Rodeo has a rip-snorting first day

WILD HORSES The Gilroy Rodeo kicked off with the wildest of events, the Wild Horse Race. Photo by Bryce Stoepfel

The Gilroy Rodeo is back, and judging by the attendance on the first day, there may be more rodeos to come. The nearly 6,000-seat arena on Dunlap Road was almost full, no rider suffered any serious injuries, and other than a few minor bumps in the road, the day went off without a hitch.

Sunday, Aug. 12 is the final day of the two-day event —resurrected after a 60-year hiatus—and rodeo organizer Erik Martin was happy and relieved as the first day came to a close.

“It’s good to have that one out of the chute,” Martin said. “It was definitely a success. Look at the stands. People were coming up to me thanking me for doing this. I had their total support; I was getting hugs—it was an awesome day.”

As late as 3pm on Friday, Martin had not been sure how tickets were selling.

“We were still building the arena on Friday when we got the last load of sand,” Martin said. “For the first year, the first rodeo, it was off the charts.”

Rodeo judges consider both the athletes and animal as athletes at the rodeo. Ferguson’s 10-year-old horse Bay Mare, was all business. Bay Mare swung her head to the right and seemed offended at the notion that she needed prodding to run any faster.

“I feel pretty good, it’s great to compete at a hometown rodeo,” said Gilroyan Alyssa Ferguson, who was still riding an adrenaline rush after she had a go in the barrel race. “There’s isn’t anything else like it.”  

The mood of the bulls was way easier to see. They were mad, and they wanted their riders off. Joe Cousins, 60, from San Juan Bautista, had long ago hung up his spurs. But on Saturday, the cowboy was back, but he didn’t last long on the bull. It shook him off seconds after the chute opened.

“I know I’m better than that,” Cousins, who was upset, said after his ride.

A younger San Benito rider, Cash Robinson, stayed on his bull long enough for 65 points. Even though he had a day left to come home with the bucks, Robinson had a more comfortable ride than his July ride at the San Benito Saddle Horse and Rodeo Show, which he described as horrifying.

“It was nice, a pure pleasure,” said Hollister native Cash Robinson after his turn during the bullriding event.

Martin was impresario, as well as rodeo organizer. He built the arena, organized volunteers, lobbied hard with Santa Clara County for permits and he hired pros like San Martin’s Rob Smets. Smets, The Kid Kamikaze, is a former five-time Wrangler World Champion bullfighter.

“It’s great to be back here, being from San Martin,” Smets said. “We got a lot more years to come.”

At the rodeo, use of the term “bullfighter” may be a little misleading. Bull dodger, bull-keep-away-from-the-riders, or even bullback, given his Barry Sanders-like nimble feet, might better describe the work of Dwayne Hargo.

“You’d be surprised how fast you can move when you have 1,500 pounds after you,” Hargo, 35, said. “I’ve been doing this my whole life. My dad (Dwayne Sr.) was a champ. My brother too. This is what our whole life is about, pretty much.”

For Hargo, and everyone else who is into rough stock bull and bronc riding, the rodeo is more than a full-contact sport. Imagine a 150-pound runningback go against a 1,500 defensive lineman. Hargo knows.

“In the last year and a half, I broke both of my legs, back to back,” Hargo said. “I broke one leg, came back, and two months later I broke another one. I just got cleared two months ago. They say things come in threes, I broke my face a year ago, so I’m good to go.”

The view from the stands was far more comfortable than Hargo’s. For two local families, the rodeo was a great time.

“Yes, we think this is a great family event,” said Adriana Tonelli from San Jose who was there with her five-year-old son Blake.

The Tonellis plan to be back next year, and so do the Kjallesvigs from Gilroy.

“It’s a blast, I’m proud to be from Gilroy, and I’m proud to bring this back,” said Scott Kjallesvig, who was there with daughter Hazel, and sons Braddock and Christian.

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