>Heading up horses a challenge

   Madras-based competitors C.J. Van Sickle and Spud Smith finished off a season-long national championship run within the Professional Wild Horse Racers' Association at an event from Jan. 21 to 25 in Denver.
   By taking second at the Denver National Western Stock Show last week, which offers the fifth-most prize money of any rodeo in the country, on one list, Van Sickle and Smith plus Coloradan Josh Lair earned $3,100 in prize money which pushed them to the top of the season-long standings for wild horse racers.
   Van Sickle explained that the horses actually fall into a category of "untamed broncs" more than being born in the wild. Some people get confused and needlessly upset that wild horses are brought in from Bureau of Land Management range herds. That is not the case at all, Van Sickle noted.
   Some misunderstanding has varied members of the association lobbying for a change in title to something more along the line of Wild Bronc Riders Association as a name.
   Horses for the events they worked to win come closer to being performers making their auditions, added Van Sickle.
   It was the third straight national championship Van Sickle has been part of as a wild horse racer, but it was the first title for Smith, who had not competed much in recent years after being more a regular when younger.
   Each member of the team has a position assigned based on whether they are holding on to the horse's rope or halter or getting ready to saddle and ride it.
   Like many other events, wild horse riding requires completion of the task as swiftly as possible to earn the most points and most money.
   Yet, it is quite different. None of the three human members of the teams starts atop the horse.
   The shankman, the position which Smith occupied starts with the rope for the horse, which is about 16-feet long. The mugger's position, where VanSickle was sited, normally has to control the bronc by getting a solid grip on the harness. Finally, the rider, in which position Lair served, gets aboard the horse as soon as possible and rides it out of the arena.
   All teams have their gates opened at the same time and then have a maximum of two minutes to get their horse saddled and out of the arena. The winning time is typically in the neighborhood of 20 to 30 seconds, VanSickle explained.
   Untamed broncs are brought into competitions and then put in the gates and each of the teams draws a gate number which they then have to get into to be ready to go.
   As VanSickle noted in talking about a photo that shows he and Smith getting knocked upside down as an untamed horse from another team runs over them, "It isn't whether you get knocked over that matters, but how good you are at getting back up, over and over."
   "It's just like the draws they make in bull riding. Some days you get good stock, other days you're not so lucky," noted VanSickle, a veteran of ranching as well as competition.
   A virtual national tour is available for competitors to enter, but most don't take part in all of them, VanSickle said. While there will even be Wild Horse Racing going on at a rodeo in Florida this coming coming month, and there is even an event set for the Fairgrounds in Madras the weekend of Feb. 9 and 10, VanSickle will likely wait until the competition moves west to start competing, most likely starting with an April event in Red Bluff, Calif. After that the season generally stays in the west and picks up in its rate of competition with June, July and August generally more full of events.
   The events they did well in last season landed Van Sickle, Smith and Lair, from the town of Falcon, Colo., a total of more than $26,000. There were events at such renowned venues as the St. Paul Rodeo, the Molalla Buckeroo, the Ellensburg (Wash.) Rodeo, and the Pendleton Roundup.
   Varied stock breeders want to check on new horses that have yet to have a bridle on them to see if they could prove good bareback or saddle bronc horses in the future, Van Sickle explained of part of the flavor of the event being how very unpredictable it can be.
   The three-year string of victories in wild horse racing for VanSickle represents the 36-year-old's entire career.
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