The incredible world of gay rodeo
An explanaton and a personal essay by Scott Bidstrup

Like the song says... "Its the dust and the mud, its the bulls and the blood, its the roar of a Sunday crowd..." Well, there's nothing like rodeo. For thrills and excitement, nothing else quite comes close.

When you add the dimension of the intense competition, the comeraderie of people like you doing something thats fun, dangerous and difficult together and working hard together for a common goal, you have a wonderful bond with men and women that is hard to get in any other way.

What it is

Gay rodeo is a unique form of rodeo, true to the roots of rodeo in the best of Western tradition, but with a unique flavor that only the gay community could give it.

You'll see the usual attractions such as bull riding, bronc riding, steer wrestling, and the rest, but you'll also see some events that are unique to the gay circuit, and are a lot of fun.

Unlike what you may think, gay rodeo is serious rodeo, and is attracting attention among serious rodeo cowboys. While the purses aren't large by PCRA standards, they're big enough to be meaningful for the participants. And the thrill of winning a rodeo buckle in a serious rodeo can be a satisfaction that can last a lifetime.

Who participates

In all International Gay Rodeo Association regional rodeos, anyone can participate, whether they're male, female, gay or straight. Unlike the straight circuit, women can (and do) ride bulls if they wish, and men can barrel race or polebend. There are no gender restrictions on the IGRA circuit. Women are encouraged to participate fully, and do so. And many of the IGRA records are held by women.

Straight cowboys are also enjoying gay rodeo, and are as welcome as anyone to participate and compete. No one asks your sexual orientation -- you're all welcome here.

There are no qualifications for participating in any of the IGRA rodeos (except for the finals rodeo, where participation is by invitation). Anyone who is serious enough to pay the entry fee and who feels qualified to perform in the event is invited to enter and compete.

The IGRA circuit is an excellent opportunity for women who would like to compete in straight rodeo events not open to them. Its also an excellent opportunity for men who would like to participate in rodeo but don't have the time or resources to qualify for the PCRA. For cowboys who love rodeo but live in a section of the country where straight rodeo isn't available, IGRA rodeos are often a welcome opportunity to rodeo. IGRA welcomes you all.

Just how serious is gay rodeo? Do serious, straight cowboys actually participate?

Yes, this is serious rodeo. Many serious straight amateur cowboys participate, and several PRCA champion cowboys regularly compete on the IGRA circuit.

Watching a serious bull-riding gay cowboy hop onto the back of 2,000 pounds of pissed-off pot-roast will surely put to rest anyone's ideas that gay rodeo isn't serious rodeo or that gay men can't be real men.

Many straight cowboys say that they enjoy the IGRA rodeos more than the straight rodeos, because there's less pressure to win and everyone's there mostly for the sake of having a good time at a rodeo. So a cowboy can relax and have a really good time doing what he loves, and not worry about losing a large entry fee without ending up in the money.

Yet none of this detracts from the fact that there is some serious riding going on here. Times turned in in the timed events and scores in the rough-stock events are respectable by anyone's standards.

What is the IGRA?

The International Gay Rodeo Association is an umbrella organization coordinating the operations of nineteen member associations in two countries, sponsoring for the 1998 season, sixteen regional rodeos as well as the finals rodeo at the end of the rodeo year.

It is the IGRA that coordinates the rules, sets qualifications, maintains record books, and in general performs the function unifying the gay rodeo community. It ensures that the traditions and ideals of gay rodeo are maintained.

Where and when can I see a gay rodeo?

The best way to know when and were gay rodeos will be happening is to check the IGRA homepage. This year, as of this writing, rodeos are being planned for San Antonio, TX; Phoenix, AZ; Las Vegas, NV; Los Angles, CA; Oklahoma City, OK; San Jose, CA; Calgary, AB; Detroit, MI; Sacramento, CA; Wichita, KS, Kansas City, MO; Atlanta GA; San Diego, CA; and Washington, DC. The finals rodeo is planned for Little Rock, AR. Do check the IGRA homepage, however, as rodeos are occasionally added or cancelled. What else happens at a gay rodeo?

Besides the usual rodeo events, there is much more to see and do than just watching the rodeo events.

Most gay rodeos have live entertainment,
much of which runs concurrently
with the events, but also dances
and entertainment in the evenings.
Most rodeos have entertainment, including live entertainment by many rodeo association members who practice all year for their annual performances at the rodeo entertainment funtions. The entertainment and the royalty competitions can be quite a spectacle as a result.

The entertainment usually includes performances by the IGRA and local association royalties. The royalty participants take their participation very seriously, and many put in more effort and work in preparing for the royalty competitions than the rodeo event competitors do for the rodeo events. The results show -- many of the entertainers are amazingly good.

There are dances, too. Here's a great opportunity to practice your two-step and your line dancing, and rub elbows with some really gorgeous gals and some very handsome cowboys. Most rodeos have a dance floor that's open during most, if not all of the rodeo events, so if you're not interested in some of the events, you can head for the dance floor and dance your feet off! Many rodeos also include dance instruction, so don't worry that you don't know the dance steps, you can often learn right at the rodeo.

The vendor tents offer a wide variety of merchandise.
Cowboy stuff, gay stuff and gay cowboy stuff, it's all here.
There's lots of neat stuff to buy in the vendor's area, too. In fact, it's about the only place one can find things like cowboy-boot rainbow bumper stickers or a T-shirt showing cowgirls calf-roping and bearing a slogan, "A woman's work is never done."

You can find jewelry, stained glass, leather goods, and of course hats and T-shirts. The IGRA logo-wear is also available at every rodeo. Many attendees collect a rodeo pin from each rodeo they attend and wear them on their hats.

Ah, food! And served in pleasant surroundings.
Of course, when a cowboy's hungry, good chow is important, and most gay rodeos offer a variety of good ol' country cookin' to keep you satisfied. Some do their own cooking through a caterer, others have several food vendors in the vendor area. But one thing's for sure - you needn't go hungry! Catered food usually consists of a choice of fajitas, cheeseburgers, salads, and the like, and at rodeos where vendors provide the food, there is usually a choice of many different options.

What are the events like? How does it differ from straight rodeo?

Many of the events will be familiar to fans of straight rodeo. But in addition to the usual events, there is a unique set of events, called "camp" that includes some of the flavor of the gay community.

Camp Events include:
Steer Decorating. This is a team event, in which one participant holds a rope tied to the steer's horns. The other participant will try to tie a ribbon on the steer's tail after it leaves the chute and is out from the chute for at least 3 feet. This is a timed event, shortest time wins.

One of the most popular of the gay circuit's
unique camp events is the wild drag race.
Wild Drag Race. The most popular of the camp events, this one is also a team event, consisting of a cowboy, a cowgirl, and a person in drag. The cowgirl stands near the chute holding a rope that is attached to the steer by means of a halter. The cowboy and the person in drag are stationed 40 feet from the chute, and when the gate is released, the steer is encouraged to proceed to the 40 foot line. The person in drag hops on the back of the steer and tries to ride it across the line. The time starts when the chute is opened, and the time ends when the steer, with the person in drag riding, completely crosses the 40 foot line.

Goat dressing is fun,
unique and very popular.
Goat Dressing. Usually the most time consuming event of the day due to the large number of entries, goat dressing consists of a team of two, who have to run to a goat tethered at the other end of the arena. Time starts when they leave the starting position. One team member lifts the back legs of the goat, and the other puts a pair of jockey shorts on the goat's hind end. Both team members run back to their starting position, and the shortest time back to the starting position wins, but only if the shorts stay on the goat.

There are three roping events:
Calf Roping on Foot. The contestant stands near the chute, and when he nods, the chute gate is pulled, and the contestant must get his loop completely over the calf's head and around any part of his body. Time starts when the calf's nose clears the chute, and ends when the contestant pulls the slack out of the rope.

Breakaway calf roping requires
good training of the horse as much
as practice by the rider.
Breakaway Calf Roping. A contestant on horseback is near the chute and when the gate is pulled and the calf 's nose is out of the gate, he tries to get his loop completely over the calf's head and around any part of his body. The cowboy lets go of his rope, which is tied to the saddle horn with a light string, and the time ends when the calf pulls the rope tight and breaks the string. There's a 60 second time limit, and the contestant may use a second loop, but takes a small penalty if he has to use it.

The "header" and the "heeler" alternate
on the first and second rides in team roping.
Both have to be good at both skills.
Team Roping. Two contestants work as a team. The "header" tries to get his loop over the calf's horns. The "heeler" then tries to get a loop around both of the calf's hind legs. Time begins when the calf's nose is out of the chute and ends when both roper's ropes are pulled tight. There is a penalty for roping only one hind leg or roping the horns incorrectly. There's a 90 second time limit.

There are three horsemanship events:

Both men and women compete
in IGRA barrel racing.
Barrel Racing. Barrels are set up in a triangle, and contestants run a cloverleaf pattern around them. Fastest time wins. Tipping a barrel costs a five-second penalty, and not running the regulation pattern results in disqualification. A running start is allowed. This is a very popular event with spectators, as it's easy to understand and appreciate. In pro-rodeo, this event is open to women only and is the only event open to women, but as in all events on the gay circuit, both sexes are invited to participate. Separate buckles are offered for each sex.

Polebending is an event that
tests both the rider's skill
and the horse's training.
Pole Bending. This is a real test of the horse and his training, as the horse is required to weave between a series of six poles in a line, each 21 feet from its neighbor. A running start is allowed, and the best time wins, with 5 second penalties for each pole knocked over. Breaking the pattern results in a disqualification. This is a surprisingly difficult event - many riders knock over poles or their mounts break pattern. It requires good training and a horse that really wants to win.
Flag Racing. Two barrels and a pole are set up in a triangle. The contestant rides to the first barrel, picks up a flag from a bucket of feed pellets in which it has been placed. The contestant rides around the pole and on to the second bucket, where he tries to stand the flag up in another bucket of feed pellets. A running start is allowed, and time ends when the contestant breaks the same lightbeam that started the timer when he entered the arena.

Flag racing tests the rider's
balance and coordination,
and the horse's ability
to concentrate on what
he was trained to
do as well as his speed.
Rough-stock events are what most people think of when they think of rodeo:

Bronc riding is one of the
most popular events with
spectators. It really tests
the cowboy's grit.
Bareback Bronc Riding. This is one of the most traditional and popular of all rodeo events. The rider mounts the horse in the chute and grasps a rigging that is strapped around the horse. When the gate is released, the horse jumps out of the chute and tries to buck off the rider. Up to 50 points each are awarded for both the horse and the rider; the horse for power and bucking pattern, and the rider for strength, form and spurring action. The contestant may hold on with both hands, but must accept a penalty if he does. Otherwise, his free hand may not touch the horse, the rigging, himself or his hat. He must stay on the horse for six seconds.

Many spectators come
just for the bullriding.
Bull Riding. Arguably the most popular of all rodeo events, it is similar to and scored the same as bareback bronc riding. Only the toughest of contestants can endure the six seconds of powerful twisting, bucking and leaping that the bull can subject him to.
Steer Riding. Very similar to bull riding and scored the same, but done on an animal that is smaller and less tempermental. Most bull riders get their start in steer riding before they go on to attempt bull riding.

What many people call "steer
wrestling" is properly called
"chute dogging."
Chute Dogging. Often called "steer wrestling" by those less familiar with rodeo, this event is the only timed rough stock event. Here, the contestant stands in the chute with the steer and has his hands on the steer's horns. Time starts when the gate is pulled, and he must get the steer and himself across a line ten feet from the gate, then wrestle the steer to the ground so that all four hooves and the nose are pointed in the same direction as if the steer were just lying down.

Gay rodeo sure sounds like fun! How can I participate?

There are many opportunities for participation, at many levels. Of course you can always enjoy gay rodeo by simply attending the rodeo itself, but you'll get much, much more out of it if you participate more fully. Many gay rodeo afficionados will tell you that participation will add a whole new dimension to your enjoyment of the sport.You can compete as a contestant (see below), or you can participate in your local chapter's meetings and activities. Many members of local chapters never compete, but just enjoy the comaradery of helping with and participating in the chapter activities, such as horseback rides, parties, beach bonfires, etc., that local chapters organize, as well as helping with the chapter organization. You don't have to be a competing cowboy or cowgirl to have a lot of fun participating in gay rodeo. You'll get much more out of it if you're willing to put something into it.

Your local chapter needs and wants your help. You can participate as a volunteer at a rodeo, helping with ticket sales, working on the arena crew, or doing any of many other things. You can even get certified as a rodeo official! Or you can work in the chapter organization, doing any of the many, many things that must be done year 'round to put on a rodeo. There is a wide variety of opportunities to be a part of the gay rodeo organization. And volunteers get special incentives. Check with your local chapter.

Trail riding is one of the
popular activities
many chapters organize.
There are many activities besides rodeo that local chapters organize. Among the most popular are horseback riding, camping and of course partying. Occasional "buckouts" (practice rodeos) are organized, too. Get a bunch of gay people together, and you'll have a great party. Get a bunch of cowboys together, and you'll have a wild party. Get a bunch of gay cowboys together, and it's guaranteed to be memorable! So check with your local chapter for their activities, or better yet, join the chapter and get the newsletter, so you'll always know what's happening.

But what about competing? How do I learn?

Many chapters from time to time will organize what is called a "buckout." This is basically a sort-of practice rodeo, where you get a chance to practice the same event as many times as you wish. To suppport the costs, most buckouts will charge a small fee for each time you go through the event. The purpose of the buckout is educaton -- to help you learn an event and practice to become a better competitor. You get to practice on real rodeo stock.

Most local chapters have officer who's function is to provide education to new competitors. You should check with your local chapter to contact the education director and find out what your opportunities are for both competing and practice at buckouts and other events where you can learn the skills and traditions of gay rodeo. He can steer you in the direction of riding and roping schools, buckouts, and many other opportunities you'll have a hard time finding out about otherwise.

The International Gay Rodeo Association | Member associations of the IGRA
The Arizona Golden State Rodeo Association" | The Greater Los Angeles Chapter of the GSGRA

Why gay rodeo? That's a question I've thought a lot about, and I've wondered why I'm so passionate about it.

I suspect that one of the reasons I love it so much is that it is part of my heritage. As a youth growing up in Idaho, I saw rodeos occasionally, and secretly enjoyed the cowboy culture (though it was discouraged by my parents, who thought it a bit uncivilized and low class). I could never participate. I didn't even dream about participating, because I felt that, as a gay man, I'd never be welcome there.

So in discovering gay rodeo, I saw finally an opportunity to reclaim a bit of the heritage that is my past. There's still a bit of the sagebrush cowboy in me. I still get teary eyed on rare summer afternoons when a north wind carries the scent of sagebrush from the Nevada desert to my nose here in Phoenix. And there's always a lump in my throat whenever I see a mountain bluebird singing on a fencepost on a summer morning, or the sight of a cowboy herding his cattle across a sagebrush plain, with snowcapped mountain peaks on the distant horizon.

This is my heritage. But my heritage has rejected me, and I'm saddened and angered by that. Yet in gay rodeo, here's a chance to reclaim a bit of my past, a little of my heritage, in a way that not only accepts me, but wants me to be a part of it.

These gay cowboys and cowgirls are my brothers and sisters in a way my family never was. They're my family now. And when a handsome young cowboy smiles and tips his hat to me, I smile and tip my hat to him, both of us knowing that we share something that transcends what either of us have been through. We're cowboys. Gay cowboys. We're proud of it! And we love it!

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