Hundreds flocked to 4-T Arena Saturday night to watch cowboys and cowgirls display their talents at the eighth annual Mountaineer Round-Up and World Championship Rodeo.
The rodeo started at 8 p.m. and featured seven events, including steer wrestling, team roping and bull riding. There also were two audience participation events, a wild cow milking contest, where contestants have to run down and milk the unbridled cattle, and mutton bustin', which involves children attempting to stay on sheep for eight seconds.
"People are coming from all over," said Trina Tucker, who co-owns the arena. "About nine or 10 states are represented here."
Tucker said that Friday night also saw a large crowd and that tonight, when fireworks will be bursting over the arena when the rodeo is over, will have the largest crowd of the weekend event. Tucker estimated that about 15,000 would show up for the entire weekend.
"I love the crowd," said Margaret F. Smith, Miss American Rodeo 2000 and a native of Huntington. "We worked really hard to get the rodeo into West Virginia, and we need support. It is special for me since I come from West Virginia, so it's wonderful to see so many come to it."
The event also featured a craft show and sale, music and food provided by Texas Roadhouse and Barnyard Spit, which boasts "the world's finest roasted chicken," among others.
The event also showcased clowns, one of whom said that rodeo life is more difficult than what some might call the normal life. Ryan Rodriguez of Clayton, Mich., said that the road is "hard and long" and that "fast food and having no time off" gets old.
"It's not good for your personal life and loneliness can get to you sometimes," said Rodriguez, who also participates in actual rodeos sometimes. He has suffered three cracked vertebrae, a busted knee and several broken bones, among other injuries.
"This is one of the biggest rodeos this side of the Mississippi," said Rodriguez, who participated in 27 rodeos in 12 states during July. He estimated that he gets two weeks off per year from the rodeo circuit.
Rodriguez's job is different from what is called a bull-fighter, the clown seen in the ring trying to distract bulls after the cowboy has been bucked. Instead, he is the type of clown that walks around the arena entertaining children. He was voted "Clown of the Year" last year.
Since he was a child, Rodriguez knew he wanted to work with the rodeo. "When it's good, there's nothing better," he said. "But when it gets bad, you still have to do it. I would probably not consider doing something else."
Rodriguez said that there is a certain rush that comes with rodeo, one that comes with seeing so many people watching you. One contestant from New Oxford, Pa., agreed, saying that the adrenaline rush comes from the "man versus beast" element and that he hoped the crowd would root for the man.
"It's definitely the rush that drives you to compete," he said. "You have to win, because if you don't, there's no paycheck."
The fact that rodeo contestants have financially difficult lives could be seen in a 50/50 drawing that was being held to benefit injured contestants.
The audience also seemed excited about the rodeo. "I like to watch bull riding on television, and it's better in person," said Bryan Byrd of Clarksburg, who has been coming to the event for four years. "I just liking watching to see if they can stay on for all eight seconds."
One first-time rodeo goer, Debbie Osbourn, said that her favorite aspect of the event was the food, but that she was also looking forward to the barrel racing. Osbourne was at the rodeo with One Valley Bank, a major sponsor of the event, as Saturday night was One Valley Night.
Tonight concludes the Mountaineer Round-Up. Gates open at 6 p.m. and the rodeo begins at 7 p.m. The night will end with fireworks.
Staff writer Danny Forinash can be reached at 626-1446.