When I was growing up, my grandparents had a house in Montana and every fourth of July we would go to the rodeo. So when I wandered over the Rodeo Infield on Day 1, I thought I would be in familiar territory. And there were all the cowboys in their hats and chaps and vests, just like I remembered.

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But then I looked out behind the stands and saw this maze of pens and cowboys and animals and realized I haven’t a clue on what really goes into a rodeo. Our resident animal care and rodeo event expert, Bonni Clark, took us on a tour behind the chutes.

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Before you ever see them ride out into the arena, the horses travel down a laneway from the barns to the holding pens. Bonni explained that bucking horses are somewhere between domesticated and wild horses. They are trained to load up in trucks and are familiar with barns and pens, but they spend most of their lives in natural herds with minimal contact with people. All horses naturally buck off riders, and that instinct has been boosted in bucking stock through the positive reinforcement of always “winning” – getting the cowboys off their backs.

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From the holding pens the horses are maneuvered through a series of gates, one at a time.

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Until they line up like this.DSCF8410

And then finally make their way into the chutes to meet their cowboys.

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Did you know the cowboy’s vest is like armour? It disperses the impact if a horse or bull steps on the cowboy and protects their vital organs.

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The rest of the story, as you know, all goes down in eight seconds or less.