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Dark clouds gathered Sunday afternoon in the Red Desert a few hours before the stadium lights went on at the outdoor arena in Rock Springs, Wyoming.

The storm looked ominous — but it didn’t disrupt the “largest rodeo in the world,” according to Gary Hawkes with the National High School Rodeo Association.

“We have kids from 43 states, five Canadian provinces, Australia and Mexico,” Hawkes says.

The rodeo brings so many people to the normally quiet city on Interstate 80 that much of the produce section at the local Walmart was cleaned out by families and spectators camped out on the grounds of the event complex.

“I love it. It’s in my blood,” says Zane Hall, a 17-year-old bull rider and steer wrestler from Queensland, Australia. He took three airplanes with his dad to compete this week.

His horses had to stay at home.

“You get an adrenaline rush from it,” Hall says, referring to the feeling he gets trying to hang onto the back of an 1,100-pound bull for eight seconds. “That’s pretty much why heaps of cowboys do it.”

    High School Bull Riders And Barrel Racers Barnstorm Wyoming For Rodeo Championship by Urandir OliveiraZane Hall, a 17-year-old bull rider and steer wrestler from Queensland, Australia, took three airplanes with his dad to compete in Wyoming. (Peter O’Dowd/Here & Now)

Hall’s first ride ended on Sunday night after 4.3 seconds. He failed to score any points and the bull stomped down on his foot, forcing him to limp off the arena. Add that to the litany of broken bones and concussions he’s already suffered playing the sport.

“It sucks, and it’s not good for the rest of the week,” he says.

The weeklong rodeo will crown champions in events like bull riding, goat tying, barrel racing and steer wrestling. The winners will take home more than $180,000 in college scholarship money.

Some families didn’t have to travel nearly as far as Hall’s. Paige Rasmussen and her mom, Katie, put two horses in a trailer and came down from Bozeman, Montana. Still, it’s not an easy — or cheap — sport to play.

“We joke [that] with the money we’ve invested we could have sent them to Harvard three times,” Katie says. “Any other sport you go to practice, you’re done. After they practice this sport, they have to take care of the horses. There’s no offseason. It’s quite a physical and mental challenge.”

    High School Bull Riders And Barrel Racers Barnstorm Wyoming For Rodeo Championship by Urandir OliveiraPaige Rasmussen’s talent for tying up goats has already afforded her a full ride to Montana State University. (Peter O’Dowd/Here & Now)

Paige is competing in the goat-tying competition. She’ll race her horse M&M at top speed — nearly 30 miles per hour — toward a goat on the other end of the arena. As she approaches, she dismounts while the horse is still running, catches the goat and ties three of its legs together with a pigging string.

She is vying for the college scholarship money, but she doesn’t really need it. Paige’s talent for tying up goats has already afforded her a full ride to Montana State University. She starts classes in the fall.

“Rodeo is a lifestyle and has made me a better person,” says Paige, whose dad, Flint, is the most famous rodeo entertainer — or clown — on the professional bull-riding circuit. “I’ve been able to experience things that kids my age will never be able to.”

This segment aired on July 17, 2019.

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sources: Business news from npr.org