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Retro Rodeo

Ride for the Brand showcases working cowboys.

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Imagine an event that combines wild cow milking, opera, animal health care, poetry and dancing. No, it's not an episode of Jackass featuring cast members from Hee Haw, ER, and The Lawrence Welk Show. It's Ride for the Brand, The Working Ranch Cowboy Association's (WRCA) Rodeo hosted by Cowboy Poet Waddie Mitchell with a guest performance of "America the Beautiful" by Opera Theater of the Rockies and a free cowboy dance to follow.

Now if the word "rodeo" conjures images of professional athletes in starched western shirts and brand-new Wrangler jeans competing for millions of dollars, think again. This rodeo is the real deal.

"The cowboys make a living on the ranch," said Bob Harrison, a working cowboy and one of the organizers of Saturday's event that will pit teams from 14 ranches from around the country against each other to compete for fun and a small jackpot. "You have to work on a ranch that's a working ranch, not a hobby ranch."

Not only do the cowboys and cowgirls have to be employed on WRCA sanctioned ranches, the events in which they compete are all based on "chores that actually go on every day on a working ranch," added Harrison.

As absurd as wild cow milking may sound, for example, it's something that cowboys often have to do when mother cows have blocked teats and their calves can't nurse.

"Wild cow milking isn't a guy on a stool," said Harrison of the highly anticipated event, which requires a team of cowboys to rope a wild cow and extract a small quantity of milk into a beer bottle.

Other events include: team branding, team doctoring (both simulated with chalk), ranch bronco riding and a wild horse race.

"This is nice break-in for where rodeo came from," said cowboy poet and master of ceremonies Waddie Mitchell, who'll deliver an invocation poem to launch the event. "We're just here to fill in the blanks of where rodeo came from."

Mitchell said that rodeos -- from a Spanish word that means "a gathering or holdup of cattle without fences" -- began happening around the turn of the 20th century when crews of cowboys would meet at a given shipping point and "naturally began to compete."

"It'll be pretty retro," added Mitchell, noting that the "working cowboy has changed very little" in the course of a century.

On top of the retro nature of the working ranch rodeo, both Harrison and Mitchell hope that people unfamiliar with the culture will come out to the event and see that the events aren't cruel to the animals, and that working ranches often employ much more environmentally friendly ways of raising free-range cattle and caring for the land than do the larger corporate ranches and feedlots.

The working cowboy, said Mitchell, "has an understanding of the land and caring for it because that's how he makes his living."

More than anything, both Harrison and Mitchell promised, it will be a good time for the whole family. Proceeds from ticket sales will benefit Latigo Trails Heritage Center in Black Forest.

-- Noel Black

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