Big is the operative word for the second annual Atlantic City Boardwalk Rodeo, which is being held from Friday, March 30, to Sunday, April 1, at Boardwalk Hall.
The event, which is being presented by the Atlantic City Alliance, will feature more than 300 contestants vying for more than $90,000 in prize money over the course of seven events and three different shows.
"What's unique about the rodeo in Atlantic City is that it's a fast-paced competition," rodeo manager John Barnes says. "It's not one where you compete and wait three minutes for a judge's decision. A ride on the bull is eight seconds - the minute it's over, you have the score.
"There's no instant replay and no second-guessing the calls. Some are made right, some are made wrong, but the judges do the best they can."
The competition, which is sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, will feature 2011 bull riding world champion Shane Proctor, whose points scored last year at Boardwalk Hall helped him claim the world title, and other riders ranked in the top 15. The strength of the field makes it a higher-level competition than Salem County's Cowtown Rodeo held weekly from late May through late September, Barnes says.
The idea for an Atlantic City rodeo originated with Mayor Lorenzo Langford's Strategic Planning Committee and was dreamed up by late Resorts CEO Dennis Gomes, event chairperson Janet Markowitz says.
Besides the actual rodeo, there will be a golf tournament on Friday, at Atlantic City Country Club, where jeans and cowboy hats and boots will be the preferred uniform, and a special line dance at noon Friday, at Kennedy Plaza, where anyone can join in for the Boardwalk Stomp and other routines.
A championship rodeo camp for children 8 and older also is slated for Saturday, March 31.
The idea is to provide family-friendly activities that also will help the local economy, according to Markowitz.
"In addition to the people who come and watch the rodeo, it brings 1,000 more people who are participants," she says. "It really encompasses the whole city - these people are staying in hotels, shopping and eating here."
To accommodate the rodeo, historic Boardwalk Hall is being temporarily retrofitted with 1,250 tons of dirt in a special local mixture calling for two parts sand, one part clay, that's designed to help the animals maintain their footing and flexibility.
This year's rodeo also features a Hall of Education, where people can learn all about the sport, by touching a saddle, handling rope and trying their hand at maneuvering a bale of hay, as well as opportunities to get autographs and photos with the riders.
For the contestants, though, the rodeo is all about trying to claim that win. There are no guarantees - participants must pay entry fees and foot their own expenses, without knowing whether they will walk away with any prize money.
"It's entertainment for the paying spectators, but it's competition for the riders," Barnes says.
They're in it to win it
The Atlantic City Boardwalk Rodeo is serious business - competitors enter to win prize money and points in the race to become world champion, rodeo manager John Barnes says.
The rodeo consists of seven events. There are three riding tests, each lasting eight seconds: For bareback riding, cowboys cling to a bucking horse; for saddle bronco riding, they try to stay mounted on an unbroken horse; and for bull riding, they use a rope to try to stay on top of a bull.
Two other events test their roping skills. For tie-down roping, a mounted cowboy races against the clock to chase a calf and rope and tie it. For team roping, it's two riders against one calf.
Steer wrestling pits the rider against steer, as each participant tries to grab the animal by the horns and pull it to the ground to stop the clock.
The cowgirls get their moment in barrel racing, in which they ride their horses through a cloverleaf patterned course, with the fastest time winning.