COLUMBIA - In the back corner of the rodeo arena at the Boone County Fairgrounds there are metal and wooden chutes where the nastiest bucking broncs and bulls are held.
On top of the chutes sits a group of 15 rodeo competitors. Some are covered in dirt, others have padded vests and helmets. One even has 19 stitches across the bottom of his chin.
The chutes open letting one of the bulls in. The bull is bucking wildly as it waits to be let loose. A competitor calmly steps up to the chute ready to sit on the bull. The boys sitting on the chutes help the competitor get ready. They help spot the rider in the chute, tighten the rope for him, and offer words of encouragement.
“Hold on tight,” said one.
“Go get ‘em, you can do it,” shouts another.
The competitor nods his head and the chute opens. The bull bucks wildly as he holds on for his life. He flings off before the time limit lets up.
“He always overrides the bull,” said one boy to another.
The 15 competitors sitting on the chutes are called the “roughies.” They are a close-knit group of high school students who compete in rodeos throughout the year. The group participates in the bareback bronc riding, bull riding, and saddle bronc riding. They call each other “roughies” because the events are called the “rough stock events.” The group tries to do everything together. They participate in the same rodeos, road trip together and practice together. Saddle bronc rider Chris Jobe says they are the closest friends someone can have.
“They’re like another family, everyone is there for you,” Jobe said.
Despite living in separate corners of Missouri the group stays close by participating in the same rodeos. Bareback bronc rider Austin Obermann says that they sometimes road trip to several rodeos together, free from parents. They are even planning a trip to hit several rodeos in Missouri and other states like Iowa.
“Just being out there on the road with your friends and yourself, nobody else is holding you back,” Obermann says.
What makes this group of competitors different from others is that they are always hanging around the chutes, helping each other out. While some competitors in the other events ride their horses or go back to their trailer, these guys hang around the chutes waiting for their broncs or bulls to be ready. Bull rider Spencer Stith explains that they have a special relationship that those who participate in the rope events, like team roping, don’t understand. In fact, the two groups avoid each other as much as possible Stith says.
“This is our sport, what we live to do. They (the ropers) think they’re better than everybody else, but we’re just a big family,” Stith said.
Cody Gregory, who participates in bull riding and team roping, says that there is a vast difference between the two groups.
“The roughies are easy going, dirty, they don’t care about their looks, but the ropers have nice pressed jeans, they’re not as tough,” Gregory said. “Roughies are just closer.”
While the “roughies” compete against each other, they offer help whenever they can. Often, one will help spot a friend sitting on a bull, help tighten the rope, and give him advice after a ride.
“They’re the best friends you can ever get right here. This is the only sport you can compete against someone else and they’ll help you,” Spencer said.
Despite the almost 100 percent guarantee to get injured; the “roughies” explain that there is nothing they’d rather be doing. Bareback bronc rider Tanner Rankin says he has had several injuries, including a lacerated liver, but there isn’t really anything that keeps him from competing.
“Whenever they tell me I can ride again, I ride again,” Rankin explains shrugging off his list of injuries.
Bull rider Cody Case echoes that sentiment. “It’s in my blood, it’s why God put me on earth.”
While they are enjoying the rodeo competition at hand, they understand that high school rodeos only last for so long. However, instead of splitting ways, Obermann explains that they plan to stick together even after graduation.
“We plan on going to college together, and getting our pro cards. I think we’re planning on going to Vernon College, it’s where cowboys are bred,” Obermann said.