PERRY — Country songs have been written about it. But to live the life of the rodeo is a whole different beast.
Cowboys come from all over the United States as well as Canada to compete in the Georgia National Rodeo. About 330 contestants will compete tonight, Friday and Saturday in seven different areas: bareback riding, tie down roping, team roping, saddle bronc riding, steer wrestling, barrel racing and bull riding. About $25,000 will be given out in prize money.
This is the 20th year the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, owned by Bob Barnes, has been at the Georgia National Fairgrounds and Agricenter. The group, from Cherokee, Iowa, brought 52 horses, 25 bulls, 18 wrestling steers, 21 team roping cows and 30 tie-down calves. There also will be a few hundred horses the cowboys will bring for barrel racing and other events, said John Barnes, son of Bob Barnes.
The horses mostly have been raised and bred by the Barnes family. One of them, however, had a drastic career change. The bucking horse, Garzan, was formerly a hunter/jumper show horse in Canada. He started bucking trainers off when he was offered to John Barnes. That was four years ago. The 17 hands (1 hand equals 4 inches in height) warmblood is now bucking cowboys off for a living.
This year, the rodeo also brings back Rudy the Clown. Rudy Burns has been a rodeo clown for 38 years.
Burns, 61, got into rodeo when he was a teenager. Someone dared him to get on a bull, and he did, breaking his nose. At another rodeo, the manager didn’t have a rodeo clown, and Burns, always the class clown, entertained the crowd. The rodeo has taken him far from his roots in Gonzales, La. He has been to Hawaii three times.
Burns said clowning is a dying art. It used to be that clowns distracted the bulls and ran from them. There are now bull fighters who distract the bull, and Burns gets into a padded red barrel.
“That’s my retirement plan,” he joked about his barrel.
He said he used to be able to outrun the bulls, but now he leaves that to the bull fighters after breaking his right foot and having pins put in it.
“If you play with the bull, you gonna get the horns,” he said.
Part of his clown act includes his dog, a rat terrier named Pedro. Pedro begs, dances and is an all-around cute addition to the show.
Burns wears his clown makeup, which includes a heart drawn on his chin, the same way for each of his 35 to 40 rodeos each year.
He remembers when he spoke in front of a group of children, and one boy pointed out he had forgotten the heart.
“I haven’t forgotten since,” he said.
Also at the rodeo will be Beau LeDoux, son of Chris LeDoux, a world champion bareback rider and country musician who died in 2005. LeDoux will compete Saturday night in the bareback riding event.
Other festivities of the weekend include John Payne, the one-armed bandit, whose show features two buffalo, a mule and a horse. There also will be an autograph session with some of the contestants after the show is finished each night.
To contact writer Angela Woolen, call 923-5650.