Thursday, February 08, 2001

Horsing around the ring


Real cowboy takes his trick riding act on road with Longhorn rodeo

By Jason Nebel
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        In wide-open ranch country, riding and roping are a way of life. Cattle must be herded, horses need to be trained.

        Suburbanites and city dwellers unfamiliar with roping calves and wrestling steers can get a taste of it when the Longhorn World Championship Rodeo passes through town this weekend.

        This is a competitive sport. Winners here go onto another competition, culminating in the championships Nov. 8-10 in Nashville, Tenn. Between competitions, the entertainers — the clowns, trick riders and ropers — take over.

IF YOU GO
    What: Longhorn World Championship Rodeo
    When: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday.
    Where: Cincinnati Gardens, 2250 Seymour Ave., Roselawn.
    Tickets: $12 Friday; $15-$20 Saturday (free bandana to first 500 kids under age 13); $15-$20 and half-price for kids and seniors Sunday. Available at Ticketmaster outlets and Cincinnati Gardens Box Office. Charge by phone: 562-4949 or online at www.ticketmaster.com
        Rodeo participants are usually real “cowboys” and “cowgirls.” They grow up and work on ranches all across the country, learning their skills along the way.

        George Meek, 34, is one of them. This weekend, he will be in Cincinnati to do his trick riding act in the Longhorn rodeo at Cincinnati Gardens. We caught up with him by phone from his home in Burns, Tenn.

        Question: How did you get started in rodeo performing?

        Answer: Around 1987, Lenore Rowe, who is overseeing the opening ceremonies at Longhorn this year, needed a truck driver and someone to help load and unload horses for her act. I was in my early 20s and single with nothing holding me back, so I signed on. Within a few months, she asked me to start learning to Roman Ride so I could do that at the rodeos we attended.

        Q: Where did you grow up?

        A: I was raised on my parents' farm about 4 miles from where I live now, about 30 miles due west of Nashville.

        Q: Is this the only way you make a living?

        A: I do about 25-30 rodeos a year throughout the South, plus a lot in Michigan, Ohio and New York. Otherwise, I'm what you'd call an independent cow catcher — landowners hire me to catch cows that have run off. I also work in my dad's saw mill when he needs the help.

        Q: Tell us about your act.

        A: I stand astride two albino gelding horses while riding them around the ring. It's called Roman Riding because after chariot races, the Romans would ride the horses in this style around the ring.

        Q: Why the white horses?

        A: It's purely for show. I've also done the act with two black horses.

        Q: Do the horses need to be the exact same size?

        A: Actually I want one to be about an inch or two shorter than the other, because when traveling in a circle in the small arenas, you spend most of the time turning left. When one is shorter, it's easier to balance.

        Q: What types of things can go wrong?

        A: The worst thing that can happen is a horse falling or stumbling on a rock. But the real challenge is finding a comfort zone as a team with these horses. Relaxing and trusting the horses to perform is the hardest part.

        Q: Have you ever competed in rodeo events?

        A: No. I've done about everything except compete. I've clowned, judged, worked pickup and even told jokes. But I've never entered the competitions.

        Q: What's the best part of being part of the rodeo?

        A: The crowds, of course, are great — they love the Roman Riding. But really the best part is when the horses I train do a good job. Whether it's a show for five people or thousands, I'm happy when the horses have a good ride. That's where I get my satisfaction.
       



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