Is Rodeo Getting More Dangerous? Or Are We Just More Exposed to It?

The rodeo world lost two cowboys in the last month to injuries succumbed in the arena. The latest was so tragic that the cowboy lost his life immediately and in front of hundreds of spectators. We know that rodeo is dangerous for all contestants, it doesn’t matter the event. Most, if not all, of the contestants have had “close calls” that they can tell you about that they were lucky to get out of alive. So, is rodeo getting more dangerous or are we just more exposed to it?

The roughstock are bred to be true athletes. As some of you may know that scores for bucking events are given to both the cowboy and the animal, making it so that both animal and cowboy have to give their best to get scores that win rodeos and break arena records. The timed events have also stepped up their game. Cowboys and Cowgirls are pushing the limits asking their horses for everything they’ve got, putting themselves close to the danger line for the sake of tenths and hundredths of a second. While most of the timed event contestants never get off of their horse, they do face issues with ground conditions, stopping and starting safety, and unpredictable livestock. There have been advancements in therapies for maintaining equine and competitor health, medicine, ground conditions, and transparency. Social media and streaming services expose every action taken in rodeo, the change in ground conditions from day-to-day and the adversities these cowboys and cowgirls face.

While the average spectator would have likely only seen one to two rodeos a year, they are now seeing tens and up to hundreds of rodeos a year if they choose to follow them. I experienced something of this phenomenon when I moved to Texas. I had previously lived in states where I was lucky to go to a barrel race with over 100 runners just a few times a year. After moving to Texas, I now go to barrel races several times a week and can witness easily up to 1,000 runs a week. Because of that, I have seen more wrecks and injuries, along with broken arena records, and phenomenal athletes.

You may be familiar with 1987 World Champion Lane Frost, the famed bull-rider killed in the arena at Cheyenne Frontier Days in 1989. In 1994, the biopic based on Frost’s life, 8 Seconds, was released. Luke Perry played the role of Frost. Frost’s death led to multiple developments in bull-rider safety. After Frost’s death, Cody Lambert, one of his traveling partners, created the protective vest that professional cowboys now wear when riding bulls. Later, in 1996, the PBR made protective vests mandatory. Watch 8 Seconds here on Prime Video. Sign up for Prime Video here.

Unfortunately, protective vests do not protect a contestant from all of the injuries that they can sustain that lead to death.

26-Year-Old Skee Burkes was killed in the Saddle Bronc riding in Abilene, Tx (9/10/23) and died in the arena. He was a cowboy that could ride performance horses, rope, and ride roughstock. He was skilled at leatherwork and had an aspiring career in the oilfield. Services are pending. Burial will be in Matador with memorial planned at the Henrietta Cowboy Church the afternoon of Sunday, September 17. You can see more about his life on this facebook post.

31-Year-Old Bareback rider Trenten Montero, who qualified for the 2019 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, passed away on Aug. 30 due to injuries he suffered during a ride on Aug. 10 at the Owyhee County Rodeo in Homedale, Idaho.

My thoughts and sincere condolences go out to the family, friends, and fans of these two cowboys. Be careful out there. We all take chances in life, and we can only decide how big of a chance we want to take.

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