Pioneer Days event introduces youngsters to cowboy ways

Rodeo clown Leon Coffee helps 4-year-old Aleigha Gemma-Miller of Ranchvale lasso a goat during a rodeo encounter Thursday at the Curry County Fairgrounds. (Staff photo: Andy DeLisle)

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

In a pink cowboy hat that shadowed her entire body, Thea Hand, 2, stared wide-eyed at the whirring mechanical bull.

Once atop, the would-be cowgirl grimaced and let out a wail as the bull inched downward.

An event designed to initiate children into the world of rodeo, Thursday’s second annual Pioneer Days rodeo encounter drew varied responses of the target audience.

The brave of the bunch hopped aboard the mechanical bull and horse and practiced perfect form, extending left hands into the air with abandon.

“I thought it would buck me off,” said a shy Parker Duggan, 6, of Canyon, Texas, after his ride.

Despite the rodeo encounter, Parker stood resolute in his aim to become a famous basketball player, rather than a cowboy.

“This is really exciting for the kids, especially some of them who have never even seen a rope, but today put on a silly hat and boots and learned something,” said Chris Weber, a member of the Curry County Mounted Patrol marketing team that dreamed up the idea of the rodeo encounter last year.

About 30 families attended the event, which preceded the first of three nights of Pioneer Days Rodeo at the Curry County Fairgrounds.

For Parker’s grandmother, Ramona Parker, the rodeo encounter was an “experience.” She and her two grandchildren paraded through the activities set up under the airy building at the fairgrounds.

“It is an opportunity to do something different and it’s entertaining, something besides TV or movies or video games,” Parker said, as her grandson stood, eye to eye, next to a tiny, cast-iron cow.

The rodeo experience was long ago ingrained into the lives of those who guided the children through the rodeo encounter — rodeo queen contestants, rodeo clowns and experienced ropers.

One queen hopeful goaded children to participate in goat roping.

“This is how it works: If you don’t ever try, you’ll never see how you do it,” instructed rodeo queen contestant Krystie Bierner of Truth or Consequences with a microphone in hand.

Children tried their hand at wrangling bleating goats inside a pen, but the goats proved elusive over the novice ropers. A mocha-colored goat pranced away from his pursuers, and butted through the barricade of a child and two men. A trickle of blood ran down his nose, a result of the pursuit.

“For those of you who aren’t familiar with animals, they have their own personalities, too,” Peterson told her audience as the goat dodged the men and child. “They can be quite ornery if they don’t like what you are doing.”

Since toddler-hood, Sara Petersen, 19, has been riding horses. What is second nature to the Winston resident is foreign to many, she said. The rodeo queen contestant instructed her pupils in slow motion, guiding their little arms in circles as they clutched thick ropes and tried to wrangle cast-iron cows.

“It is neat to show them what it is like. But there are some, who have been raised on farms, who show you up,” Peterson said.