REDDING, Calif. — Fifth-grader Olivia Pimentel drew one conclusion after attending Western Heritage Day with her classmates at the rodeo grounds here.
“It is not easy to be a cowboy,” said the 11-year-old student of Turtle Bay Elementary School in Redding.
Pimentel sat in the grandstands with hundreds of other area schoolchildren on May 14 and learned how events at a modern rodeo have their origins in ranch work.
The kids watched a drill team and timed-event slack competitions that were part of the Redding Rodeo. Looking out at the horses and cattle in the arena, Pimentel could almost imagine life on the range in the Old West.
“Except when they play on their phones while they’re riding,” she said as some horsemen were warming up.
Rodeo organizers started holding Western Heritage Day several years ago to inform students about how many of the featured events began in the old days on ranches across America.
For instance, as rodeo entertainer John Payne — a.k.a. “the One-Armed Bandit” — drove some longhorn steers across the arena, announcer Bob Ow told stories of how ranchers in the Old West had to drive cattle thousands of miles to cow towns such as Dodge City, Kans.
During calf roping, Ow said one reason the animals are roped is to vaccinate them.
“He goes into why there is rodeo,” said Jim Croxton, who organized Western Heritage Day for the Redding Rodeo Association. “Back before we had the things we have today, they had to use horses … They had to rope their calves and brand them.”
Roberta Cole, a fifth-grade teacher at Turtle Bay, said she talks to her students about the purpose of branding and how microchips are now used to identify cattle.
“Many of our kids wouldn’t go to the rodeo if it weren’t for this,” she said.
Cole, whose aunt and uncle have ranches in Cloverdale, Calif, and Minnesota, said it’s important for kids to learn about agriculture and food production.
“When I moved up here from the Bay area, I thought kids would just know it up here,” she said. “But the reality is that they don’t know it any more than San Jose kids.”
The youngsters, who range from kindergarten through the sixth grade, were also given a hot lunch prepared by volunteers. One of Cole’s students, 10-year-old Noah Herman, said the day was worthwhile.
“It’s kind of interesting,” he said.
Redding Rodeo: http://www.reddingrodeo.com