By Terri Ferguson Smith / email@example.com
The Meridian Star
When the dust flies underneath the hooves of an excited 2,000 pound bull, a rider is likely to breathe that dust on the way to the ground. The rider's goal is to stay on for at least eight seconds, but of course the bull wants the rider off faster than that.
Bull riding is a time-honored rodeo tradition and that tradition returns to the arena in Lauderdale April 19-20 when the Ralph Morgan Rodeo hosts its 74th semiannual competition.
Morgan started the rodeo in the mid 1970s and holds it twice each year, drawing between 1,500 and 2,000 rodeo enthusiasts of all ages.
"It's great family entertainment," said Linda Clayton, spokesperson for the event. "You never know what famous cowboy or cowgirl will come through."
The rodeo stock is being provided by Stace Smith of Texas, but there will also be some stock from Johnny Morgan, son of the rodeo's founder. The Morgans raised rodeo livestock for competition for many years but Johnny stopped when his children were smaller and needed him as a soccer coach. Now he's stopped coaching his kids and is back to coaching bulls.
The first part of building strong rodeo stock is getting a good bull, according to Johnny Morgan.
"You couldn't go to the stockyard and buy stockyard bulls and hope to have any with the athleticism and desire to buck that the bulls that come out of the breeding programs have," Morgan said. "Almost all of them turn out to be pretty good bulls."
On the other hand, a not-so-desirable bull would be one that just wasn't interested in throwing off its rider.
"A bull that doesn't buck very hard, or doesn't want to," he said.
Good bulls actually improve with experience, he said.
"They learn quickly and they seem to have more athleticism to them. They're quicker, stronger,"
Morgan was asked if the bulls appear to enjoy the attention.
"Yeah, they seem to, especially the better bulls and if they are throwing guys off, they just keep getting better and better. They'll learn a trick and if it works for them one time, they'll use it from then on."
So bulls may be smarter than many people give them credit for.
"Oh they are extremely smart. I have handled these since they were small calves so I get them used to people handling them and standing in the chutes, coming in and out of the arena."
Morgan takes necessary precautions around the bulls.
"They can be very dangerous," he said "I've done it all my life so I know what I can and can't do and a lot of it is just instinct... just like any other animal, knowing how far you can go with certain animals."
Morgan said if he goes to the bulls with a sack of feed, he can easily get within two or three feet of all of them. However, the bulls' attitudes change when they enter the arena.
"If I put them in the arena, it's automatically a different world, almost instantly when they go in there."
Breeders have discovered that the mother's bloodline is as important as that of the calf's father, Morgan said.
"We found out that a lot of it comes from the female, more than from the sire. If a certain cow produces calves that buck, almost all of her calves will buck," he said.
While his collection of 3 and 4 year old bulls have been tested at other rodeos, Morgan is looking forward to seeing how they will do at the Ralph Morgan Rodeo in April.
In addition to bull riding, of course there will be contests in bareback, saddle bronc, calf roping, steer wrestling, women's barrel racing, team roping and a favorite among children, the kid's calf scramble.
That's where children are allowed on the competition floor to try and get a ribbon from the tail of one of the calves running around.
"It's really funny and cute," Clayton said. "The kids love it."
The rodeo has been sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys' Association, which means it is one of the ways competitors can earn points to qualify to compete in the National Finals Rodeo set for Dec. 5-14 in Las Vegas. The top 15 cowboys from across the U.S. will compete in the finals.
Clayton said they keep it a family event by not serving alcohol and by providing plain-clothes security so parents can relax and let their children go to concession stands by themselves. The rodeo starts both nights at 7:30.
Admission is $10 for adults; $6 for children 12 and under.
"The Morgan family loves doing this and they want to have this entertainment and fun time for the community," Clayton said. "We appreciate all the people who support the rodeo. If we didn't have sponsors, we couldn't put the rodeo on."a