Los Angeles may be a city of countless attractions, a veritable fun house of beaches, cinemas and concert halls, but there is one thing you don't get much of: good old-fashioned bronco busting.
Today and Saturday, Pierce College does its darndest to compensate for this shortcoming with the 37th annual Pierce College Round-Up. This rodeo will bring together teams from 10 colleges in California and Nevada.
Demonstrating to one and all that the lasso can be a tool of higher education, student riders will compete in steer wrestling; bareback bronco, saddle bronco and bull riding, and team and calf roping. Women's events include team roping, barrel racing and breakaway calf roping.
Last year, the rodeo drew 13,000 spectators over two nights. Even the slickest of city slickers can appreciate the nuances of the competition, officials said.
"The novice should try to understand what skills are being demonstrated," said Mick Sears, the head of Pierce's agricultural department. "It's not a wild adventure. These are skills that are used on the range and on ranches."
Some would argue. Animal-rights activists complain that rodeos represent abuse for entertainment's sake. Last July, some 40 protesters mounted a noisy demonstration at the Orange County Fair.
Still, the rodeo is a rite of spring at Pierce. This college is a rarity: an urban campus that maintains an agriculture program. Great pains are taken for its annual festival.
An equestrian team will perform before each night's competition. There will be a barbecue Sunday afternoon with a country-Western band playing.
Even the rodeo ring is something of an undertaking. Tractors tear up the football field in the college's Shepard Stadium, leaving a dirt surface suitable for riding and wrestling. After the event is finished, the field is sculpted to its previous shape and new sod is laid.
The physical education department "likes it because they get a new field every year," Sears said.
Some have questioned the wisdom of such an expenditure at a time when community colleges are eliminating classes to save money. Officials said proceeds from the rodeo not only pay for the groundskeepers' work but also raise funds for the department. Some of that money is being set aside for the construction of an indoor horse arena.
"The agriculture program is an academic program like any other," Sears said. "We train students to fit into the job market and our facilities should reflect the real conditions that these students will be working in."
For some of the students, the rodeo provides more than just a chance to demonstrate their prowess. It is career preparation.
"A lot of them will go on and compete professionally for a few years," said Ron Wechsler, an associate professor of animal science.
A current star on the professional circuit, Ty Murray, won his first pro championship while still competing in college rodeos, so the riders at Pierce will not fall too short of the big boys, Wechsler said. These competitors, however, share a significant difference from the traditional cowboy.
"The advantage they have is that they have a college education behind them when they're done with the rodeo," Wechsler said.
WHERE AND WHEN
Location: Pierce College Round-Up, Shepard Stadium, 6201 Winnetka Ave., Woodland Hills.
Hours: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday. $3 parking.
Price: $7 general, $6 for students, seniors and children. On Saturday, $15 for 4:30 p.m. barbecue and rodeo.
Call: (818) 719-6463.
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