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Ground Conditions:
A Reality of Competition

by Donna Irvin
Our spirits remained high, although we were met with rain, mud and deep sand in Arizona.
Our spirits remained high, although
we were met with rain, mud and
deep sand in Arizona.

Crowds, noise and variable ground conditions can be challenging to a horse and rider that is only used to running in a jackpot, 4-D environment. As I set out for my Winter rodeo tour, though I would be entering rodeos I had not competed at before, I was not a rookie. I won the WPRA Great Lakes Circuit Rookie of the Year in 2004. I had a good understanding of the unique challenges rodeo competition would present.

On my way to California, I stopped in Arizona, looking forward to beginning my sabbatical and competiting at two rodeos I had read about, La Fiesta de los Vaqueros Rodeo in Tucson, and the Parada del Sol Rodeo in Scottsdale. I was anxious to run for the rewards of pro rodeo and ready to learn from the challenges I might encounter. I was confident that Ropenator was conditioned and fit, could handle the stress of competition and speed, and could handle most any ground conditions we encountered. I was ready to set the pace and make my mark!

Ropenator and I were met with rain, mud and deep sand. These were new ground conditions for me. Sharon and I discussed my competitive strategy. To prepare for the deep sand, my warm-up included:

  • Mental preparation to drive deeper into my turns.
  • Sitting, kissing and tapping with my over-under to help Ropenator stay light on his feet and to remind him to move quick and drive through the turns.

In Tucson, our runs on muddy ground were satisfactory. The arena was the largest I had competed in to date, those of us from the Mid-West rarely have the opportunity to compete on a “standard” size course, let alone in arenas with barrels 30 to 50 feet off the arena walls. It was a great opportunity to gain experience running in large pens with deep ground. In Scottsdale, Ropenator and I had great runs and clocked the fastest time of the performances in the rain, however, the runs in the dry slack got the checks. No worries, as these experiences helped school both Ropenator and myself.

When you enter rodeos in outdoor arenas, you take the chance of inconsistent ground conditions due to weather. This challenge plagued me throughout my Winter and Spring rodeos. Although I had been confidant that Ropenator could handle most ground conditions we encountered, the luck of the draw was still a factor. We enjoyed our experience, and felt we left Arizona with a new understanding of how to make the best of each run.