Chute-dogging is by far one of the most intense events. Contestants jump in the slot with a 500-pound steer and grab the animal in a headlock. Then, when the gate swings open, man (and woman) tries to wrestle the beast ten feet forward and onto the ground.

"When Phil Ragsdale started it, gay rodeo was the only real place where people could be open."

The horse events include pole bending, with riders weaving their horses through six poles for the best time. Barrel racing is also a contest against the clock, here by whipping the animal around three barrels placed in a triangle 150 feet apart from one another.

Rodeo staples like these share the schedule with "camp" competitions unique to the gay games. These include goat dressing and "wild drag," which features teams of three — including a man or woman in a dress — roping a bucking steer while the one in drag rides it across the finish line.

Ed Aiello, known on the International Gay Rodeo Association circuit as "Lil' Hoss," clinched Rookie of the Year in 2008.
Photo by George Martinez
Ed Aiello, known on the International Gay Rodeo Association circuit as "Lil' Hoss," clinched Rookie of the Year in 2008.
Karey Lipham is one of the few women to ride bulls on the gay rodeo circuit.
Photo by George Martinez
Karey Lipham is one of the few women to ride bulls on the gay rodeo circuit.

As in professional rodeo, the total point leader after the two days is crowned "all cowboy," so serious competitors have to sign up for as many events as possible if they want to win it all. Belt buckles — bedazzled metals about the size of a smushed bagel — are awarded to the point leader in each competition. In gay rodeo, however, the events aren't gender-specific. Men can do horse events just as women can ride bulls (roughstock is boy-only in nearly all professional and semipro circles).

But gay or straight, success at rodeo is often just a matter of luck. "You never get a buckle if you draw bad animals," counsels Janine Pardee, a middle-aged construction engineer out of Orlando. After carefully reading the animals in the pen, she agrees with the assessment circling among riders: The animals at this year's stampede are "rank," hard to handle, and easily spooked. "These ones are headshakers," she says, motioning toward the steers. "They're totally afraid of us. They think, 'I'm surrounded by predators; I've got to get away.' "

Animalwise, Pardee hit a jackpot in 2011. Looking for a new sport to try, she showed up at the rodeo school held before each Sunshine Stampede to glom the basics. "The next day, I caught my calf, dogged my steer, got two buckles at my first rodeo, and came in second overall," she says. "For two years, it was probably the only good day I had. But it answered a need for me. In straight rodeo, you can't get into it when you're an adult, especially later in life. But gay rodeo, anyone can."

On Saturday, the rodeo schedule pushes forward, the roping events giving way to steer-riding, goat-dressing leading into the horse events, until finally there's only one contest left, the culmination of every rodeo, gay or straight: bull-riding.

The crowd is still thick in the risers. Queen's "We Will Rock You" pounds out of the PA. With an audible gasp sounding off the spectators, the rodeo's first rider is out of the chute on an arching black bull.

With one bounce, he's flipped over the side, dangling down as the animal's hoofs stomp up clouds of red dirt. Now crumpled on the ground, the rider fails to return to his feet; rodeo crew rush out, followed shortly by onsite medics. As he's carried off on a stretcher, a tense silence creeps into the arena. Then Karey Lipham climbs into the chute.

She has a tan Kevlar vest cinched across her chest, her face boxed safely inside a black Bauer hockey helmet. The bull, named Freckles, tips the scales at nearly 1,000 pounds and hulks now in the stall like tractor equipment that's been draped with old beat-brown carpeting.

Lipham is one of the half dozen women bull-riders on the circuit. She's the only female rider here today, which means if she can hang on for six seconds — if she "covers," in rodeospeak — she'll go home with a buckle. It's also her last rodeo.

The metal gate knocks back.

One second: Freckles bounds out of the gate.

One and a half seconds: Freckles' front end twists up like a boat shouldering a wave.

Two seconds: Lipham is sitting in the dirt, her pixie smile still flashing from behind the facemask.

"That was great," she says moments later, knocking the dust off her jeans.

Yup, the Sunshine Stampede enjoyed a long run of successful rodeos, but trouble eventually rode into town. Hell, gay rodeo was facing tough times everywhere. But by the time the dust settled, Florida's gay rodeo scene was like an O.K. Corral where a lot of people had unloaded six-shooters of shit talk and allegations.

Throughout 2012, the FGRA board was poorly managed, according to some members. The organization ended up in tough straits. Bills from the 2011 season were left unpaid. Eighteen of the organization's bylaws were violated, including transparency provisions that allowed anyone in the group to listen in on board meetings. Bankruptcy was discussed. For longtime volunteers like Todd Garrett, who'd nursed the organization from the crib to its healthy popularity, the botched management was unforgivable.

"We got hit with these bills that were unpaid that totaled $6,500," he says. "There was a $1,200 dry-cleaning bill — explain that. We don't clean anything. These are the weird things that all of a sudden came up that had not been paid. That's a big deal, because you're starting in the hole."

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ralphpetrucci topcommenter

That illustration (if done by a gay, bi or straight man) is pathetic and not representative of the men who participate in this sport. Put it on the paper cover even. Shame.


Fucking attention whore homo's....


How charming that the GLBT community can now enjoy abusing farmed animals with the same barbaric gusto as the straight sadists!  And women can now torture and kill buls in the bullfight ring just like the male savages do!  You've come a long way Baby!