The gate opens, and the calf comes out bucking and kicking up dirt in the spotlit arena. A child no older than 11 hangs on for eight seconds that seem like much longer. A buzzer sounds. The child lets go. The calf retreats to the far end of the arena, where two men on horseback herd him toward a group of his fellow calves. The child brushes off the dust and waits for his score.
Lane Thompson, 11, of McPherson watches from the next gate over. In a few moments, he’ll be trying to do the same thing.
Thompson was one of many children and youth ages 16 and younger to participate in the McPherson County Fair Junior Rodeo Thursday night. He said he saw his cousins do rodeos growing up and thought he’d give it a shot.
“I though it’d be cool to see how the rodeos are going,” Thompson said. “Then I thought when I was older, it’d be cool to try it out.”
Thompson said he participated in a calf ride event once before because he thought it would be fun. That time, he fell off before his eight-second ride was over. This time, his goal was to just hold on until the end.
“The hardest part is if you’re too nervous, you might chicken out and jump off,” Thompson said.
Calf riding was one of 16 events at the Junior Rodeo. Other events included sheep riding, barrel racing and goat tying.
Those competing in the racing and goat tying events were divided into three groups by age 6 and younger in the PeeWee group, 7 to 11 in the junior group, and 12 to 16 in the senior group.
Abram Guhr, 3, from Canton competed in the sheep riding event for the first time Thursday. He said he was excited to compete and see other events at the rodeo and fair.
“I like to do stuff in the dirt — demolition derby, ride horses, ride bulls,” Guhr said.
Guhr’s sheep ride lasted 1.43 seconds. The best time for that event was 5.08 seconds.
While there was no minimum age requirement, parents were required to sign releases for their children before they could compete. Adults guided the horses for some smaller children, and others rode ponies instead of horses in some events.
The PeeWee group also had stick horse versions of barrel racing and flag racing.
Calf riding was one of the last events, and Thompson was second-to-last to compete. When his turn came, the calf fell down just outside the gate, so the judges let him ride again. The second calf came out bucking, and Thompson fell off just a few seconds after he started.
Page 2 of 2 - Thompson was disappointed that he didn’t reach his goal, but he said competing in the event was exciting nonetheless.
“When you get on, you get a little nervous,” Thompson said. “When he gets out, it’s hard to hold on.”
Thompson said he might try to reach eight seconds another time.