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Celebrating the American cowboy

Cowgirls welcome too as Wild West Week kicks off today
By: Paul Cambra, Features Editor
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Wild West Week
When:
  Sunday, April 21 through Sunday, April 28
PRCA Rodeo
When: Saturday, April 27 and Sunday, April 28
Where: Gold Country Fairgrounds, 1273 High St., Auburn
Tickets: $15 adults, $7 children ages 6-12
Info:  (530) 889-BUCK, www.wildweststampede.com

Start with a little swing dancing, try your hand at some dummy roping and — who knows — maybe by Saturday you’ll be eyeing that mechanical bull.
It’s rodeo week in Auburn, so in the spirit of this rough and rugged sport, dust off those Durangos and two-step out of your comfort zone for a little wild and western fun.
At 80 years old, Auburn’s Wild West Stampede is one of the oldest tenured rodeos in California.
“The rodeo has been at that site since 1932,” said Betty Estep, rodeo board president. “It started with the ranchers. They’d park their trucks and trailers in a circle — like circling the wagons — and they’d throw the stock in and say ‘cowboys get with it.’ You can’t move it because that’s where it started; we do all we can to keep it here.”
Here would be the Gold Country Fairgrounds, where beginning Friday the team roping events will bust out of the chutes. The Stampede continues into the weekend with more roping — both team and tie-down — bareback riding, saddle bronc riding, bull riding and steer wrestling. Barrel racing competitions begin today in Lincoln.
Thanks for mutton
One event that helps get the next generation of cowboys and cowgirls initiated into the sport is “Mutton Bustin,” where a game cowkid trades in their cowboy hat for a crash helmet, climbs onto the back of a wild and wooly sheep and hangs on for the ride.  
“Last year, the sheep guy didn’t show,” Estep said. “I had 30 kids in Mutton Bustin’ outfits and I had to tell them — and their parents — I have no mutton. Fortunately, one of my volunteers knew a guy with sheep, so we managed to gather 20 head.”
Estep said they typically will have about 30 participants on both Saturday and Sunday. This year they are adding a third section late Sunday to accommodate the growing demand.
“The person in charge said her phone is blowing up today,” Estep said.
Rope, ride or wrestle?
Sure, it’s a way of life for the rodeo cowboy, but what do the spectators come out to see?
“They start and end with the bull riding. That’s the big draw,” said David Harrison, of Auburn. “The roping and wrestling is almost equally exciting and certainly as entertaining.”
Harrison is general sales manager at Magnussen’s Dodge and Toyota, who has been a rodeo sponsor for 25 years. His view from the VIP tent leaves him bullish on the big, bad bovine.
“Seeing those animals running by how athletic they are, the force they have is pretty awesome,” he said. “I was amazed at the athleticism of the cowboys and clowns and the animals.”
Chris Seeman, of Auburn, agrees that bull riding is the most popular event.
“It’s what the average fan comes to watch because of the size of the bulls and the crashes and the danger in it,” he said.
Seeman is sales manager for Echo power equipment, which provided the belt buckles that are handed out to the winners of each event. His personal favorites are the tie down competitions.
“With the roping events, the skill the cowboy has to have — not just with his horse but with the rope as well — there’s a lot that goes into it the timing and the team work,” he said.
Hometown heroes
The teamwork factor also applies to those who make the Wild West Stampede happen every year. It’s an all-volunteer force that pulls it off, one that Auburn should tip their collective ten-gallon hats to.
“I’ve got one guy who loves to work the entry gate in the back, but he now lives in Colorado,” Estep said.  “I talked to him recently and he’s but he made his reservation. He’s flying out just to put on his committee shirt and work the back gate.”
Estep said the grandstands seat about 3,500 people and they usually do 5,000 to 6,000 for the weekend, many from out of the area. And that means there’s a whole lot of money moseying about town. Money that can be spent at local boarding houses and watering holes.
“Apparently, from what I get from other rodeo participants, for some reason ours is special, much more hometown,” Estep said. “I don’t know why that is. Maybe because the venue is more conducive, it’s like you’re right in the arena with these guys.”
So you want to be a bulldogger?
How many of us would actually want to be in that arena? Sure, you’ve “taken the steer by the horns” many times in your life, but have you ever jumped off a horse at 30 miles per hour and wrestle one to the ground?
“I am a fan only,” Seeman said. “A sponsor and a fan.”
“If I’m going to screw up my golf game it’s because I twisted my ankle on the tee box,” Harrison said.
As for Estep, well, while we won’t find her bulldogging in the ring, she is pretty handy with a lasso.
“I’m not as good as I should be,” Estep said. “I didn’t start until I was in my 40s but I can do okay. I ride pretty well. I usually rope about once a week. The pros make it look so easy but it’s really difficult.”
So if you see an inordinate number of bolos and bandanas walking the streets of Auburn, you’d be right to reckon it’s rodeo week in Auburn.