BIG CYPRESS — Young rodeo riders who needed to polish their steer wrestling, calf roping and barrel racing skills converged at Junior Cypress Rodeo Arena for the 19th annual Eastern Indian Rodeo Association (EIRA) rough stock clinic Jan. 8-9 in Big Cypress.
EIRA charter member and special event director Moses Jumper Jr. said the annual clinic gives riders a chance to get their rhythm back before the start of the rodeo season.
“The kids can do this as much as they like,” Jumper said. “This is about the only time they ride before the rodeos.”
The 2016 EIRA rodeo season, comprised of six adult and four youth rodeos, begins Feb. 6 with the Bill Osceola Memorial Rodeo and finishes with the Regional Finals Sept. 16-17.
For the first time, the clinic also included an evening of calf, breakaway and team roping. Sheep, calf, steer and junior bull riding, along with steer wrestling, chute dogging and barrel racing, were covered during the Jan. 9 session.
EIRA directors coached the youth during each activity. To teach basic chute dogging catching and sliding techniques, Ivan Bruised Head drove a tractor equipped with a steer saver device through the arena dirt.
Creek Gopher, who at age 11 has about seven years of rodeo experience, worked on his form behind the tractor. This season will be his first competing in chute dogging.
Adults shouted out tips and encouragement as kids worked with the animals. The chute dogging youngsters learned not to touch the steer’s horns until the nose went past the line in the dirt. As the youth struggled to wrestle the beasts to the ground, instructions rang out.
“Turn his head,” Bruised Head said. “The body goes where the head turns.”
Practice commenced with youth from the tallest to the smallest. At 6-foot-6, Blevyns Jumper was up first and easily wrestled a steer to the ground. Creek took his turn after the taller boys. He brought down a steer on his second try.
Jacoby Johns helped kids gain a feel for bareback bronc riding by setting up his rigging on a suspended barrel to simulate a horse. No bucking, of course.
Girls sat on their horses in the outdoor riding ring as they listened to experienced barrel racers and EIRA Directors Lisa Osceola and Mackenzie Bowers share tips and answer questions. They learned to cinch saddles after warming up to ensure they do not enter the ring with a loose saddle.
Other words of wisdom included washing the horse’s bits and not letting it drink water from a common trough to prevent the animal from getting sick.
“Love on your horses,” Osceola said. “Let them know they did something right and take care of them if they’re hurting.”
Florida humidity takes a toll on leather saddles, so the girls were told to condition them often. Bowers admitted to not knowing everything and said she and Osceola always learn new things.
“The more you ride and the more people you are around, the more you will learn,” Bowers said. “Go to as many clinics as you can. The more you ride your horse, the more you will know if something is wrong with them.”
This EIRA season will feature two firsts; the first Betty Mae Jumper Memorial Rodeo will be held at the Junior Cypress Rodeo Arena Feb. 20, and the first rodeo held in Fort Pierce will take place at Chupco Ranch Rodeo April 23.