By RUSSELL JONES
The 48th year of pro rodeo excitement got underway near Castleton on Saturday, June 29 at Pond Hill Ranch. The field was packed with young cowboys ready to prove themselves and seasoned pros ready to reaffirm their positions at the top of the rankings.
Sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Organization, the Pond Hill Ranch Rodeo boasts more competitors than most of the rodeos in New England.
The first event of the season saw eight professional bareback riders, including current world champion Tyler Waltz; four pro saddle bronc riders, including current world champ Raymond Hostetler; 15 pro bull riders; 15 tie-down ropers; 26 breakaway ropers; 26 team ropers; 24 cowgirl barrel racers; and over a dozen cowgirl breakaway ropers rounding the arena before the action began.
A beautiful Vermont evening with temperatures in the mid-70s and clear skies out in the country just south of Castleton was a perfect backdrop for the thrilling events that took place inside the arena as over 300 spectators were on hand to show their support and enthusiasm.
The first riders out of the chutes were the bareback riders. With only what resembles a suitcase handle strapped to the withers of the horse and their spurs to hang on, these riders often endure more punishment on their rides than competitors in any other event. Bareback riding is often compared to riding a jackhammer with one hand, but Eli Hershberger, from Rochelle, Ga., took home the top prize on Saturday with a quality ride.
Not to be outdone, the saddle bronc riders must use finesse and sheer strength to remain on their bucking bronco. Using only a thick rein attached to the horse’s halter, a saddle bronc rider must be synchronized and adapt fluidly with the horse’s movements to get a good score. It is one of the rodeo’s oldest events, evolving from the need to break and tame horses when cowboys ruled the west. Reginald LeCourt, from Quebec, took first place this past week.
As the sun began to set and the lights kicked on around the arena, the cowgirls were center stage for the barrel racing. As these cowgirls fly across the arena floor, dirt flying from the hooves of their horses, they must navigate a series of three turns around barrels placed throughout. One right and two left turns and then the cowgirl races back to the starting gate as fast as her mount will carry her. The event is often a crowd favorite and Saturday was no exception. Wendy Chestnut, of Poultney, was the fastest around the barrels.
The real showcase of a good rodeo is the bull riding, and Pond Hill is well known for raising a good stock of bucking bulls. Demanding the courage to intentionally climb on to a 2,000-pound bull and the physical prowess to hang on for eight seconds after the chute swings open, bull riding is one of the most popular events in any rodeo. On Saturday night, Colton Brown, from Deansboro, N.Y., received the high score and the prize money of $750.
In other events, Colton Swearingen, from Piffard, N.Y., won the tie-down roping; Jacob Rounds, from Broadalbin, N.Y., and Derrick Cary, from Monson, Mass., won the team-roping event. Green Mountain Cattle Company’s DJ O’Rourke, Charles Ward, and Dan Brown took the top prize in the ranch event and Emily Fabian, from Gansevoort, N.Y., won the cowgirl breakaway roping event. Greg Childs won the novice bull rider event and Lyndon Flint won the novice bareback riding. The Pond Hill Ranch Rodeo takes place every Saturday night through August. The rodeo goes on, rain or shine, and tickets are $12 for 12 and over, $6 for ages six through 12, and free for five and under.