Natalie Dinges slowly lowers herself onto the back of the bull for the first time. Firmly taking the rope in her left hand, she finds her balance and raises her right hand to signal she’s ready to go. The gate swings open and the steer charges, kicking his back legs until Dinges flies off the side and into the mud. A cheer erupts from a crowd of cowboy boots and jeans sitting on the gate. Welcome to the Cal Poly Rodeo Class.
Dinges, a business administration junior, was one of 10 students in the class randomly chosen to ride a bull at the upcoming 72nd Annual Poly Royal Rodeo April 13 to 14. For many students. this test-run was their first ride.
“I’ve sat on a horse twice in my life,” Dinges said. “(It was) really fun, but kind of nerve-wracking. Falling off was the scariest part.”
Helping with the class were members of the Cal Poly Rodeo team, a 30-member intercollegiate rodeo team that has been riding bulls and racing horses since 1946, member and animal science senior Kalysa Hamilton said.
The Cal Poly Rodeo team will host Poly Royal Rodeo at Cal Poly’s Open House this weekend.
“Last year, over 2,000 people came out,” Hamilton said. “The thing that is awesome about Poly Royal is that other (rodeo) competitions try to get people, but there are no crowds like Poly Royal. It’s tradition.”
All of the events at Poly Royal “come from ranch jobs, like roping cows,” Hamilton said. When ranchers needed to help sick cows on the ranch, they would use methods such as tie-down roping, which is roping and tying down a steer cow calf.
Poly Royal gives the Cal Poly community a taste of “the rodeo world and the western heritage most people don’t get to see,” agricultural communication freshman Lane Santos Karney said. Karney competes in three of the men’s events, including tie-down roping and steer wrestling.
Agricultural communication junior Morgan Defty is the team’s only bull, or “rough-stock” rider, but that hasn’t stopped him from scoring fourth in the region. Defty’s advice for new riders is “(to) stay up on the rope, mentally focus and practice with technique.”
The women’s team stands second overall in the nation going into Poly Royal, and the men’s team at 13th.
A majority of the schools competing center their focus on the rodeo, according to coach Tony Branquinho. What sets Cal Poly apart is the team members also work hard in a competitive educational environment.
“Our students focus really hard on school, and they compete,” Branquinho said.
Rodeo students not only have the responsibility of schoolwork, but they also take care of any horses they bring, feed livestock, clean the stalls and arena, as well as practice their sport.
“But really, how many people can say that they rode a steer in class before?” Branquinho said.