REVIEW | World’s Toughest Rodeo at the Xcel Energy Center: Horses, bulls, and some really dumb sheep


Kara Nesvig: OK, Marcus. This was year two of the two of us (plus my trusty sidekick brother Dylan and your friend Lindsay) hitting up the World’s Toughest Rodeo at the Xcel Center. I was excited because I could actually say, “This ain’t my first time at the rodeo!” and mean it.

Marcus Michalik: You would have thought we’d retain some knowledge of rodeo scoring from the year before, but I think we were both confused as ever. I tried to look up how they do it on my phone at one point but that ended up just confusing me more. Did you know that half the score is given to the animal? Does that mean, like, points for creative coloring? 10 points because I like that white star on your nose, horse.

KN: Well, I know in the world of horse showing their color and markings DO count, so I wouldn’t be surprised. I don’t think we’ll ever figure out rodeo scoring until I marry a rodeo cowboy. This year I actually interviewed a rodeo clown, Justin Rumford, prior to the show and I learned that some of the bull riders had never even been on a horse. That’s crazy! A lot of them were from Wisconsin, Minnesota and the like, but I did see one from Pennsylvania. The rodeo traveled to 42 states last year. Why do we love the rodeo so much?

MM: Well, the main reason I go is to wave at bulls, but there’s an undeniable thrill to watching men much braver than me risking their lives all in the name of sport. There was a really scary moment this year when a horse flipped completely over and fell ON TOP of its rider. They said he was responsive as they carried him out, but that sense of fear and the total hush that fell over the crowd was really sobering. It’s similar to NASCAR but I don’t think anyone here is actually secretly wishing for someone to get hurt. 


KN: Yeah, they’re conquering a bucking, mad-as-all-hell animal. Man vs. wild, I guess. I almost threw up when the horse flipped over the cowboy. Horses are heavy, much heavier than they look. I hated that all the children in the audience had to see that. Hopefully he’s OK.
And speaking of children … one of the best parts of the rodeo is the “mutton busting” portion, where kids hop on the back of a sheep and ride it as far as they can. This year two little girls kicked butt and won! It’s cute to watch. I’m sure most of them are farm kids learning the rodeo trade and this is one way you start. I like that the rodeo is still passed down through families. Plus, sheep are beyond stupid and it was funny watching them flock together all clueless. I read once that sheep are so dumb that if they get a fly up their nose, they’ll kill themselves trying to get it out. 
I had to leave early, but you told me about a very smart bull who threw the cowboys for a loop. What happened? 

MM: This year the World’s Toughest Rodeo added a new portion that they called “Extreme American Bullfighting.” Basically, the guys go out there and try to get as close to a Mexican bull as they can without getting gored. One guy did a backflip over one as it rushed out of the pen! They had a hard time getting all three bulls back into the gates once they were out there. 

KN: What’d they do? Usually it’s a team effort between the cowboys, the rodeo clown and the riders. I’m assuming the livestock knows where to go too, but if I were a horse I’d be like, “No way! Don’t fence ME in!”

MM: It involved a lot of failed lassoing attempts. The bulls were just kind of trotting around in circles, almost like they weren’t ready for their big moments to be over that quickly. I appreciated the theatricality, especially because American bullfighting is sorely lacking in the way of gaudy matador uniforms. These guys just had shirts tied around their waists for some reason. That said, I’m really glad the only bloodshed in this version is from the humans. There were a few close calls but thankfully no further injuries.
Also, I think we may have buried the lede here: FIVE participants were named Cody, including the guy who won the bull fighting. Mama, don’t let your babies grow up to be Codys! 

KN: We do make light of the rodeo (and the music, which leans more Usher than Garth Brooks), but I’m continuously amazed at the talent and horsemanship that these riders display. It takes guts and balls to do what they do. One of my favorite parts was during the “half time” portion, where cowgirls and their horses just ran around the arena to country songs. It was beautiful. Many of the participants spend their lives with their animals and the kinship between a person and their horse is amazing to watch. 

MM: There was a gorgeous palomino during that part that I named Sunny Delight because of its golden coloring. There seemed to be a lot more dead time between events compared to last year, which at least gave us ample time to come up with names for our imaginary horses. Last year I decided I wanted one named Birthday Candle, but this year I’m thinking of either Double Wide, Return to Sender, or Judge Jury and Executioner. That last one is for a bull. 

KN: There has GOT to be a bull named the Executioner already. I also missed the barrel racing, which I always love. My one criticism of this year’s installment was all the downtime. It felt clunkier than last year and to be honest, I lost interest. That being said, I will always love the rodeo, because I’m AMERICAN.

MM: They promised “some of the greatest livestock in the world,” and I can’t say they didn’t deliver.

Read Kara and Marcus’ review from last year’s World Toughest Rodeo with photos by Mandy Dwyer (February 2012)

Coverage of issues and events that affect Central Corridor neighborhoods and communities is funded in part by a grant from Central Corridor Funders Collaborative.