Area youngsters recently got a taste of rodeo sports and braved simulated bucking bulls and broncos. Fifty participants ages 7 to 22 registered to attend the free Championship Rodeo Camp on Saturday inside Reaves Arena at the Georgia National Fairgrounds and Agricenter in Perry.
The five-hour camp was put on by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and held in conjunction with the Georgia National Rodeo. This is the fifth time it's been held in Perry, and it drew students from Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Tennessee, said Julie Jutten, the group's manager of industry outreach.
"You've got beginners and then you have kids who have been riding for quite a while, so you really have a broad range of ability and age," said Dustin Elliott, bull riding instructor and camp coordinator. "So the goal today is to get kids excited about rodeo."
Attendees could choose to learn about one of three rough stock riding sports -- bull, bareback or saddle bronc -- that involve non-tame, bucking animals, Elliot said. The groups were led by past or current competitive riders, who talked about the basics, safety, training, goal setting and equipment.
The students -- many sporting cowboy hats, boots, jeans and plaid shirts -- got to touch and try out saddles, reins, spurs, gloves, boots, chaps, riding vests, helmets and more. Some of the kids even brought their own gear to show off. They were able to see and pet live animals and sit on saddled horses inside bucking shoots.
"I've been around horses but never a bull, but I'm actually seeing one in real life because of this camp," said Dylen Sherrod, 9, of Warner Robins. "(Bull riding) is an actual sport, and you can take control of the bull and have fun and travel the country."
The attendees got a feel for the motion of a bucking animal by climbing onto devices that professionals use in training. They practiced holding the reins and the saddle's handle, lifting one hand in the air, and keeping their bodies in the proper positions.
Natalia Burgess of Reynolds said she brought her 11-year-old son, Emmanuel, to the camp so he could be exposed to a different experience and perhaps discover a new interest. Eleven-year-old Gabriel Gibbs, whose family has a farm in Perry, won a sheep-riding competition at the fairgrounds in October 2013 and signed up for the event to learn about riding bulls.
"Being on top of an animal that's like 500 times what you (weigh) is pretty cool. You have no control of what they do," Gabriel said.
The event also acquainted campers with the Georgia and National High School Rodeo Associations, which host competitive events for kids in grades six through 12. Rodeo teaches kids responsibility because they have to train hard and learn to take care of the animals to win, said Ronnie Haslerig, the group's president. In addition, it provides another way for students to earn college scholarships.
Justin Caylor, saddle bronc riding instructor, said some kids are intimidated by rodeo sports, and the camp offered a way to gently introduce them to the fundamentals. Even if they decide rough stock riding is not for them, they walk away with a better understanding of it.