Bulls and Broncs and the Cowboys to Tame Them
It’s an American icon, like apple pie and the Fourth of July. It’s all tied up with the large empty spaces of the American West, the cattle and the cowboys. It’s rodeo, with all the pageantry, the bull riding, the bronc busting, the steer roping, and the barrel racing. It’s excitement with a large dose of danger. And one of the best regional rodeos in the country thrills crowds for six days, July 11 to 16, in the little town of Benton, Pennsylvania.
“It’s a lot of work!” according to Melvin Parks, chairman of the Benton Rodeo Association. Now in its thirty-third year, the Benton Rodeo began as the brainchild of one man: Charlie Lamont. Charlie has been on the rodeo circuit, and it was simply in his blood. And he thought it would be a great idea for Benton—bring in tourism to a little area of Columbia County. He managed to convince some bankers and some local businessmen, and they set up the first rodeo in a eld north of the little borough. For the first two years it was simply a eld, with bleachers made of hay bales.
“And from there, it just growed!” says Melvin.
Soon after that, the arena moved into Benton proper, on land leased from the borough, and with permanent stands and structures to support numerous events. From there, the Rodeo benefitted from both great luck and great planning. Benton had the space for a large rodeo, as well as plenty of space for primitive camping. And those accommodations drew more participants from all over the country.
They also attracted a good rodeo promoter, Sam Swearingen from Rawhide Rodeo out west (Western New York, that is). Good promotion and organization brought good acts for the fans, and good contestants to vie for good prize money. The Benton Rodeo is sanctioned by both the American and the International Professional Rodeo Association, which means that contestants can earn both prize money and an invitation to the APRA finals in Atlantic City or the IPRA finals in Oklahoma City.
While many of the contestants do come from the wide-open spaces of the western states, there are riders and ropers from here in northern Pennsylvania. Tyler Waltz of Avis has been a bronc rider on the professional circuit for seven years. Based on the ranch skill of breaking a horse (making it willing to safely carry a rider and saddle), riding these unbroken horses is one of the most dangerous events in the rodeo, and results in more injuries than any other event. Tyler has ridden for well over a decade, starting in Junior Rodeo at twelve, progressing through High School Rodeo, and then to the professional circuit—first part-time while he was in college, and full-time for the past three years. He’s planning on being at the Benton Rodeo, which he characterizes as a very good rodeo, for a few different reasons.
“They pack it out at Benton,” he says. “The fans and the stock are good. The money’s good. And it’s close to home.”
The Waltz family should know a thing or two about the stock, since some of that stock comes from his family’s farm. Tyler’s dad, Dave, rode the circuit from 1975-1988, riding the bulls, the broncs, and later taking on steer wrestling. He was the northeast champion for bull riding for four years, and in 1986 won the All-Round Championship.
After leaving the circuit, Dave judged events for a couple of years, and then didn’t do anything rodeo-related for a while. But then Tyler started showing interest, and Dave got involved again—this time on the youth level. First it was a couple of practice bulls for the kids to learn bull riding on, and then it was a trailer of practice bulls for the Pennsylvania High School Rodeo. Dave was a founder of the Keystone Junior Rodeo Association. And from there, it was only logical to begin to raise bulls for the rodeo. That morphed into buying and training bulls. And Dave’s methods get results. He currently has a bull named Jalapeno who has been the bucking bull of the year twice for the APRA, and three times for the IPRA, which has never been done before. You can count on Dave and Jalapeno being at Benton, too.
“I love Benton—one of my favorites!” Dave enthuses.
And it’s not only full-time professionals who compete at Benton. Nate Woodring of Knoxville, Tioga County, holds down a job with PennDOT that’s full time, and competes in both local and regional rodeos.
“Ten years ago, friends got me involved,” he says. At the Reese Ranch in Pine City, just over the border in New York, he works as a rodeo clown, and sometimes is involved with the bulls. But for Benton he competes as a team roper. In team roping there are two people, two horses, one steer. Like so many other rodeo events, this relates to a job on a ranch—in this case when a large steer or bull needs to be caught and roped, and it’s a job too big for one cowboy. So, one rider ropes the horns or head, and turns the steer so that the other rider can rope the rear legs and immobilize the animal. It takes precision timing between the riders and their horses; success means (seemingly) endless practice for them as well. Nate takes good care of his horses, and they ride and practice five days a week. But the dedication pays off, as Nate has been in the top twelve at the APRA finals in Atlantic City.
For him, the rodeo led to other things in his life, like becoming a farrier, and working with horses in a stable setting. And although he’s a man with an assortment of jobs and responsibilities vying for his attention, he finds great reward in being a part of the rodeo.
“It’s a good atmosphere, like a family,” Nate says. For him, it’s part of his life. Like camping for other families, rodeo is relaxation. It’s competitive, but not cutthroat.
“We want each other to improve,” he continues. “It’s very rewarding when you do well, and immense satisfaction when you win and beat your personal best.”
Hard work, dedication, love of riding, working with animals—all in a family environment. Add the adrenaline rush, and you have the rodeo code. And we all get to watch the fun and the action.