NORWOOD – The sun was setting on the San Miguel County Fairgrounds as trailers loped into the parking lot Friday night. Practice should start at 7 p.m., but it's no problem if someone is late. After all, it's all friends here – friends and their horses.
They're members of the Norwood Roping Club, and hosts of the San Miguel Basin Rodeo – partly supported by the Colorado Pro Rodeo Association – this weekend. Some may consider rodeos evidence of a fading American West, but this club keeps roping current, in authentic Western style, complete with a strong social bond.
This weekend's event will be no exception to that tradition.
Friday night's practice – one of the three the club holds each week – slowly got underway, as Nucla resident Bob McLeroy herded the club’s steers across the arena and into the chute as members warmed up their horses. Babies and children played in the stands; Haley Smith, daughter of Club President Jonathan Smith, happily ran around, commanding a stick with a furry – and fake – horse head attached to the top.
“I've never seen a child have so much fun with a stick horse,” said club member Cathy Nay.
With its 20-family memberships and 30-year lifespan, the Norwood Roping Club is a supportive social circle for many area ropers. But along with gathering friends, members' yearly dues pay for the use of the county's fairgrounds and maintenance of the steers; this gives members the stock and the space to practice their beloved sport.
Jonathan Smith, for example, has been roping all of his life. He didn't grow up with horses, but his friends did, and he would help them with work around their ranches. Now, he ropes for fun – he's been part of the club for six years – and helps friends herd cows on the weekends. This past Friday, Smith was riding Dash, a colt that was making it difficult for him to get into prime position to rope the steer.
“Ninety percent of roping is position,” Smith says.
The Norwood Roping Club practices Team Roping, in which a pair of riders follows the steer into the ring. The header moves first, trying to rope the animal around either its neck or its horns; following the header is the heeler, who tries to rope the animal's hind-legs. The clock stops when the slack is out of both ropes and the cowboys are facing each other.
Members moved slowly and deliberately, some of them, like Smith, working with less-practiced colts. Others are new to roping, and come from a background in a different event, like Bull Riding or Bareback. Though few teams managed to fully rope the steer, members were happy with each of their successes, receiving support and helpful comments from their fellow riders.
After member Laura Snider managed to rope one of the steer’s hind-legs, she said, “I'm just tickled with how well I did!”
Though some club members do participate in rodeos, most will be too busy with hosting duties to ride in this weekend's CPRA one. They will handle the stock – including setting up riders on bulls and broncos – as well as sell advertising, work the concessions booth and run both the gate and the grand entryway. The rodeo will attract cowboys and cowgirls from a number of nearby states,
Member Hank Williams says that rodeo-ing, in general, attracts a respectable crowd.
“I think it comes from anything having to do with agriculture,” Williams added.
“I do think that western people have moderate, modest values,” she said.
Perhaps that's because rodeo as a sport was inherent to the growth of the West, beginning in the early 19th century as informal competitions between cowboys who would pit their cattle-ranching skills against one another, then evolving into more standardized competitions by the 1890s. Families have been enjoying watching these traditional events ever since. As the CPRA website states: “Rodeo is still the one place where you can take the whole family, know that the National Anthem will play and the American flag will fly. It is a truly American sport.”
Members of the Norwood Roping Club love rodeoing because they love being outdoors and they love their horses; Snider said she values the connection she feels with the animal.
McLeroy added that rodeoing is a high “like you can't imagine.”
The evening's practice ended as slowly as it began, and families started to leave as members tired. A few of the mothers sat in the stands, worrying about a death in Colorado Springs, and moving on to horror stories about large-animal vets.
Resident Cindy Alexander stopped by to see if anyone wanted to help her move her cows to the Cone the next day.
“We got two horses that need some mountain time,” said Andrea Taber, volunteering Jared Gardner for the project, as well.
The San Miguel Basin Rodeo and Fair starts Friday at 9 a.m. with a Junior Rodeo, in which kids will compete for money, buckles and saddles. The CPRA Rodeo is at 7 p.m. Friday-Saturday nights, and there will be Jackpot Team Roping on Sunday at noon. For more information, call 327-4389 or 327-4393.