By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor
When October comes to Waco, so does the Heart O’ Texas Fair & Rodeo. While many flock to the grounds of the Extraco Events Center to fill up on fried fair food and take a spin on the Ferris wheel, the inside of the coliseum is where all the excitement takes place.
A practice that finds its roots in the cattle industry of the old American West, rodeo competitions remain a staple of Texas culture and the H.O.T. Fair & Rodeo.
According to Kelly Lovell, Wednesday night’s barrel-racing champion in the All American ProRodeo Finals, the passion people have for the sport is part of what keeps it going.
“It keeps the Western culture alive,” Lovell said. “It brings people together in a different way, and I think with the animals involved, and the people and the passion that everybody has for the animals, there’s no other sport like it.”
Barrel racing, cattle roping, bareback riding, saddle bronc riding and bull riding are some of the events that make up the competition. Full of adrenaline and prepared to face danger, the cowboys and cowgirls that compete have trained all their lives to master the sport.
Twenty-one-year-old bull rider Brett Garza comes from a rodeo family. His father and great grandfather were both cowboys, and he began riding when he was six years old. He started riding steers and junior bulls before moving on to mini bulls and finally taking on the real deal.
As much fun as he has riding bulls, Garza said he understands the level of work it takes to compete.
“[The animals] have a mind of their own, so you can’t really tell what they’re going to do,” Garza said. “You just got to pretty much react to whatever they do. You just got to follow up behind it. Sometimes it’s easy, and other times, it’s harder.”
Most contestants grew up in rodeo families — their love for riding has been passed down through tradition. Lovell said she began barrel racing when she was old enough to sit on a horse. Her mother was a barrel racer as well, and her father was a calf roper. Later on, she married a team roper.
The family atmosphere is a big part of what makes the rodeo. Lovell said all the competitors feel like a big family.
“We all compete against each other, you know, but at the end of the day, we all travel together and go to the same rodeos … we’re a tight-knit group,” Lovell said.
The fair’s rodeo, called “One HOT Rodeo,” is the first competition of a year-long schedule according to the ProRodeo website.
The final night of the rodeo at the H.O.T Fair & Rodeo begins at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Extraco Events Center.