By Valarie Tom
On any given weekend around the Navajo Nation there is a sporting event that has evolved into the level of professional athleticism that involves a partnership with four-legged animals: Rodeo. Beginning in early spring, the sport of rodeo is held in various communities around the Navajo Nation. Gathered around an arena are hundreds of vehicles and horse trailers driven by rodeo participants and fans who look forward to observing equine expertise and rough stock time-events in hopes of earning a lucrative payment by placing in the various events featured at rodeos. Most rodeos on the Navajo Nation feature eight major events: Team roping, tie-down roping, saddle-bronc riding, bareback riding, bull dogging, break-away roping, barrel racing and bull-riding. Each participant pays an entry fee to compete and must adhere to rules and judges decisions in each event. First time rodeo observers can look forward to watching cowboys and cowgirls ride horses as they rope a calf when it leaves the shoots and see the fluid motion it takes to earn a fast time in the team roping, tie-down and break-away roping. Quick actions are required for cowboys and cowgirls in the roping events and rough-stock riders are also required to stay a-ride a bull, wild horse, or unsaddled horse for eight seconds—holding with one hand only. In the past few years, two Navajo contestants have become National Finals Rodeo World Champions. It is a big sport on Navajo. Fans pay a fee at the gate to watch the rodeo.
Local tribal newspaper—the Navajo Times—features a list of local rodeos in their sports section and gives details of what events are to be held. Other popular events include bull riding only and others up-close-and-personal viewing bulls and bull riders competing for cash and other prizes. For those who wants to see bigger rodeos where many of the participants are professional rodeo athletes, who compete with local rodeo athletes, guests to Navajoland can attend some of the bigger rodeos held throughout the spring, summer, and fall months. Beginning in the springs, rodeo associations begin holding rodeos throughout Navajoland and on other Reservations throughout the Southwest. Again, listings for upcoming rodeos will be featured in the Navajo Times or will be announced on local radio stations. Tribal fairs on the Navajo Nation begin in August and feature rodeos in Crownpoint, Chinle, Window Rock, Shiprock, Dilkon, and Tuba City, respectively. These tribal fairs offer horseracing and sometimes traditional horse competition like chicken pulls, saddle changing competition, and ladies team roping. Rodeo athletes compete for cash, horse trailers, and saddles. Some arenas have limited seating and usually no shade, but observers are welcome to bring a umbrella and your own chair. There is usually a food stand that sells water and grilled foods, but it is fine to bring your own staples as this is the Southwest and weather changes abruptly and is sometimes unpredictable.