The term “Central Coast” tends to bring thoughts of crashing waves and surfboards before those of dirt-filled stadiums and saddles. However, Cal Poly proves the coast can have both with its 77-year-strong rodeo.
The Poly Royal Rodeo is considered one of the biggest rodeos in the nation and has grown popular through the years. Its popularity moved the event to Alex G. Spanos Stadium this year to accommodate up to 11,000 attendees. Competitors from Cuesta College, California State University, Fresno, University of Nevada, Las Vegas and more came to the sold-out Spanos Stadium April 8 for another year of the coveted tradition.
The riders then
From its start in 1939 to now, hundreds of titles have been won by dedicated students. Some of these students are brand new to the sport while others have had family showing them the ropes for generations.
“When I got to Cal Poly I wasn’t sure if I was going to rodeo or not,” agricultural science senior Kayla Nichol said. “It’s just something that would be so hard to give up. I couldn’t imagine not having my horse here.”
Many of the team’s members started working with horses from a young age and continued the sport after college, some turning their passion into a career.
One of the most notable Cal Poly rodeo alumni is Monty Roberts. After competing and winning titles for the National Champion Team Roper in 1956 and National Champion Steer Wrestler in 1957, Roberts created a successful career for himself as a professional cowboy and rodeo coach. Roberts has also published several books, bred award-winning horses and created rodeo camps for beginners, all driven by his love for horses.
“It has been my life’s work to develop the best horses possible in the show ring and then in my later years, buy, sell and train championship thoroughbred racehorses,” Roberts said. “I continue to work with horses to show the world that there is a better way to work with them.”
Other rodeo alumni have found success outside of the rodeo, yet still maintain their roots in the sport. Alumnus and 1989 and 1991 All-Around Cowgirl Julie Adair has been in several films as a stunt rider, such as “Lizzie McGuire,” “Charmed” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
Alumnus Tom Ferguson, who competed on the rodeo team from 1971 to 1973, found success in the professional world of rodeo. He was the first person to make more than $100,000 in a single rodeo season and make more than $1 million in career earnings, with six consecutive all-around world titles picked up along the way.
Video by Joe Schutz
The riders now
Though the team formed in 1939, the first rodeo held on campus wasn’t until 1956. Since then, the team has held 44 national titles and has the most wins of any program in the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association.
Students competing in the rodeo enroll in Advanced Competitive Rodeo (AG 243-02) and meet during competition season.
While the rodeo is a competitive and serious sport, the team fosters strong bonds and lifetime friendships among each other and their competitors. Because riders are a part of a relatively small community, interacting with competitors is common at local and regional rodeos.
“It’s really fun, it’s like a high school reunion,” Nichol said. “It’s like, ‘Hey how are you doing?’ and catching up with old friends. You can feel the excitement in the crowd and in your competitors.”
It’s always about the horse
Though some past team members have found great success from the rodeo, life on the team is anything but glamorous. Taking care of animals is no easy task, but it pays off when a strong connection is made. According to Nichol, trust between a human and a horse is a two-way street.
“I have to trust when I go in the arena he is going to do his job and I’m going to do mine. That’s a really special bond that we have,” Nichol said about her relationship with her 12-year-old horse Jelly.
Bioresource and agricultural engineering senior Colton Farquer competes as a roper and said these bonds are even more important during his event.
“I think it’s a challenge,” Farquer said. “I think the coolest thing about roping is you have a horse and a calf and a person and you have to get all three things to work in sync in order to get a time. All these pieces and components and fundamentals have to come together.”
The pieces came together for Farquer; he walked away as the tie down roping winner. Other Cal Poly wins included agricultural communication senior Katie Rice’s tie for women’s all-around cowgirl.
Though the preliminary competition Friday, April 7 was moved to the rodeo grounds because of rain, Saturday night’s rodeo at Spanos proved successful and ready to return for a 78th year.