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Rodeo season is under way

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CRAZY HORSE, S.D. – Rodeo may be the sport of cowboys, but it is more than a sport – it’s a social event for cowboys and spectators alike.

The 16th Annual Crazy Horse Stampede Rodeo, the first rodeo of the season in the Great Plains Indian Rodeo Association, usually draws some of the top cowboys in the region. This year was no exception.

Athletes from any region of American Indian rodeo compete to build points that lead to the top prize: champion at the Indian National Finals Rodeo. Many contestants travel great distances to compete in INFR tour rodeos across the nation.

Visitors to Crazy Horse Mountain, host of the Stampede, may be regular rodeo fans or may be watching rodeo for the first time. This outdoor event draws many top riders and ropers; it also draws some weather, and this year was no exception. Lightning, thunder and rain damped the final two events of the day, bull riding and team roping, but the events went on as planned.

Many of the contestants were high school standouts and may have graduated only recently. They will be the future of the sport. Some of the American Indian cowboys also compete in Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association-sanctioned events.

Jeremy Meeks, Oglala Lakota from Batesland, is one such young man. He was an outstanding national high school rodeo competitor and also competes in the PRCA events, as well as in INFR-sanctioned events.

Meeks finished second in saddle bronc at the Stampede this year. He finished second in the PRCA Badlands Circuit last year in saddle bronc.

At the Stampede, PRCA rodeo action follows the GPIRA events. This gives the American Indian rodeo contestants the opportunity to participate in both rodeos with a chance to gain points in both areas.

This year Meeks finished third in the first go-round of saddle bronc riding in the PRCA portion of the Stampede. He didn’t place in the final average. Brent Belkham took fourth place in the PRCA tie-down roping and fourth in steer wrestling after the first go-round. He, too, did not finish in the money after the second go-round. Both cowboys stayed the extra day to try for PRCA points. Meeks is not listed on the top competitors’ roster for the GPIRA, but the season is young. Belkham is in sixth place in steer wrestling in the GPIRA standings and 14th place in team roping.

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Terry Fisher, all-around cowboy at the Stampede, tied for first in team roping and finished second in calf roping. He is listed in fifth place in team roping in the GPIRA and third in calf roping.

These young cowboys have many mentors and role models to look up to. The GPIRA has spawned many top-ranked cowboys, one of whom is legendary – Howard Hunter, Oglala Lakota from Kyle.

A four-time INFR saddle bronc champion, Hunter he rode his last bronc at the 1995 Crow Fair. He received head injuries which left him unable to participate in rodeo again. Hunter’s name sits on the tip of the tongue of any fan of the American Indian rodeo circuit and is in the minds of most contestants. Hunter, who started out riding calves, steers, small livestock or almost anything with four legs, is in the Indian National Cowboy Hall of Fame and his image is embedded on the INFR logo.

Harold Frazier, chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, started his 9-year-old son out on steers. Frazier is a role model for his son: he participated in rodeo when he was younger and in college. But after a 10-year hiatus from the sport, the urge hit him during last year’s rodeo in Fort Yates, N.D. He got back on the saddle bronc and won.

That win ended his 10-year absence from the sport. Frazier tried desperately to spend the obligatory eight seconds in the saddle, but the horse won that contest and Frazier was ejected, losing a boot in the process.

Why does the chairman of a large Lakota tribe take on such a dangerous sport? “For health reasons,” he said. “I weighed too much and needed something to do to change that. It’s a good life and I have many friends in rodeo.”

In saddle bronc riding, Frazier has gained third-place status in the GPIRA for the 2006 season.

Many of the riders traveled to White Horse on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation after the Stampede to compete in the two-day LeCompte and Sons rodeo.

More than 60 rodeos in Indian country remain this year across the country; visit to locate upcoming competitions.