When Your Child Participates in Extreme Sports: Lessons Learned at the Rodeo

Posted July 10, 2014 by

Last week in Belle Fourche, SD where I live, the South Dakota High School Rodeo Association held state finals. Events for boys included the usual “rough stock” competition: bull riding, bronc riding, bulldogging and steer wrestling.  For girls there was barrel racing, goat tying and pole bending.  Roping events are open to boys and girls. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the rodeo kids in full cowboy gear; confident, proud and still humble enough to greet spectators.  Model teenagers—exactly what we want from our own kids!

Watching the rodeo was fun because the events took me back to a few years ago when our oldest son Ty participated in high school rodeo. For four years we traveled to rodeo grounds throughout Wyoming and western South Dakota. We attended state finals in Douglas and then national finals in Springfield, Illinois and Gillette, Wyoming.  Although we knew absolutely nothing about rodeo, we learned to enjoy the experience despite some of the drawbacks.

Rodeo is expensive. Most participants have to travel with their horse(s). If your daughter participates in barrels and roping, she will probably need more than one horse.  That means driving a big enough truck to haul a horse trailer with living quarters, plus room for tack and hay. Big trucks require a lot of gas.

Fortunately, our son Ty was a bareback rider. He didn’t need to haul a horse since rodeo contractors do that, so we were able to travel in a Toyota Corolla.  The trips were still expensive in terms of hotel accommodations, food and time. Especially time. We are self-employed which offered scheduling flexibility, but still, time is money.

Rodeo, like many other sports, can be dangerous. One rainy, windy spring day in Newcastle, Wyoming, a horse landed on Ty’s right foot and sheared off that little bone that sticks out on the outside of the ankle. The accident happened following a winning 78-point ride. Today he has a silver commemorative belt buckle and a pin in his ankle, enabling him to set off alarms in airports. We ended up with a hefty bill from the orthopedic surgeon.

Our younger son Shay was drawn to motocross racing and snowboarding. He tried roller blading and rock-free climbing. He even followed his older brother to the rodeo arena and had a hand at bareback riding.

For some reason, many kids are drawn to similar high-risk, or “extreme” sports that involve danger (and subsequent expense).  These are the sports seldom sanctioned by schools, which include hang gliding, bungee jumping, skateboarding and BMX bike riding. The list is always growing.

Any sport or activity is potentially dangerous, but what should parents do when a child is drawn to riding bulls or jumping off a bridge tied to a bungee cord?  Here are some suggestions that might help:

  • Don’t dismiss the need for extreme sports.  Kids need to gain skills and feel accomplished.  They need physical activity. They also need to succeed at what they see as something extraordinary and outstanding. Extreme sports offer the opportunity to fulfill all of these needs.
  • Steer your kids toward activities that offer safety guidelines and a clear set of standards for competition. Do not accept the notion that concussions are part of the experience or that one must expect injuries and endure pain.
  • Attend the events and learn the terminology. This includes getting to know the other participants and their parents. On the high school rodeo circuit, we made some good friends among the other parents despite us not being a “rodeo” or ranching family.  Many rodeo kids are products of generations of participants.  Some, like Ty, are drawn to it just as kids are often drawn to other extreme, adrenaline producing activities.
  • Cheer for everyone. Enjoy the success of all the kids.  Remember that extreme sports are really about individual achievement and a community cheering section is much healthier for everyone than competition. 

Extreme sports offer the opportunity to belong, participate, and experience some adrenaline rushes without the formality and conditions of other organized activities. Ty discovered rodeo when high school football didn’t work out and golf was a little too civilized for him.  He loved the camaraderie, sense of belonging and the admiration of his peers and the adults. So bring on extreme sports!


Meg English is a career teacher. She has taught International Baccalaureate classes, college composition and specializes in non-traditional gifted learners. She has written extensively on education, schools and parenting. Meg has an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership and an M.S. in history. She and her husband, author John English, are the parents of two adopted boys and several foster children. They live in Belle Fourche, South Dakota within a few hours of their 6 grandchildren.

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