. Huron, Ste. 7
Denver , CO   80234

Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association
101 Pro Rodeo Dr.
Colorado Springs , CO   80919

A site designed for team roping, or anything cowboy related

The Rodeo News
Get the latest info on what's happening in the world of rodeo

North American Riding for the Handicapped Association
If you have a disability you think will keep you out of the saddle, this organization can help

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