"At first, I really felt like I was losing a part of myself by giving it up," she explains. "But when I hate getting hurt more than I love getting on, that's when it's time, and it's come to that point."

There's symmetry to her swan song. Lipham's first IGRA rodeo was the Sunshine Stampede. And here she is, going for her last buckle back where it all started. And by day two of the rodeo, she's got two more opportunities to clinch the honors. In a few minutes, she'll step aboard a ­bucking steer. Later this afternoon, she'll take on yet another bull. If she can grip either for six seconds, she'll retire with glory.

And now: the steer.

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.

The preparation is always the same, precise as a timepiece. A knot is already twisting her stomach when she places her equipment bag behind the animal pens. It's still there as she climbs into her gear — leather chaps, Kevlar vest, hockey helmet. But it's only when Lipham slides in an orange mouthpiece, making her breath pull in and out through her nose, that her jitters flatline.

The chute crew and animal handlers bustle about. But she settles inside a little bubble of calm. Nerve ends are all alive, every sense in high-def, thoughts whittled to nothing. She climbs onto the steer. We're about to do a dance, she thinks. And you're the lead.

When the gate swings, the steer jumps out. Lipham flips up and over the side, landing in the dirt.

Robin Thicke's earworm megahit "Blurred Lines" has hijacked the PA system, momentarily shoving aside the country songs that have been soundtracking the stampede. Then down in the dirt dance out the next three contestants in the wild drag competition: a guy dressed in a pink sports bra and matching tight shorts waving a big foam finger; a woman in a black-and-white-striped suit and sunglasses; and a bandannaed biker toting a huge teddy bear on his back.

The trio — miming the infamous Miley Cyrus VMA jawdropper — sets off with a chain of grimy twerks that comes pretty close to canceling out the stampede's professed "family friendly" agenda. While the crowd screams, the contestants quickly ditch their props. A steer charges out of the chute.

In wild drag, teams of three must pull a roped steer over a line in the center of the arena. Then the person in drag has to hop on the animal and ride it back over the line. As easy as it might sound in theory, it's notoriously difficult, landing more competitors in the hospital than the ballsier roughstock events. At this year's rodeo, by Sunday no team has successfully finished the event. Steers too rank, consensus says.

Team Miley slowly creeps in on the target. But before anyone can grapple with the animal, it bolts. After some teasing attempts, the biker — none other than "Lil' Hoss" Aiello — manages to grab hold of the animal's horns. Miley is soon up and ­tentatively on the steer. The animal is frozen, legs locked. The crowd is up and loud like it's the bottom of the ninth with the go-ahead run at the plate. Finally, the steer jerks forward over the line, Miley still aboard.

From the sidelines, Lipham watches. Even though her last bull ride is now on deck, she will continue coming to the rodeos to compete in other events — wild drag included. "I'll still have a place here."

As the rodeo winds down on day two, ­David Raneer and Candy Pratt — the two biggest names on the circuit at the Stampede — both have commanding leads for all-around cowboy and cowgirl out of the 51 competitors. And although by Sunday afternoon, many will feel the event was a successful return to glory days, the number of competitors is down.

Part of the lower 2014 turnout can be pinned to the upcoming Gay Games: The international gay competition will be held in August in Ohio and will feature a full rodeo. Some serious cowpoke contenders are keeping off the dusty circuit to save up for the event.

But 46 is the other number staring the IGRA in the face: the average age of competitors. Gay rodeo simply isn't pulling in younger people, shadowing the sport's future trajectory with uncertainty.

"There's always going to be a spot for gay rodeo," Todd Garrett says. "I think it's all about getting new blood. Believe it or not, there are a lot of people who don't realize it exists now. I think in the future, new marketing techniques are going to have to happen." Ironically, the demographic that's turning up more and more at events: straight folks. "We've always welcomed that," Garrett explains.

But for lonely kids trying to unknot their sexuality in conservative small-town pressure cookers, gay rodeo is an important set of training wheels. By the last day of competition, 19-year-old Dillon is convinced he'll be back. "There are people out there that are actually like me," he says. "Here, I can actually be me and not have to hide a damn thing."

And now: the final bull-riding event. It unrolls eerily like repeat footage from yesterday. Once again, Lipham is behind the chute as the crew bustles about. She's inside her little bubble of calm. Thoughts are clean as an empty eraser board. Once again, Queen stomps out of the PA.

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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!