If the large crowds and rave reviews were any indication, the return of rodeo to the Harford County Farm Fair was a smash hit.
Hundreds of spectators filled bleachers and hills Sunday afternoon as riders from 3S Bucking Bulls rodeo company tried to stay on top of large bulls that jumped around the track at the Bel Air Equestrian Center fairgrounds.
About 1,500 people ultimately saw the rodeo, Farm Fair organizer Aimee O'Neill said late Sunday.
The event was marred by injury when a bull stepped on the face and neck of one rider, Billy Love, of Allentown, Pa., who had to be flown out by helicopter, rodeo owner Matt Schock said.
Love was taken to a regional trauma center in serious condition about an hour into the rodeo.
Despite the accident, rodeo aficionados and novices alike said the event was the best thing about the 27th annual Farm Fair and hoped to see more like it.
The rodeo was last held close to a decade ago, event organizers confirmed.
"People need to have more things like this," Nicky Beveridge, of Joppa, said, explaining she came out specifically for the rodeo. She had seen rodeo in Cody, Wyo., sometimes called the "Rodeo Capital of the World," and said she used to go to PBR rodeo in downtown Baltimore.
"It was worth it because they were the top bulls, the top riders," Beveridge said, noting compared to those events, the riders at the Farm Fair "can't stay on for long."
Beveridge thought the area could use a more regular rodeo. "They have enough Harford County cowboys who could do it," she said.
Her friend, Kevin Anderson, of Darlington, agreed that bull riding in Harford County could be very popular. He said he used to regularly go to Lancaster County to watch it.
"Being local, there's nowhere to go in Harford County," Anderson said. "I love rodeo."
If Harford had a regular rodeo, "I would be out at it every weekend," he added. "It's kind of puzzling, the amount of farmland they have and they don't have anything out there."
Most of those in attendance, however, were new to the sport and came out of curiosity. They said 3S Bucking Bulls company, which staged the rodeo, did not disappoint.
Plenty of cowboy hats and American flags could be seen around the track. The announcers, who cracked jokes about President Obama and pop singer Miley Cyrus, also poked fun at the many attendees who had never seen a rodeo by saying: "Welcome to America."
They opened the event with the Pledge of Allegiance and a prayer, after criticizing the government for trying to "shut down" such displays of patriotism and religiosity.
Besides the bull riding, the rodeo also featured clowns popping out of barrels and generally livening things up.
One clown, dressed as a portly cheerleader, jumped into the bleachers and shook his hips to Flo Rida's hip-hop song "Low."
"This is awesome," E.J. Prior, of Abingdon, said while taking a break from the bleachers. He had brought his 6-year-old daughter, Sophia, to see her first rodeo.
"We have been here at the fair every day and we'd never been to a rodeo before," Prior said. "It's really funny, the clowns - it's really entertaining."
Sophia said the event was "really good" and she liked the bulls and the clowns.
Prior added: "It's a blast. This is a really big crowd."
Bel Air's Michelle Biedenkapp and her daughter, Nicole, were also first-time rodeo attendees who were glued to the action by the low wire fence around the track.
"I think it's great," Michelle Biedenkapp said, explaining they were already at the fair. "We were going to come anyway, even if it wasn't happening, but it's really nice."
She said she liked that it offered "amusements," not just bull riding, and Nicole Biedenkapp added it was "exciting."
"They don't really have anything like this around here," Nicole Biedenkapp said. "It's more exciting than I thought it was going to be."
They were having fun playing along with the announcer's games, who, at that moment, was asking the audience to guess the number of feathers on a goose or the number of stripes on a bumblebee.
"We like the rodeo better than tractor pulls," Michelle Biedenkapp added, referring to another popular event at the Farm Fair.
Diane Freyman, of Rising Sun, said she works for Jones Junction car dealership and has not been to the fair before.
"They mentioned the rodeo," Freyman said about her co-workers. She was surprised to find herself glued to the rodeo, an hour after the event started.
"I have other things to see but I have been standing here since they started," Freyman said, explaining that diversions like the clown dressed as a cheerleader kept people sticking around.
"I have never watched one before and they are just doing different things to make you stay," she said.
Farm Fair organizer Aimee O'Neill said the fair had not had a rodeo in years, as organizers tried to mix things up with tractor pulls and other events.
"Many folks had asked for the rodeo," she said, noting it was done in a "professional manner." She was also happy with the crowd response.
"It was a good, solid response to the rodeo," she said.
O'Neill was also pleased with the response to Muddy Creek, a local group of gymnasts who ride on horseback and opened for the rodeo.
"They had a nice audience," she said.
Few incidents at fair
The fair wrapped up with few serious incidents, besides the bull rider who was trampled, O'Neill said.
Two 4-H members were injured by their livestock, but none were taken to a hospital, she said. One was hit in the head by a cow, while another child had a cow step her foot, she said.
A couple of intoxicated people were also asked to leave the fairgrounds Saturday night.
The fair is a completely alcohol-free event, O'Neill said.
"We had a great fair," she said, adding the rain held off almost the entire time, with the exception of Friday night.
"We were really fortunate," she said.
O'Neill did not have final fair attendance figures by Tuesday but said the fair seemed to draw roughly the same amount of people as usual.
Some events, like the pie-eating and watermelon-eating contests, drew almost 100 people, she noted.
"It was wonderful," she said. "We had a huge response to our contests."
The spelling bee also drew participants in every age group, she said.
"We accomplished our goal , which is to bring people out to learn about their agricultural neighbors," O'Neill said about the fair.
"It's a well-oiled machine. It's moving along well," she added.
Regarding the rodeo, O'Neill said its return will depend more on sponsorship than safety concerns. She explained the fair has had consistent sponsors for the tractor pulls but sponsorship dropped off when the economy slumped.