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Today's word on journalism

Friday, May 12, 2006

THE FINAL WORD

PETERSBORO, Utah -- Gloom like a Bulwer-Lyttonesque pall hung heavily over the Cache Valley as word came that the WORD had gone.

"As he stared at her ample bosom, he daydreamed of the dual Stromberg carburetors in his vintage Triumph Spitfire. . . ." No, wait. . . . That's actual Bulwer-Lyttonism. Scratch it.

We conclude, with joy and trumpets and a tankard or two, the 10th season of TODAY'S WORD ON JOURNALISM. What began in 1995 as a professor's strategy to get his students to read email (guess that worked!) now has spread, birdflu-like, far beyond that unwilling audience to self-flagellating WORD volunteers on five-and-a-half continents. But the willing and unwilling alike--the halt and addled and addicted and deluded--will have to get a life and smell the roses, for a while anyway.

Today marks the end of the WORD for this academic season. Even ere the rosy dawn that didth bust o'er this glade, this vale, this happy home. . . . ooops. Avert already, Sir Bulwer, you mangy cur!!!!

See you in the fall. . . TP

World's Greatest Horseman competition tests cowboys' versatility

By Gary Ryan Bayles

April 5, 2006 | A tradition born in the American West with roots to the Spanish vaquero, the World's Greatest Horseman competition is a living legacy to great horsemen and even greater horses.

With thousands of horses and even more horse lovers, it's hard to really say that one person is the greatest horseman or the there is only one super horse, but that's exactly what this event does. According to the National Reining Cow Horse Association (NRCHA) which sponsors the event, "it's one of the most prestigous titles in the horse world."

The competition consists of one horse, one rider, one bit and four events. These four events are based on the culture of the American Cowboy and resemble in a small way work on the ranch. The events are reining (dry work), cow cutting (more commonly referred to as herd work), steer stopping and fencework. There are many competitions that focus on a single event, or maybe even a combination of two or three, but this is the only competition which combines all four which increases the degree of difficulty.

The first World's Greatest Horsemen event was held in 1999, but the tradition has been around for hundreds of years. Vaqueros (spanish cowboys) are considered the greatest horsemen because of patient hands and love for horses, especially cow horses.

Ernest Morris, one of the last true vaqueros, has spent his life doing what he loves--being a cowboy. Now much of his time is spent on his artwork and catching his memories of a lifestyle and legacy he loved so much. Morris has captured mutch of what he learned in four books: El Vaquero, El Buckaroo, Riata Man and California Cowboy Inventions. Through Morris' books it's easy to see where the four events in the World's Greatest Horseman competition come from.

For a vaquero and any horseman the goal is to train a horse so that it will neck rein or in other words when the rider steers the horse it moves when the outside rein touches the neck of the horse rather than pulling on the rein. This is the basis of the reining event. Horses are trained to do several manuevers with very little pull or use of the reins which attatch to a bit in the horses mouth.

Some of the maneuvers include spins where a horse spins in one direction with the inside hind leg of the horse acting as a pivot point, very similar to a pivot in basketball. They are also trained to do speed transitions from fast to slow with only a slight change in the way the rider sits. The trademark maneuver in reining is the slidestop. A horse begins to run at an easy pace, but with each stride it builds speed and when the rider says whoa, the horse stops and slides on its hind legs.

Cow cutting which is often referred to as the herd work is a completely different event. Many times the vaqueros had to sort cows from one herd to another or cut out a cow that was sick or maybe even a bull. Sally Harrison, writer for the National Cutting Horse Association said, "When an animal is selected, it is slowly driven out of the herd and to the "cuts." If it tries to run back to the herd, the cutting horse heads it and turns it around." This may appear to be an easy task, but a stubborn cow can be almost impossible to hold and a great cow horse is worth its' weight in gold.

Cutting has grown since the time of the vaquero into a hobby and past time for many horsemen. It has been slightly modified to fit competition perameters, but the basic idea remains. Popularity in the sport has increased and includes celebrities like Joe Montana who competes on his own cutting horses.

Steer stopping tests the riders ability to rope a cow, while at the same time testing the horse's ability to handle a cow on th end of a rope. Roping is a part of the vaquero legacy and lives on today as part of the working cowboy.

Scores are determined based on a score card which assigns point values to each aspect of the competition. Steer stopping can be very technical, but according to the NRCHA score card, the most important aspect is how smooth the horse works and that it allows the rider to rope the cow.

Fencework is the defining event in the competition. The first move is to stop and turn the cow on the small end of the arena. When the rider feels that he or she has established some respect from the cow they then start down the long side of the arena. Usually the cow will take off and the rider must stay close and as soon as the cow passes the midway marker on the fence, the rider will pass it and turn the cow back down the fence. After turning the cow both wasy on the fence, the rider eases the cow off the fence and blocks the cow into making a circle in both directions.

Shane Haviland, professional horse trainer and NRCHA member, said, "It's so exciting you forget to breath." It is truly one of the defining events of the World's Greatest Horseman. According to FenceWork.com, it's difficult because "three individuals are involved in a fence run....and the cow doesn't react mechanically - it has a personality and motivations all its own."

These four events make up the World's Greatest Horseman competition. Haviland said there are a lot of great horses that specify in one event or another, "but these horses do it all." That's what puts them above the rest and makes them the greatest.

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