Believe it or not, San Angelo is a rodeo town. For two weeks in February the city hosts one of the largest rodeos in North America and several other cowboy related events throughout the year. On the last weekend of October the San Angelo Stock Show and Rodeo Association hosts a huge roping contest, the Cinch Roping Fiesta, at the outdoor roping arena. The event that the Standard-Times covers is the invitational calf roping competition in which 40 of the best ropers in the business go head-to-head for a $10,000 prize. Along with three rounds of roping there is also a match roping competition between two of the ropers and the man with the fastest time after 12 calves is declared the winner.
It's been a few years since I last covered the roping fiesta and it seems like every time I get the nod for the assignment it ends up being the hottest day of the century. However, a cold front came through on Friday setting the weekend up with near perfect weather for photographing outdoors. The high for Saturday was around 60 degrees, there was light cloud cover and a cool breeze out of the north. Being a person whose body temperature runs like a blazing furnace, I was in heaven.
If you ever have the opportunity to photograph any kind of rodeo-style event... do it. You will find yourself in a visual wonderland. The action is second to none and the people involved are salt of the earth. It is a uniquely American experience that everyone should have.
Tie-down roping is pretty straight forward. Both a calf and the roper (on horseback) are loaded in the gates and when the roper gives the nod the calf is released. The roper chases the calf and tries to throw his rope around the calf's neck. If the calf is caught the roper jumps of the horse, races down the line, throws the calf on its side and ties its feet together. The point of this is to do it in the fastest time possible. Any time under 10 seconds is considered a great run. Obviously it's a bit more technical than that and there are specific rules and regulations that apply, but that's pretty much the gist of it.
Having lived in San Angelo for almost nine years and covered tons of roping events, the challenge for me is to find an angle to get peak action photos. It's actually a very beautiful process when everything goes according to plan. The mixture of brute force, raw power and accuracy is all very exciting to watch. I have to be careful to not get caught up in all the excitement and to remember to keep taking photos.
This year's contest was pretty exciting, but it's hard not to when you have the likes of Tuf Cooper, Tyson Durfey, Justin Maass and the legendary Cody Ohl. Noticeably absent from this years contest was Fred Whitfield and Trevor Brazile who both hold numerous world titles. But the way of the world is that as the old guard goes out, new stars emerge. At the beginning of the event as the announcer was introducing the competitors the crowd erupted into cheers when Westyn Hughes made his way into the arena. Hughes was the youngest competitor at just 15 years of age.
For me, the event went pretty smooth. I shot action photos for the first round of roping and then switched over to shooting feature photos during the second round. One of the highlights of the day is the match roping, this year between Tuf Cooper and Cody Ohl. The match roping is a contest within a contest. Both Cooper and Ohl were given 12 head of cattle to rope and the one with fastest overall combined time won a handcrafted belt buckle. Ohl had a few miscues this year with a broken rope and a missed first throw that put him about 30 seconds slower than Cooper after the fist six calves. With a lead like that, all Cooper had to do was stay consistent and not mess up to bad. Cooper won the match roping contest with a combined time of 155.37 seconds after 12 calves.
It was also a good day for me shooting wise. I think I came away with some decent photos that we will be able to use for future publications such as the rodeo tab which comes out every year before the start of the stock show and rodeo. Plus it's a nice little refresher for my shooting skills before the rodeo kicks into high gear early next year.