Sammy Scherr / Special to the Las Vegas Sun
Wednesday, May 27, 2009 | 12:05 p.m.
A guide to rodeo:
- Bareback Riding: This event requires a participant to ride a horse, with nothing but a rope and one hand to hang on with. The horse attempts to buck or throw off the rider. The rider must ride the horse for eight seconds and is scored by four judges. Two judges score the horse while the other two score the rider.
- Saddle Bronc Riding: An event that requires a participant to ride a horse with a specialized saddle that has free moving stirrups and no horn. The rider has a simple braided rein attached to the halter of the horse to hold on with. Much like Bareback Riding, the rider has to say on for eight seconds.
- Steer Wrestling: A horse-mounted rider chases a steer, goes from the horse to steer, then wrestles the steer to the ground by twisting its horns.
- Tie Down Roping: Also known as Calf Roping, this is much like goat tying. The calf is in a chute and when signaled the calf is released from the chute and the rider attempts to rope the calf. Once the calf is roped, the rider jumps from the horse and runs to the calf. The rider then flips the calf and ties three legs. The calf must remain tied for five seconds.
- Barrel Racing: A timed event where the rider races around three barrels in a clover leaf pattern. The rider can either go to the left or the right barrel first. The fastest time in this event is the winner.
- Bull Riding: A rider is mounted on the back of a bull and with only a long braided rope attached to the bull to hold onto. The rider must stay on for eight seconds, and upon doing so, a horn is sounded to signify the rider's completion. Points are awarded (0-50 for the bull and 0-50 for the rider), and the rider is scored.
- Goat Tying: The rider races to the end of the arena, jumps off their horse and races to a goat tied to a 10-foot rope. The rider then flips the goat over, and ties three of its legs.
- Breakaway Roping: In this event there is one rider and one steer. The steer is let out of the chute, when the rider signals for it. The rider uses a special rope in this event. The rope is secured to the saddle horn, which keeps the rope tight, when the calf is roped; the rope breaks which signals for the clock to stop. The fastest time wins.
While many college kids struggle to pay for college, Kassi Venturacci is riding, tying and roping her way through her tuition bills.
The 22-year-old Fallon native is one of 11 UNLV rodeo athletes with a scholarship thanks to her prowess and skill upon her quarter horse, Dobe.
Venturacci has been involved with rodeo since she was 6-years-old and is now a key member of UNLV's club rodeo team, which is featured in the West Coast Region of the College National Finals of Rodeo (CNFR).
"My family ranches and farms so I've always ridden horses and been around cows and stuff," Venturacci said. "Our friends all rodeo'd and it's just something all the kids kind of did together."
Venturacci is currently ranked second in the West Coast Region in goat-tying and the women's all-around. In goat-tying, the athletes chase down a goat on their horses, jump off, and tie the goat's legs as fast as possible. The all-around winner is an athlete who competes in at least two events and is leading the competition in points and/or money.
Venturacci's ranking in the all-around is based on points, but she has earned money several times in her collegiate career. The most she earned at one time is about $6,000.
Her ultimate goal, like most of UNLV's rodeo participants is to one day complete professionally in the NFR.
"Everyone kind of wants to make the NFR, which is pretty much the ultimate goal for anyone that does rodeo," she said.
Venturacci's accomplishments so far make her a strong candidate to indeed go pro someday. She was the Nevada State Champion AA Cowgirl from 2003-2005, and she won the Nevada State Championship for goat-tying in 2005.
In college, she qualified for the CNFR twice, in 2007 and in 2008. In both of those years, she also finished as the West Coast Region champion in goat-tying, which she says is her strongest and favorite event.
Kassi learned a lot about rodeo when she was young, and most of the kids from her childhood gang of riders have gone on to do well for themselves at the collegiate and pro-levels. But that is just more motivation for her to be the best.
"The group I grew up with was really good, as far as in the nation," said the UNLV rodeo star. "We were a really good group of kids, and we were really competitive and had full rides to pretty much a lot of colleges."
These friends include Casey Felton and Jade Corkill. Felton participates in rodeo at New Mexico State on a scholarship, and Corkill went straight into the NFR, without college. Corkill was the 2006 Professional Cowboys Rodeo Association Rookie of the Year for team roping heelers.
Kassi and her Fallon friends participated in junior rodeos when they were younger. They rode together, practiced together during summers, and eventually intensified the competition amongst themselves.
"We always see each other at the college finals in the summer," Venturacci said. "We all usually qualify and meet up back there and compete against each other. It's pretty cool."
Kassi's family and friends look past the danger of her sport and provide much-needed support.
"We have always tried to encourage her to be the best that she can be at anything she does," said Toni Venturacci, Kassi's mother. "We have always stood by her with support and for anything she might need. We've tried to teach her that anything is possible, you just have to work hard at your goals to reach them."
Her parents helped out any way they could, whether pulling chutes to release calves, offering cattle to rope or providing financial assistance. They said they see Kassi's participation in rodeo as no more dangerous than tackle football or ice hockey.
But her mother still warns that safety precautions must be taken.
"We feel that it is no more dangerous than any other sport, but you must know your events well," Toni said. "You must be in good shape physically and mentally so you don't out yourself in a spot to get hurt, if at all possible. And you must know your horse as well."
Kassi loves the role her parents play in her rodeo experience.
"They're supportive, completely," she said. "They grew up around it too, so they're really proud that we're out here doing it and trying to go pro and wanting to make it. So they see it as an opportunity and that you've accomplished so much, more than a risk."
Ric Griffith, coach of the UNLV Rodeo team, recognizes that he has a special athlete in Venturacci, and notes that she is one of the premier athletes on the team.
"Kassi is our best student this year on the women's side of the team, and at the College National Finals last year, she helped the team tremendously to win the national championship," he said. "She has got no quit in her, and she's got a lot of 'try,' and that's what makes her so good in rodeo."
According to Griffith, his UNLV Rodeo team is ranked second in the West Coast Region, and looks to do some serious damage at the 2009 College National Finals from June 14-20.
He also thinks that Venturacci is going to play a big role in the success he knows his team can achieve.
"She is probably going to be our key player, because she is going to be in two events at least, maybe three," Griffith said. "And that helps her tremendously and the team tremendously because she's got a chance at more spots of winning points for us and winning another title for the all-around too.
"It helps a lot to have her attitude, because attitudes are part of rodeo too. She has a lot of heart, and a lot of rodeo comes from the heart."
Venturacci is slowed by a bad shoulder, but her drive and dedication to her sport are keeping her from having the surgery to correct it until she is out of college, when she can afford time to go through the 12-month necessary recovery.
Despite being hurt in last year's college finals, she came back to win the next two rounds, and she ended up placing in the top five in the nation.
"Just like in any other sport, you've got to work hard and be dedicated," Venturacci said. "My theory is if you're going to do it, you might as well be the best. So work hard and be dedicated. I actually want to win the world a couple times, you know, be like the best girl down the road. I think that would just be awesome. I just want to be the best person there is."
Scherr is a UNLV undergraduate in the Hank Greenspun School of Journalism and Media Studies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.