Treat for trick
Soon-to-be eighth-grader participates in rodeo bible camp in Gardner
Unlike several other cowboys and cowgirls at the 2008 Rodeo Bible Camp in Gardner, Mackenzie Williams, De Soto, has horses at home. In one event, horsemanship, only four of 14 contestants had their own horse.
The other 10 children rode borrowed horses.
However, the fact that she gets the opportunity to partake in the hobby at home doesn't dissuade the fourth year, trick-riding Williams from attending the camp.
"I wouldn't miss it for the world. I'm coming back every year until I'm out of high school," she said. "We have great instructors, and the best horses ever and it's really fun learning about our religion."
The annual camp - in its 18th year - is divided into junior and senior sessions with three days devoted to the junior session and five days given to the senior sessions. It focuses on Christian devotion, but culminates with a showcase of rodeo events that campers work on throughout the week.
Thirty-eight youngsters participated in the junior session for those in fifth through eighth grades from June 7 to 9. The turnout for freshmen through seniors was 52 and is taking place June 10 through 14.
Campers pick one event from 10 in which to receive instruction, and have a chance to show off what they learn at a camp-ending rodeo.
Most importantly to organizers, it connects the sport of rodeo with religion, something that cowboy chaplain R.W. Moyer said was the nature of a sport that takes place predominantly on Saturdays and Sundays throughout the United States.
"It's pretty hard to be involved in a church when you're rodeoing, which is our sport and our recreation, but also part of our living," he said. "We have fellowship time on Saturday nights after the rodeos and Sunday mornings in the grandstands, normally, for all of the participants and spectators that would like to join us. Camp, for us is a starting tool."
Moyer said members of the Fellowship of Christian Cowboys use rodeo Bible camps in much the same ways as others would use football or basketball camps.
"People who are interested in the sport of rodeo, and yet are Christian in belief and practice and faith and want to still have their connection with church and their values, and still be able to participate in rodeo, it kind of puts the two together," he said.
That means that children like Williams can go to a summer religious camp while still participating in a sport they love, even though it may not be viewed as a traditional sport.
Another benefit the camp provides is reconnecting kids that live in the suburbs with hobbies and ways of life that their parents and grandparents once embraced.
"Things have changed," Moyer said. "We're seeing our ranch kids leaving home and ranches being divided up and sold off. So you end up with a lot more folks from the city moving out to the suburbs of the city. Maybe their parent or grandparents had connections with rodeoing or ranching, but now after a generation or two we've lost that.
"It gives a great opportunity that maybe the parents can't afford or have the property to keep horses, so it gives these kids a first-time experience to see what their grandparents and maybe parents had but they don't have the same opportunity today because of the way the cities are building up around."
Williams showcased her skills in the trick-riding event with three tricks. First she did the back saddle stand, a trick that involves standing in saddle straps located behind the seat of the saddle. Her second trick was the tail drag, her favorite trick and one that is a little dangerous as the rider holds his or her feet in the rear loops of the saddle and dangles over the rear of the horse, hanging upside down right behind the tail and hooves of the horse.
"It's kind of nerve-racking because it's kind of scary when you're hanging over a horse's butt," Williams said. "That's the best part, getting to show all your tricks."
Williams concluded her display by performing a backbreaker, a trick where the rider dangles upside down off the side of the saddle, holding onto the saddle horn and keeping one foot locked in place with the use of the stirrup on the opposite side of the saddle.