Murray State is saddling up this year for the debut of the 2011-12 rodeo club-team. Since its start in 1976, the team has been the top contender in the OZARK region, which consists of all collegiate rodeo teams east of the Mississippi. The team competes in 10 rodeos every year.
The rodeos consists of 10 events.
Men may compete in bull riding, calf roping, team roping, steer wrestling, saddle bronco riding and bareback riding.
Women may compete in barrel racing, goat tying, breakaway calf roping and team roping.
Both men and women compete for individual points and winners can earn individual money.
Coach J.D. VanHooser, professor of animal science, said he is confident in the results of the riding team.
“This year, our men are very strong in our rough stock events – that’s bareback riding and saddle riding,” VanHooser said. “When they get their heads in the game, they will show even more progress.”
The girl’s barrel racing is strong as well, he said.
“We have a lot of barrel racers this season and some great horses which improves their time,” he said.
Though the rough stock events are nothing to mess with, VanHooser said he would like to see improvement on the timed events such as cattle roping and goat tying.
“Both the cowboys and cowgirls need to keep up with what their potential is with their times,” VanHooser said.
Of the 60-member team this year, two-thirds of them are freshmen. VanHooser said this means there is much inexperience on the team and the transition from high school to collegiate rodeo can be a difficult one.
The team is a formidable contender in the OZARK region and often has cowboys and cowgirls go on to the College National Finals Rodeo. At the end of the rodeo season, CNFR takes the top three competitors in each event and the top two teams battle for the championship.
“Last year, we had three rodeo team members go to CNFR,” VanHooser said. “We’re very established as the only rodeo team in Kentucky.”
Being the only collegiate team in Kentucky, the Racers have to travel to states such as Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi to compete.
“We travel a lot, but it’s a small price to pay,” VanHooser said. “It’s about the love of the sport.”
Unlike many team sports, rodeo requires the cowboy or cowgirl to have a feel for the animal, because their performance relies on the bull they’re riding or the calf they’re tying.
“It’s a tough mental sport as much as it is a physical one,” VanHooser said.
Of the upperclassmen team, senior Kirsten Yunker qualified to go to CNFR, finishing 18th in the world for barrel racing and is passionate about the rodeo.
“It’s a great release and relieves stress for me,” Yunker said. “I think the rodeo is an addiction. You just go out and do it and eventually love it. It’s more than just a sport for me.”
Another returning upperclassman this year is junior Logan Corbett, a bareback rider and team calf roper, who said the team has a great relationship.
“The friendships you accumulate in rodeo are awesome,” Corbett said. “Even though you’re competing against other people, they’re still your friends and you want to see everyone do well.”
The team’s next home rodeo will be 7 p.m. nightly Thursday through Oct. 29 at the Bill Cherry Expo Center.