Rodeo enthusiasts saddle up for Progress Days

Posted: Monday, July 28, 2003

The chute opens and a calf bolts out in a blur of motion, kicking up mud with each hoof beat.

Right behind it is Charlie MacDonald on his horse. He's riding hard and swinging a lasso over his head. With skill and precision, he ropes the calf by its small horns and quickly pulls up any slack in the rope.

From the side of the arena, MacDonald's wife, Janette, runs over to the struggling calf, pulls a ribbon from it's tail and then sprints back to the chute the calf blew from.

Their time in the ribbon roping event 16.4 seconds.

The Sterling couple was just one of many competitors in the Progress Day Rodeo held Saturday and Sunday and put on by the Soldotna Equestrian Association.

"It's fun, and the competition is always a thrill," said Janette MacDonald.

They made it look easy, but a lot goes into being so good.

"It's a lot of work, a lot of practice and you have to take good care of your horse year round," she said. "It takes a little luck, too."

The MacDonalds weren't the only family team in the rodeo, and it's the family atmosphere that competitor Becky West enjoys most about being in the Soldotna rodeo with her son.

"Unlike school sports where I just watch, rodeo is something I can participate in with him," West said. "It's a family thing that we can do together."

West also said that unlike some of the bigger state rodeos that require high entry fees, the Soldotna rodeo has continued to be a small, reasonable fee, family-oriented rodeo. Because of these factors, the rodeo allows many kids and young adults to compete.

Charlie Willis and his daughter, Callie, came down from Wasilla to take part in the roping, riding and wrangling. They've been making the long drive to participate in the rodeo since 1974.

"We're heavily involved in roping," he said. "We've got an arena at the house, and we rope two to three times a week."

The practice paid off over the weekend, since the father-daughter team performed well in many of the events they were in.

"I love the excitement and the rush it gives you to work with a good horse and partner," Charlie said.

Not all of the rodeo contestants had as much experience. For the mother-son team of Sarah and Theron Rochford from the Kenai-Soldotna area, this weekend's competition marked several firsts.

Theron Rochford, at age 3, entered the calf riding competition, an event for children under age 6. He held on tight to his cream and tan colored calf as it burst from the chute and bucked around the arena.

The youngsters only had to stay on the calves for six seconds to qualify, as opposed to the eight seconds the adult had to endure on the bulls. Theron Rochford lasted just over two seconds.

Two seconds is pretty good for a first-timer, though, and the crowd clapped and cheered in support.

His mother was one of only two women competing in the bull riding, and this weekend's event was her first professional ride. But being the minority and riding against so many cowboys didn't make her nervous.

"It's just an adrenaline rush," she said, and when her bull blew from the chute bucking and kicking, she was living proof of the popular cliche, "If you're not making dust, you're eating it."

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