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Cowboys turn out in full force for Fort Armstrong rodeo

| Saturday, July 13, 2013, 1:16 a.m.
Louis B. Ruediger | Leader Times
Tyler Waltz, 23, of Jersey Shore, Pa. leaves the chute riding a bare back bronco during opening night of the 18th Annual Fort Armstrong Championship Rodeo held in Crooked Creek Horse Park in Manor Township. Friday July 12, 2013
Louis B. Ruediger | Leader Times
Roy Rankin, of Shelocta, sports a cowboy look while trying on a hats at the 18th annual Fort Armstrong Championship Rodeo at Crooked Creek Horse Park in Manor Township. Friday July 12, 2013
Louis B. Ruediger | Leader Times
Bob Cricks, of Vandergrift, walks with his grandson, Grant Kneel, 5, also of Vandergrift. Cricks has been to every Fort Armstrong Championship Rodeo since 1996, and his grandson says he enjoys the bull riders the best. Friday July 12, 2013

Sandy Cullen, president of the Fort Armstrong Horsemen's Association, noted that there are wannabe cowboys — with their clean, Western shirts — and real cowboys — with their scuffed and dirty boots.

Both kinds of cowboys turned out in full force on Friday evening for the opening of the 18th annual Fort Armstrong Championship Rodeo at Crooked Creek Horse Park in Manor Township.

The rodeo continues today with sanctioned bareback riding, saddle bronc, bull riding, steer wrestling, tie-down roping, team roping and barrel racing.

And it seems that this Western tradition has been attracting record crowds, according to Cullen.

Last year's rodeo broke attendance records, with more than 5,200 cowboys and cowgirls coming through the gate.

Organizers were expecting 3,500 on Friday night and another big crowd this evening, because the weather forecast is so favorable.

“Everybody likes a rodeo,” said Cullen.

Yet there aren't many of them.

Fort Armstrong and North Washington's rodeos are the only two such events in the region, she said.

Participants came from mostly Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.

“I love it; it's an adrenaline rush,” said Kim Buchleitner, 48, of New Bethlehem, who will compete in barrel racing, which requires expert horsemanship to maneuver the equine athletes around barrels.

Buchleitner will ride with a young cohort, Aubrie Copenhaver, 13, also of New Bethlehem, who has been riding since she was 8 years old.

“It's so exciting,” said Copenhaver Friday evening as she prepared for the main events.

It's still exciting for longtime rodeo owner Sam Swearingen of Piffard, N.Y., who owns Rawhide Rodeo Co.

Fort Armstrong is one 30 sanctioned professional rodeo shows in 26 weeks in the northeastern United States for Rawhide.

A former saddle bronc rider, Swearingen, 53, said, “It's still a family event, bull riding being the most popular.”

But some things have changed over the years, according to Swearingen.

“The cowboys and cowgirls take better care of their bodies,” he said. “They worry about their rest, and they do exercise programs.”

Bareback rider Tyler Waltz, 23, of Jersey Shore, Pa., said that he works with a trainer and lifts weights.

“With bareback riding, the strength comes from the core,” Waltz said.

“I love it, and it's great to be on the road and see different parts of the country every week,” he said.

Wade “Stumpy” Hazlet, 32, of Slippery Rock, loves being a bull fighter.

He works at rodeos throughout the summer, saving the bull riders when they fall off.

Hazlet has learned to read the body language of the bulls, “watching the lead foot. If the bull's left leads, the bull moves left,” he said.

Hazlet also dismissed a common myth: The color red does not enrage bulls.

“They are color blind,” he said. “Movement catches their attention.”

Hazlet said of Friday night's festivities, “They've got some buckers that are nasty.”

And that pleases Scott Richardson, 25, of McDonald, a bull rider.

“Every day I'm getting onto a bull is a good day,” he said.

Mary Ann Thomas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at mthomas@tribweb.com.

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