From what I've seen over the past eight years of covering one of the top stock shows in the state and one of the premier rodeos in the country, it's that the sport of rodeo is at it's core a family sport. It never fails, every year one or more small children find their way onto daddy's lap while on horse back as the competition to get a chance to perform in the San Angelo Rodeo intensifies on the arena floor of the 1st Community Credit Union Spur Arena. The child's age can range from 7-months, as such is the case of Ceattle Cooper (pronounced Seattle, like the city) in the photo above, to 4 or 5-years of age. It's probably just about the cutest thing you're going to see all day.
Today was the first day of slack events here in San Angelo to see who gets a chance to compete in the upcoming rodeo performances. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the sport of rodeo, slack is the equivalent of preliminary rounds in any other sport. I think this is only done with the timed events like calf tie-down roping, team roping, steer wrestling and barrel racing. The rough stock competitors are the bull, saddle bronc and bareback riders which I guess get an invitation to compete based on money earnings or points accrued. Not being an avid rodeo fan, my opinion or knowledge of how rough stock competitors are set for the San Angelo rodeo is limited. All I know is that it is incredibly fun to photograph.
Today's slack event was the tie-down roping, a popular event in this area. The same organization that oversees the stock show and rodeo also holds a huge roping event in October called the Roping Fiesta. They bring in competitors from all over the country to compete. They even have a match roping contest between two top ropers for extra prizes. The last time I covered the roping fiesta was in 2010. Oddly enough, that blog post is the most popular post I've ever written. You can find it HERE.
I know the rodeo is an annual event, but I always seem to have a hard time getting into that rodeo spirit. Maybe it's because I always have to start the two weeks off with slack events. Lets be honest, slack isn't the most exciting thing on the planet. There's no fanfare or excitement, no loud music or bullfighters. Slack is awfully repetitive, low key and there is no cotton candy or popcorn aromas to mask the fact that half of the the dirt on the arena floor is made up of animal excrement. Most of the time you are searching for images to make rather than having them happen right in front of you. I read a blog post today written by Chicago Tribune photographer Scott Strazzante (read it HERE) on how making photos at some assignments is like stealing the proverbial candy from a baby. That's what it's like shooting the actual rodeo performances. There is so much action going on, often I get distracted looking in one direction when I should be looking in the other. But slack is like having to sit through a mandatory 6-hour defensive driving class. And I'm not talking about the one that is run by professional comedians.
The only real upside I have found in covering slack is that it allows you to see the competitors before they get caught up in the pomp and circumstance of the rodeo performances. You get to see them as the real people they are. You get to see them as the loving father who takes their young daughter for a ride on the horse around the arena or introducing their son to fellow competitors. You get see them as the back-slapping best friend or road partner that's quick with a harmless insult, but can take one just as good as they dish them out. They are fierce competitors on the arena floor, but a faithful family in the parking lot.
Many of these guys and gals come from families with a long tradition in rodeo. Or, just maybe, some of them do it just to hang out with good people.