by Peter Mertz
CHEYENNE, the United States, July 29 (Xinhua) -- Rodeo, a wildly popular sport across America's west, ended its biggest annual celebration Sunday as record crowds enjoyed an authentic taste of horse culture and frontier heritage on sunny days.
After 10 days of thrilling competition, Cheyenne's 123rd annual Frontier Days, America's "Daddy of 'em All," came to an end as some 550,000 saw breathtaking actions where men wrestled with thousand-pound animals and women raced horses at top speeds.
And, most profoundly, participants got a first-hand inside look at one of the most intriguing and historical subcultures in the United States.
The sport of rodeo officially began in Arizona in 1888 and Cheyenne, the capital city of Wyoming, followed soon thereafter in 1896 to hold events where competitors ride horses and win prizes for speed and skills.
Wyoming, known as the Cowboy State, where the state university's mascot is a cowboy, has a pride and history of authentic western frontier life that tops even Texas and Colorado, where the state sport is also rodeo.
Today, Cheyenne's Frontier Days is considered -- hands down -- the top rodeo in America. Only the Calgary Stampede surpasses Cheyenne in attendance -- some 1 million fans visit western Canada for the show each year.
Of the 10 or so competitive riding events, bull riding has seen the biggest growth in popularity over the past decade. The sport with 70 million U.S. dollars of bonus has grown faster than the steer roping and wrestling where top competitors make millions of dollars.
Bull riders are young men in their late teens and early twenties. Boudreaux Campbell from Texas, 20, told Xinhua that broken bones are not big deal.
"Injuries are a part of it," he said without fanfare.
"You got to go into it real like thinking you can win the fight every time. Bowling is a very humbling sport," he added.
Mature bulls weigh between 2,000 to 3,000 pounds, and the danger involved in jumping atop a bucking bull is not for the faint of heart.
Six months ago, the bull riding community was stunned by the death of 25-year-old Missourian Mason Lowe after a 2,700-pound bull stomped his chest in Denver.
Similarly, Saddle Bronc and Bareback Bronc events attract young fearless men. Both of the bronc events are also very dangerous -- the whiplash launched by a bucking horse would put most people in the hospital.
"It's different than anything you've ever seen. Many people do not understand the aspects of it," two-time Frontier Days Saddle Bronc champion Brody Cress told Xinhua.
"There's a lot of history around what we do," added South Dakota Saddle Bronc rider Shorty Garrett.
Both Garrett and Cress come from closely-knit conservative American families.
These young men are modelling after the Hollywood actor Tom Cruise's character in the Hollywood blockbuster Top Gun. They have great self-confidence, give a firm handshake, eye to eye contact, and address elders as "sir," or "Ma'am," terms for respect.
Wyoming, with a tiny population of 585,000, is staunchly Republican, and has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964.
In the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump beat Democrat Hillary Clinton in Wyoming by 46 points, and in 2012 Barack Obama lost in Wyoming by a big margin.
"Proudly conservative," Jim Baker, a local resident told Xinhua.
Many locals in the horse community are descendants of pioneers who settled in the region 100 years ago. They slept on the ground, ate food cooked over a camp fire, and hunted animals to eat for survival.
The rugged, austere cowboy is a revered American icon and the hero in countless Hollywood movies. Cowboys are still celebrated today in events such as Frontier Days.
For 10 days, the bleachers of the Frontier Days stadium were packed with screaming spectators and booming loudspeakers, as performers held on to large animals for dear life.
At night time, the cowboys and cowgirls spilled into music venues and bars in Cheyenne to celebrate the western lifestyle.
Each day started with a colorful parade through the downtown of Wyoming's capital -- with children, parents, American flags, people on horses, and horse-drawn carriages made their way through town.
But at noon each day, thousands flocked back to the open stadium, where nine different rodeo events took place each day after noon.
"I think it's big on American history and culture," Dean Finnerty, a steer wrestler coming from 30 miles away, told Xinhua. "They've been doing it here in Cheyenne for 123 years."
"It's going on all over the country, and it is something everyone should see at least one time in their life," he added.