Colton Delgado started buying horses and breaking them at 15 years old. That same year, he entered his first rodeo event in Salina, and by age 16, he travelled to Salina for his first bareback event. He came in first at a Park City rodeo in 2010, but he feels he started to “finally get decent” last year, winning a buckle for qualifying for Nationals, another for winning at State, and another for winning at another rodeo event. In just three years, he’s in the running to be the 2013 state champion bareback rider according to Kansas High School Rodeo Association secretary Suzan Adams.
A rider doesn’t just hop on the horse and go--there’s equipment for this sport, and its pretty pricey. Similar amounts could be spent getting into the sport of golf. Delgado’s bareback rigging, the handle he holds onto while riding the horse cost $600, and the protective glove he uses to hang on cost another $175. On top of that, there’s the protective vest made out of foam, leather, and ballistic resistant material which runs between $300 and $400. Then, there is the required western wear. Clearly, this isn’t a hobby to take lightly. But bareback riding offers an adrenaline rush that golf doesn’t, and that’s what keeps guys like Delgado coming back, despite the fact they risk debilitating injuries and pain later in life.
Delgado’s girlfriend, Jahardynn Kendrick, rattles off a list of injuries the young man has sustained only a few years into his rodeo career. He’s endured two knee surgeries, broken both wrists, been kicked in the head, suffered from three concussions, been taken out of the ring by EMS, passed out three times from heat exhaustion, been thrown over the fence, stepped on and drug around, and had his protective vest and state pearl button ripped off.
“By the time he’s 30 years old, his body will be like a 60 year old’s,” she says. Delgado tries to explain what compels him to continue.
“I’m not ready for that, but I can’t stop. I just love it so much, I can’t stop,” he said. Perhaps its the desire to push himself to the limits that keeps him coming back.
Saddle bronc riding is the more traditional rodeo sport, but for Delgado, the appeal was meeting a more difficult challenge, Kendrick said.
“There aren’t as many people who do bareback, and it’s something he’d like to help keep alive,” she said.
The only thing that keeps the bareback bronc rider on the horse is balance and one hand. But arm strength isn’t the only factor in being able to go the distance of an eight second ride. Bareback riding is one of the most physically demanding events in rodeo, Delgado said.
“A lot of bull riders think they’ll switch to bareback riding because they think it will be easier,” he said. “They quickly go back to bullriding.”
Delgado explained, “The most dangerous place to be in bull riding is on the ground, but the most dangerous place to be in bareback riding is while you are still on the horse.” With all the jostling, banging and bucking around that the rider has to endure, he needs to have strong and well-trained muscles from head to toe.
Core muscles and leg muscles play a huge part in staying on, so riders need to train daily. Luckily, training equipment like spur boards make it possible, allowing the rider to work the muscles they need to without the daily risk that would come from riding. His father has supported him, building two bucking machines, and several other pieces of equipment to build strong leg muscles.
Delgado said in preparation for nationals, he needs to make sure he stays as healthy as possible. That means fewer competitions up until then. After nationals he and Kendrick will compete in two or three rodeos a week until school starts mid-August.
After graduation this May, Delgado said he will compete nearly every weekend until he begins college at Fort Scott Community College in August. He has been picked to be part of the FSCC Rodeo team, and looks forward to competition at the college level. According to the college’s website, the Greyhound rodeo team won the College National Finals Rodeo in Casper, Wyo., for the third time in May, 2012. They are the only two-year college to have ever won the event. That’s because most who compete in the National Finals are juniors and seniors.
“For sophomores and freshmen to even qualify is remarkable,” said head rodeo coach, Chad Cross.
The biggest difference between the high school, college and pro levels of the sport is the level of difficulty the horse presents, Delgado said. Rodeos hire stock agents to fill their stalls with the appropriate animals. They pick from several bred for their traits. A high school event typically will be stocked with animals less wild and rambunctious as one would find in a pro rodeo. He’s competed in both amatuer and professional rodeos.
Delgado plans to study HVAC in college, but his true passion will remain in rodeo, he says. After college, he hopes to earn the privilege of becoming a card carrying member of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA).
If his luck holds out, he’ll make himself and his family proud. “So far I haven’t seen a horse yet that I’ve been too scared to ride.”