Participant roping a steer. Photo by Pam Foreman/KMXT
The Kodiak Rodeo and State Fair came to town this weekend. It continued from Saturday to Sunday with food, exhibits of award-winning produce, and of course, rodeo sports. You could see local cowboys and cowgirls doing everything from lassoing steers to riding horses that put up a fight. We spoke to a few of the participants.
Chris Manis is from Kenai and says it’s his second year riding saddle bronc. He says he also rides bulls and he first got involved in rodeo events through an Alaska Veterans of Foreign Wars charity event.
“Once I rode my first bull, just meeting the people, the cowboys, the old timers, they’re just so willing to help and just good standing people that you want to be around, and the more and more I got around them, the more and more I learned, the better I got,” says Manis. “And it’s changed my life for the better.”
He’s one of a handful of cowboys who flew into Kodiak for the island’s rodeo. 22-year-old Chaz McDonald from Texas is one of the bull-fighters of the bunch. His job is to distract the bull.
“I make myself a bigger target that the rider, so that the rider can get up and get out clean and safe. If that means I gotta take a hit, then it’s part of the job, and I get the job done,” says McDonald.
And sometimes he does take a hit or two.
“I got my jaw knocked out of socket up in Fairbanks. I got behind a bull and got kicked in the face. I’ve had my jaw wired shut, broke my pelvis, popped both hips out of socket. I’ve had my fair share.”
He says he’s been bull-fighting for four years. And as with any dangerous activity, this one takes concentration.
“I step in there and everything kinda goes blank and I focus on what I need to do and you can talk to me all you want, but I’m probably not gonna answer ‘cause I’m not hearing you. I get real focused just like the riders do when they get on the back of ‘em, they’re in the zone, and when you’re in that mood, you’re not thinking about anything but what you’re supposed to be doing.”
Good support staff is important for the safety of all involved.
Wyatt Finley is a Kodiak resident who’s originally from Florida and is experienced with ranch work. He says he’s providing help with the stock and readying them for the stadium activities. And although he doesn’t ride bulls anymore because of the risk, he remembers how it felt and says riders have a popular calming technique. Chewing or smoking tobacco.
“Once you get off, you’re jittery, you can’t feel anything, so you putting in a nice chew or light up a smoke, it sounds dumb, but it works. It calms your nerves,” says Finley. “The nicotine in it, it settles you down. You sit down and chill out. It’s a lot of stress on your body getting on one of those bulls or those broncs.”
And when the rodeo ends for the day, you can walk outside and get a snack at the fair, see the prize-winning produce, or even go on a hay ride.
For lunch, you can stop at the handful of booths selling everything from reindeer hot dogs topped with chili and cheese to crepes chock full of nutella and bananas. Vendors at the farmer’s market side sell baked goods, like zucchini muffins, or creative fruit preserves like rhubarb and strawberry or hot pepper. Then inside a building on the fair grounds, you can walk around and view giant vegetables, go to the petting zoo, or listen to the roosters.
The Kodiak Alutiiq Dancers also performed, and group coordinator, Candace Branson, says they’ve just learned a new song which they would perform at the event.
“It’s … about when the Russians came and were taking men away from the villages and they were taking them to go hunting and they were taking them for war and scouting, and many times the men wouldn’t return and so when the boat left full of Native men, the women would cry on the beach, so this is the song they would sing about that experience.”
Despite the rain Saturday and the fire in Chiniak just a few nights before the event, people walk around outside and families fill the rodeo seats. It’s a Texan brand of entertainment – enjoyed Alaskan style.