Cowboys and cowgirls are rolling into New Orleans this weekend, ready to take on snarling 2,000-pound bulls and horses that buck wildly in a test of skill, agility, strength and courage at the Rodeo New Orleans.
For a country-Western experience, people who live in New Orleans travel over two hours to attend the annual Angola Prison Rodeo. Now TNT Rodeo Co. is bringing the All-American show closer to home at the UNO Lakefront Arena. Proceeds will support the New Orleans Mounted Police Division and The Molly Foundation, to aid a therapy pony injured after Hurricane Katrina.
“We don’t put on a rodeo unless we support something in the town that we go to,” said Robbie Thomas, co-owner of Louisiana-based TNT Rodeo Co. Thomas announces 30 rodeos a year, including the Angola Prison Rodeo, and is host of six.
Crowds will witness a myriad of traditional rodeo events: bullfighting, barrel-racing, bareback riding, saddle bronc riding, team roping and, of course, rodeo clowns. Throw in some country music and an equestrian novelty act and New Orleanians will feel like they stepped into the Wild West.
“We’re having the American Bullfight Competition,” said Thomas. “These guys will be matched against fighting bulls and they will have a minute and a half to show their courage. Some of them run and jump over bulls, others show how close they can get to the bulls without getting hooked or gorged — it is very entertaining.”
More than 400 cowboys and cowgirls will vie for part of the $50,000 prize.
“It is about a guy making a living with his wrists, his hands and his talents,” said Thomas. “You can come from the richest family in the United States, but when you stride the back of a 2,000-pound bull, you’re just another cowboy. You’re going to win or lose based on your ability.”
The patriotic sport that prides itself on its red, white and blue origins is steeped in cowboy history.
“We call rodeos America’s sport ... It was all born and bred here in the good old U.S.A.,” Thomas said.
The majority of contestants come from rural areas, mainly cattle farms. Many of which mastered the skills of these events either through their lifestyle of a working cowboy, such as horse-breaking skills, cattle ranching, or by attending specialized schools.
“It takes 100 percent focus and dedication; they practice a lot,” said Thomas. “They have to do a lot of homework; they will study the bulls and the bronc horses. They will call other guys who rode that same bull or horse and find out what it does.”
It’s just as much a show for the cowgirls as it is for the cowboys, as women hold their own in roping and racing events.
“There will be two main events for the ladies: the breakaway roping and barrel racing — horse-racing rodeo style,” Thomas said.
Paige Nicholson, Miss Rodeo America, will be on hand for the events. Nicholson grew up on a farm in Mississippi and is a graduate of Mississippi State University with a Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Information Science; she’s also an expert horseback rider and roper.
Country music legend Mickey Gilley will headline with the Urban Cowboy Reunion tour. He performs Saturday at 7 p.m.; rodeo tickets admit spectators to the concert.
The All American Cowgirl Chicks will perform trick riding and stunts in their equestrian specialty act, and nationally beloved rodeo clowns Lecile Harris and Rudy Burns distract the bulls from fallen riders while doubling as comic relief.
TNT Rodeo Co. is pulling out all the stops, organizers said.
“New Orleans is not considered a rodeo town, like Houston or Dallas,” Thomas said, “so we want people to see stuff that they are not (otherwise) going to see in this city.”
Rodeo New Orleans
When: 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 13 and Sunday, Sept 14
Mickey Gilley Concert, Saturday, 7 p.m.
Where: UNO Lakefront Arena
Cost: $20 to both the rodeo and concert.
TICKETS: Tickets available at TicketMaster www.ticketmaster.com