COLUMBIA — The audience waits eagerly as the young cowboy lowers himself onto a wild horse, trapped in a small gated area. With the cowboy's nod, the gate swings open and the horse begins a series of jumps and kicks.
To prevail, the cowboy must remain atop the horse for eight seconds.
Saddle bronc riding is one of 10 events that comprise the Missouri High School Rodeo State Finals, held at the Central Missouri Events Center in Columbia.
Mason Croy, a senior from Trenton High School, has competed in saddle bronc riding since he was 14 years old. Saddle bronc riding didn't just come to him naturally though.
Before getting on his first horse, Croy estimated he rode 150 to 200 cows. Croy claims that the cow's movements helped him learn technique. He said it is much easier to learn on cows because they don't buck or jump, they hop.
While it might appear as a wild, uncontrolled ride to the audience, contestants are judged on their technique. Horses are also judged on the pattern of their bucks. Straight-line bucks are graded lower.
Once the gate opens, contestants must mark out the horse. This means that before the horses front feet hit the ground, the cowboy must have his heels touching just above the horse's shoulders.
Throughout the ride, the cowboy must stay in sync with the horse's bucks. As the horse jumps forward, the cowboys feet must hit above the shoulders. As the horse lands on its back feet, the cowboys feet will come back.
"There's an expression: 'It's money in the mane,'" Croy said. "It's something I live by. You always want to keep your feet in the horse's mane."
Throughout his saddle bronc career, Croyadmits he has been injured a few times, but also added that injuries can happen in any event. He said every event has its ups and downs.
The first time he rode a wild horse, Croy said he blacked out, a phenomena that he says everyone in roughstock events experiences.
"It happens to everybody whether it's your first bull or first bareback horse," Croy said. "You don't remember any of it until you hit the ground."
Supervising editor is Grant Hodder.