BIG CYPRESS — As a warm up to the upcoming Eastern Indian Rodeo Association rodeo season, kids from age 6 to 17 practiced their skills at a rough stock clinic at the Junior Cypress Rodeo Arena in Big Cypress.
About 20 kids took turns at mutton busting, pony riding, chute doggin, calf riding, steer riding and junior bull riding on Jan. 19. The young participants were allowed to do an event repeatedly; after all, the point of the clinic was to build skills and confidence.
“This is an open clinic, so you can ride as much as you want,” Moses Jumper Jr. told the group of young rodeo riders. “This is a good sport, but it’s a tough sport.”
Before the clinic began, Justin Gopher, former professional bull rider, spoke to the kids about his experience in the rodeo.
“I love the sport of bull riding,” Gopher said. “As a kid growing up, it was fun. I never thought I’d quit.”
Injuries sidelined his bull riding career in 2009. Gopher started doing rodeo at age 9 and retired at age 26 after eight years on the professional circuit.
“To be successful, you have to make rodeo your life,” Gopher said. “This is a mind game; if you believe you can do something, you can do it. It’s all about what you have in your head. You can do anything if you believe in yourself.”
The kids suited up in helmets and vests before each event, starting with the mutton busting, during which the kids needed to stay on the animal for 15 seconds to get points during a real rodeo. They had to stay on a calf for six seconds and eight seconds on a bull for it to count.
During the clinic, Tribal experts coached and encouraged the kids in their events.
Professional bareback rider Jacoby Johns shared his expertise with the aspiring young pony riders as he helped get the horses and riders ready in the chute. He even got on a pony and demonstrated how far back the kids should lean as they try to hang on.
During chute doggin, Blevyns Jumper showed the kids how to bring down a steer by its horns. It didn’t take long for his clean white shirt to get covered in rodeo red dirt. As Johns held onto the steer’s tail, the kids tried to take down the animals, which were much bigger and stronger than them.
Jeff Johns, Naha Jumper and Cyrus Smedley also coached the kids and gave them tips as they struggled. Some of those pearls were “don’t be afraid” and “put your hip into it.”
Gopher helped the kids get ready for the bulls and made sure the equipment was secure before the kids mounted the feisty beasts.
“Watching these kids brings back a lot of excitement and memories,” said Gopher, who has two sons in the rodeo. “They love it.”