GREENFIELD — These kids want to grow up to be cowboys.
On Saturday and Sunday at the Hancock County Fairgrounds, kindergarten through eight-graders will make their case for a career straight out of the Wild West when the Indiana Junior Rodeo Association gallops into town.
Organized in 1989, the IJRA provides training for younger children in the sport of rodeo.
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In addition, the association promotes character-building and sportsmanship in its young participants with an emphasis on responsibility, cooperation and good conduct.
The weekend schedule of events for the event mirrors that of the professional rodeos, including barrel racing, calf-roping and team roping, but some contests are modified for the younger crowd.
For example, instead of bull-riding or bronco busting, the kindergarten through second-graders participate in mutton-busting. In this event, a sheep is held still either in a chute or by an adult, while the child is placed on the sheep’s back. The chute is then opened and the sheep does its level best to remove the young rider from its back. Scoring begins when riders are able to stay on past the 6-second mark.
Goat-tying is another junior rodeo event that is not seen on the adult level. At the signal, the participants race on horseback toward a goat tethered in the center of the ring. The young cowpokes are then tasked with laying the goat on the ground and securing at least three of its legs.
Chute-dogging, however, is one event that is mostly the same for the youngest rodeo riders as it is for the pro circuit. A steer (or in the case of the junior rodeo, a calf with steer horns attached) is released from a chute, and the competitor is challenged with chasing it down, wrestling it to the ground, and making sure that all four feet are pointing the same way for the best score.
As the participants advance in age, the events become more challenging. Riders graduate from sheep to calves to young bulls. Hay bale-roping gives way to calf-roping. Breakaway calf-roping becomes breakaway steer-heading. Competition between boys and girls separate. Events become more competitive.
Rodeos are a family affair for Lizton residents Brodie and Sherri Zimmerman and their children — daughter Maci and son Cooper.
All four will be in attendance at this weekend’s events. Brodie Zimmerman participates in calf-roping in events throughout the Midwest.
Thirteen-year-old Maci does barrel-racing, pole-bending, goat-tying and break-away roping; 7-year-old Cooper does everything from mutton-busting to chute-dogging.
When asked what events she participated in, mom Sherri Zimmerman answered without hesitation.
“My event is Mom,” Zimmerman said. “My job is to get them up every day and help them get their horses ready to go.”
Maci was chosen as this year’s Rodeo Princess at the state finals last August, competing in the areas of modeling, public speaking, horsemanship and a question-and-answer session.
Maci competes with two horses, Fancy, and Bunny. Fancy is for barrel-racing and pole-bending, while Bunny has been trained for breakaway roping events and goat-tying.
“It’s extremely fun,” she said. “You gain responsibility, and you can make friends outside of school.”
The Indiana Jr. Rodeo Association season runs from March to October, with events being held throughout the state. In addition to this weekend, they will return twice more to the Hancock County Fairgrounds, once in June and again in August.
Tami White, secretary for the association, encourages everyone to attend. She couldn’t say enough about the boys and girls who participate.
“They are the hardest-working kids — mannerly, courteous — and even though they’re competing against each other, their teamwork is phenomenal,” White said. “Come on out and see what rodeo is all about. We’ll be happy to meet with you.”
The public is invited, and admission is free. Food and vendors will be on site, and spectators are welcome to spend the day. Events get underway around 10 a.m. on both Saturday and Sunday.