I love small town rodeos. Fortunately we have the Parker Ranch Rodeo right here, and we have regularly made the effort to attend each summer. The rodeo is a celebration of the ranching history of Waimea, a heritage that is alive and well in the ranching families that still earn a living raising cattle and practicing the old skills.
In past years the public had been allowed right to the rail of the arena at the conclusion of the horse races. This had allowed me to get really nice images of the riders without the fence in the shot, shooting through the rails. The last couple years this has not happened… A problem, I attend this event as much for the photographic opportunity as anything else.
This year I wrangled Deb and myself a couple media passes to the rodeo. Access to the pens, the chutes, and the arena fence… Perfect! The media contact at Parker Ranch was careful to explain the safety issues, no leaning over the rails, nothing through the fence, I can live with the stated rules.
We had a great time. Set up right on the fence for much of the day we had a clear shot at the action. I used a 70-200mm telephoto lens much of the day attempting to catch instants in the action that told the story. A rearing horse, dirt and dust flying under hooves, a rope in the air. The elements are all there, catching them at the right instant is a real challenge for a photographer. With the camera in servo mode I would fire short bursts at what I hoped was the right time. Sometimes it worked. As the memory card filled with over 800 images I found that some actually looked good.
Photographically it was the various mugging events that produced the best images. Team mugging, with a rider and several teammates on the ground wrestling a steer can photograph very well. The junior/senior ribbon mugging event with the kids and adults working together was equally photogenic.
Do not ask me who won and who lost. I really did not care to follow the winners and losers that closely. So much of a good score was really based on luck, did the steer buck or twist at the wrong moment? I just appreciated watching the skill and pride that was on display in these events. A skillful flip of the rope at the right moment, a well trained horse that did just the right thing to support the rider. That is what I enjoy in a good rodeo.
Of course there is the chore of processing my way through 800 photos from the day, selecting a hundred or so to pass on to Parker Ranch. That chore is just about done, I have finished mine, I just need to work through a pile of photos Deb gave me to process and add to the package.
Growing up in the west I have seen quite a few rodeos. I have always preferred small town rodeos.
I have seen the big rodeos, living in Tucson we attended the Tucson Rodeo several times. Six days of professional level events, riders competing for a chance at the national championships. No question, the competitors were very, very good.
The big rodeos do feature very high levels of performance, the top riders making it look easy. It isn’t of course, but professional level sports just seem contrived to me. Be it bull riding, pro football, or any professional sport, something is lost when it becomes a profession.
Small town rodeos are entirely different. Here cowboys, or paniolos in Hawaii, demonstrate the same skills they use day to day on the ranch. The event may be practiced, but the skills of great horsemanship, roping and riding are real. The scores tell another story, wildly different from rider to rider. These are not polished professionals, these are real cowboys.
The island rodeos are perfect examples of this, small town rodeos that showcase local ranching skills and traditions.
It has been a few years since we last attended the Parker Ranch 4th of July Rodeo and Horse Races. The last couple years we seem to have found ourselves elsewhere come early July. Last year we were in Alaska when the 4th appeared on the calendar. Not so this year, a couple tickets and an early alarm for a Saturday saw us headed to Waimea.
Good timing all around, a beautiful day with perfect weather for a rodeo. Deb and I moved about, looking for good photo opportunities. Down at the end of the spectator area for the horse races. From there we could shoot the riders coming around the curve of the track. A little elevation was needed to shoot over the rails of the fencing. Unfortunately a barrier now keeps spectators away from the arena fence, this was not there years ago. No shooting through the rail. Maybe a press pass next year?
I have no idea who won or lost, it was just not important to me. Simply watching the skills on display was the good part. Each throw of the rope, the steer going down, the horse neatly backing and keeping tension in a rope without a rider giving directions. Simply impressive to watch.