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Pro rodeo thrills first-time spectators at Howard County Fair

The All American Pro Rodeo at the 2015 Howard County Fair at the Howard County Fairgrounds in West Friendship on Monday, August 10, 2015. Video by Jen Rynda/ Baltimore Sun Media Group.

Morgan Carroll had never been to a rodeo. But Monday night she was sitting in the stands, just minutes away from the start of the All American Pro Rodeo at the Howard County Fair.

"I don't know what to expect," said Carroll, 17, who was with her boyfriend, Michael Ahumada, 16, and his family at the Howard County Fairgrounds. "I'm guessing bulls. I don't know."

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Jennifer Fales, 19, a 2014 graduate of Mt. Hebron, knew exactly why she was there. Her boyfriend, Garrett Smith, 20, a 2013 Mt. Hebron graduate, had invited her there with a purpose.

"I think his initial idea was to bring me here so I would be OK with him bull riding," said Fales.

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The two couples were part of a good-sized crowd that braved overcast skies, a cool breeze and some rain sprinkles toward the end to watch the first pro rodeo in the fair's 70-year-old history. The fair had been host to Bull Blasts the last two years.

A second performance will be held Tuesday at 7 p.m.

Carroll, who plays field hockey and lacrosse at Oakland Mills, where Ahumada also attends, said the evening "was interesting. I was glad I got to experience it."

She said the bull riding, the last event of the two-hour plus show, "was really different to see it in person. It was a lot harder than I thought it would be."

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Smith, who serves as a volunteer firefighter at the West Friendship station, has been riding bulls for a little over two years at the J Bar W Ranch in Union Bridge in Frederick County. He wanted to show Fales, who had never watched bull riding, that it really wasn't that bad.

"It was pretty intense," said Fales. "It makes me pretty uneasy that he does it, but if he wants to do it I support him all the way. He says the adrenaline doing it makes it worth it. If he has a passion for it, that's good enough for me."

She said she's ready to watch him ride a bull.

"I would probably cringe the entire time but I would watch him," she said.

Smith said the "worst part" of bull riding "is the shoot. When you're riding it's not scary."

Fales said watching her first rodeo "was a positive experience for me. It was exciting. I'm kind of a city girl and I was definitely out of my element, but I liked it. It was cool."

There were six events for the men — bareback bronco riding, steer wrestling, team roping, saddle bronco riding, tie down roping and bull riding — who belong to the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. The women, members of the Women's Professional Rodeo Association, competed in the barrel racing.

The rodeo is a sanctioned event and the competitors – members of the First Frontier Circuit – are trying to earn points toward qualifying for the finals in Harrisburg, Pa., in January.

The All American Rodeo Company, from Piffard, N.Y., provided the bulls, horses, steers and calves for the event. They held a rodeo in Attica, N.Y., Sunday evening and arrived at the Howard County Fairgrounds at 4 a.m. Monday.

Chip Ridgley, owner of Rockin' R Western Productions, is promoting the rodeo. Ridgley, 49, who lives on a 170-acre beef cattle ranch in Union Bridge in Frederick County, grew up in Howard County, showed his animals at the fair and graduated from Glenelg High School in 1984.

He rode bulls for 16 years and has been a pro rodeo announcer for more than 20 years.

Ridgley was the announcer Monday night and his conversation during the evening with rodeo clown Dusty Barrett was one of the highlights of the night.

For Mike Preece, of Glenwood, his day started at the fairgrounds and ended there. Preece was the fairgrounds at 6:30 a.m. Monday morning with his sons Nick, 15, and Brian, 14, because their Boy Scout Troop 757 has been contracted to pick up trash from the grounds, excluding the rides' area, every morning.

Preece was at the rodeo with his wife, Lisa, and daughter, Alyssa, 11, a sixth-grader at Glenwood Middle School.

"It was good. It was entertaining," said Mike of the rodeo.

Preece said he had seen rodeos in Wyoming and that the rodeo Monday night "was very comparable to what we saw there."

Lisa Preece said the rodeo was "very entertaining. It was fast paced and it just amazed me how many people choose to put themselves in that kind of dangerous situation."

She said she and her daughter were "very impressed the barrel racing. They really get those horses moving."

She added, "I'm glad we went. It was a good night."

And for Mike, who was getting up early again Tuesday, it was a good time to call it a day.

"It's been a long day," he said. "It was time to go home and go to bed."

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