The best five ways to enjoy California Rodeo Salinas.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
The bad-ass bullfighter’s comment was surprising, and quickly dismissed. “You know,” he said, “That was good. You could give a career in bullfighting a shot.”
“Um, thanks,” I said. “But… ”
Ten minutes in the ring with – and in the air above, and the dirt beneath – Colin, the so-called beginner’s bull, was more than I’ll ever need. (It also felt more like an hour and a half. To see Nic Coury’s slideshow/video of the training session, visit www.montereycountyweekly/bullfight.)
It was also more than enough evidence to understand how daring, quick and cuckoo these cowboys can be – and how cool it can be to have a chance to check out their charismatic antics up close. They travel the country to leap over horns and bounce on hurricane-strength horsebacks for maybe a thousand bucks a week, if they’re good. We need only slip over to Salinas and drop $20 tops to partake.
Last year, our photojournalist-at-large documented a herd of glimpses during the five-day event, so there was no better agent to pluck the five-second guide to the five best events among many excellent choices. Here’s what he came up with:Most Gnarly to Watch: Bull and Bareback Riding
Bulls are more than big animals. They offer ill mannerisms, filthy frames and all the brute force a half-ton of muscle can muster.
The guys who jump on and take the wild ride to see how long they can hold on are pretty hardcore, as best demonstrated when their grips loosen too much and they get tossed, kicked and/or mangled. The Professional Bull Rider showdown is Wednesday night, but every day thereafter includes a rough-and-tumble remix of the athletic animals kicking dirt.
Spectators can also treat themselves by watching what rodeo officials tout as the most physically demanding event: bareback riding. The cowboy is thrown every which way while hanging onto a wild – and wildly agile – horse.Bull Riding: 6:30pm and 8:30pm Fri; 1:45pm and 3:45pm Sat; Finals: 3:45pm Sun.
Bareback Riding: 7pm Thu-Fri; 2:15pm Sat; Finals: 1:45pm Sun.Most Kid-Friendly Event: Mutton Busting and Stick Horse Race
According to the rodeo’s Mandy Roth, fans cheer as hard for this event as they do for the grown-up rodeo cowboys. For young rookies hoping for a career (or just a careen) on a bull or a horse, the mutton busting takes place daily. Brave riders hold on to the bare back of a sheep, which then busts out of a smaller chute and attempts to slip its rider on a jaunt around the ring. Also on board for youngsters is a family-friendly stick horse race, where riders gallop one length in front of the grandstands in hope of the best time.
Mutton Busting: 6:45pm Thu-Fri; 2pm Sat-Sun. Stick horse race: 5pm Fri.Most Popular: Freestyle Bullfighting
California Rodeo Salinas hosts one of the only freestyle bullfights on the West Coast – and one bullfight champ calls it the most energized atmosphere they compete in. Given its populatity, the fan-favorite event – and its leaping splits and backflips over bulls, which resulted in a broken leg a year ago – closes each night. Unlike the riding bulls, freestyle bulls are bred to be small, quick and more agile, resulting in a heck of a contest.
Freestyle Bullfights: 9pm Thu and Fri; 4pm Sat and Sun.Best Date Event: Saturday Night Concert
Original bassist Stu Cook and drummer Doug “Cosmo” Clifford launched Creedence Clearwater Revisited in 1995 to play fan favorites like “Green River” and “Bad Moon Rising.” (See music story, pg. 37.) Country vocalist Jamie O’Neal opens the show.
Gates open: 6:30pm; Jamie O’Neal: 8pm Sat; Creedence Clearwater Revisited: 9pm Sat. Salinas Municipal Stadium, 175 Maryal Drive, Salinas. $38/general; $58/VIP.Most Underrated Event: WPRA Women’s Professional Barrel Racing
The lone women’s event is unique for other reasons as well – consider the agility involved in making hairpin turns around three barrels (without knocking them over) to complete a “clover leaf” pattern on a galloping horse, all in less than 15 seconds (last year’s winning time).
A fallen barrel results in five seconds added to their time. “The cowgirls work just as hard as most of the cowboys,” says rodeo spokesperson Amanda Gianolini, “and don’t necessarily get the same glory.” Many local cowgirls participate in hopes of winning top prize and regional bragging rights.
WPRA Women’s Professional Barrel Racing: 8pm Thu and Fri; 3:30pm Sat; Finals: 3:30pm Sun.
CALIFORNIA RODEO SALINAS rides from July 16-19. Salinas Sports Complex, 1034 N. Main St., Salinas. $7/children; $13/general admission; $20/reserved seats. (800) 549-4989, 772-6500 or www.carodeo.com