Reno Rodeo keeps dream alive for young cowboys
Spencer Oesterling, 17, and Cory Hershkowitz, 18, have gone to the Reno Rodeo year after year and several times this week.
But they’re hoping this may be one of their last years cheering from the grandstands.
Hershkowitz, a bareback rider and team roper, plans to attend college in Iowa in the fall and compete on the rodeo team.
When he comes back to the Reno Rodeo, he’s hoping to hear those cheers from inside the arena.
“That’s my big hometown rodeo,” he said. “That’s my dream come true.”
Growing up on a ranch in Dayton, he was always around horses. But he turned his attention to wrestling at Dayton High School.
Then he tried riding a bronco.
“Next thing I knew I was consumed by rodeo,” he said. “I love riding buckin’ horses. When you catch the bug, there’s nothing else to it.”
Oesterling, 17, knows about the bug.
The son of a florist and a maintenance worker, rodeo was not in his genes. At around age 10 or 11, he was at a friend’s ranch in Dayton when he was dared to ride a little bull.
It hurt when he fell off, but he wanted to try it again.
“It’s like an addiction,” he said. “I’ve raced dirt bikes, played football, it was all fun, but once I started riding bulls I knew this was it. It can hurt you bad, but for some reason you just want to get back up and go at it.”
In addition to the risk of physical harm – Hershkowitz is nursing a rotator cuff injury and Oesterling has had knee surgery – there can also be a social stigma.
As a rodeo cowboy, Hershkowitz said he felt shunned at school. Although he had passing grades, he was in danger of getting kicked out of high school for missing so many days competing in rodeos.
So he transferred to Silver State Charter School and graduated this spring.
But that changes during rodeo week.
“If I could imagine my perfect hometown, it would be here during the Reno Rodeo,” he said. “You realized there’s a lot more rodeo fans out there than you thought.”
And it gives them something to aspire to.
“I get to follow my idols – the buckin’ horse riders,” Hershkowitz said. “You can watch them on TV when they make a good ride and it’s exciting. When you’re there, it’s a whole different story. It’s almost like you were there setting their rigging.”
Clint Cannon, a professional bareback rider from Waller, Texas, had the high marked ride Wednesday for 82 points and leads the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association world standings.
He knows he has a responsibility as a role model. In Houston, he helps run a free rodeo school for kids who may be interested in riding.
He played football in high school and college. It wasn’t until he was 23 he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and ride bucking horses.
Although he’s 30, he says he’s in great shape.
“I plan on quitting when I want to quit, not when age makes me quit.”
His advice to aspiring rodeo cowboys is the same: “It’s the greatest sport on Earth, but it’s the toughest sport you can do. You’ll find out real quick if you’re tough enough.”
Oesterling and Hershkowitz are going find out.
Hershkowitz plans on studying agriculture at Iowa Central Community College and continue to ride bareback and team rope.
Oesterling will be a senior next year at Carson High School and plans to begin competing professionally in bull riding once he’s 18. He hopes to get a rodeo scholarship to college.
“If I go to college, that’s awesome. But if it doesn’t work out, I’ll just rodeo,” he said. “It’s not something you can do your whole life, but everybody’s always told me to live my dream.”