Child development senior Kassidy Hamer has ridden horses since before she can remember.
Following in her parents’ footsteps of riding, farming and ranching, she continued the legacy as a part of the renowned rodeo team at Cal Poly.
“[Riding is] just kind of part of my lifestyle,” Hamer said.
This year would have been Hamer’s last year competing at the Cal Poly Rodeo, which also marked the 80th Poly Royal. However, the rodeo is one of the many events cancelled due to coronavirus.
“All rodeos are canceled for the rest of the year, and unfortunately it’s my senior year, so my college rodeo career has come to quite an abrupt ending,” Hamer said.
But the work that went into the 80th Poly Royal began long before signs of its sudden ending.
The people behind the Poly Royal
Head Coach Ben Londo was the brainpower behind turning the Poly Royal into what would have marked its 80th year this weekend, April 17 to 18, 2020.
Londo is a Cal Poly rodeo alumnus himself. This was his seventh year coaching the team.
“It kind of chose me,” Londo said.
Until Londo’s fourth year at Cal Poly, the Royal had been held in the rodeo arena behind the Veterinary Hospital. There was only enough seating for half the estimated 6,000 attendees, so he said people sat in rows on the ground just to come watch.
“It was obvious that people wanted to make this a bigger event, and we just ran out of space here,” Londo said.
Londo said the idea of using Alex G. Spanos Stadium for the Royal came to him during one of his daily drives to work as he passed under the stadium.
Since then, the event has been hosted inside Spanos Stadium for a one-night event that transforms the soccer field into a rodeo extravaganza.
The Poly Royal has become the biggest college rodeo in the world, attracting anywhere from 15,000 to 17,000 people.
Londo said that rodeo is unlike football, as the teams do not have a following everywhere, and most of the support comes from the local community and families.
Londo also said there are a lot of misconceptions about rodeo but that he understands how that might arise when people simply just do not know.
“If you’re just watching that, why are they doing that?” Londo said. “But there’s a lot of history to it, and there’s a lot of usefulness to how it’s evolved, and it’s tough to explain that to a lot of people.”
However, Londo said he appreciates the chance to explain his passion to people.
“I like the chance to explain it to people and bring them to light of what rodeo truly is and trying to debunk a lot of those myths.”
Usually, Londo teaches a beginning rodeo class, or Theory and Practice of Rodeo (AG 243), where he gets a lot of students who know nothing about the sport to come in and learn about each event every year.
He teaches them how the event started, how it is done and even lets them try a “toned-down” version of the event.
Londo said the biggest misconception about rodeo is in the nature of how they treat their animals. Londo said they need the animals in optimal health, as the entire rodeo industry is based on the health of the animals — not on torturing them.
“They buck because they love it,” Londo said. “There’s nothing you can do to make these horses buck. If they don’t want to buck, they’re not gonna buck.”
He said the most rewarding part of the whole experience for him comes in the form of student success.
The Cal Poly team is one of the oldest programs in the nation and is nationally ranked, always in the top 20, producing more national champions than any other program.
Londo said he knows the students work hard, participating in rodeo and dealing with the same class load as everybody else.
“We start at 6 a.m. every morning and go until long after dark,” Londo said.
Hamer competed in barrel racing, where riders direct a horse in a cloverleaf pattern around three barrels set up in a triangle. She also competed in breakaway roping, where riders rope a calf while atop a horse. This event is considered as the female equivalent to men’s calf roping, she said.
Hamer said she is not frustrated by the difference between male and female events, and that it is just the nature of rodeo. Rodeo events are rooted in the history of ranching practices, she said.
“For example, the men’s calf roping event is derived from the fact that historically, you would have to actually rope a calf on your ranch,” Hamer said.
Agricultural education masters student and assistant rodeo coach Seth Niederhauser said he rides for about eight hours a day and has been riding for as long as he can remember.
Niederhauser participated in team roping and tie-down roping, otherwise known as calf roping. Team roping is the only event in rodeo where riders have partners, he said. There is a header and a heeler, both on horseback, and the header is like the “quarterback of the play.”
When the header nods his head, the steer is released, and he must steer it to the left. Meanwhile, the heeler comes in and must rope the back feet. When that is complete, the time stops. The best time wins.
Niederhauser said his favorite part about rodeo is the “horsemanship” of it all.
“Getting to know a horse takes a lot of work and it’s cool to see the results,” Niederhauser said.
Niederhauser grew up on a ranch in a small Colorado town and spent time doctoring or taking care of cattle’s medical needs.
“I love it,” Niederhauser said. “I could do it every day.”
Although athletes cannot compete in this year’s event, NCAA has given spring athletes another year of eligibility — the rodeo community included.