Benton Franklin Fair

Cowgirl College: Benton Franklin Fair event teaches ladies about rodeo

Saddle up, ladies, it's time for school. But leave your notebooks and pencils at home. You will learn your three Rs - roping, riding and rodeo - on the back of a horse with a rope in your hand.

The Benton Franklin Fair & Rodeo is offering women a chance to learn to ride, rope and understand the sport of rodeo at its first Cowgirl College.

The event, scheduled for Saturday, consists of 11⁄2 hours of instruction from bullfighter Rowdy Barry; barrelman JJ Harrison; Rocky Mullen, who owns part of the equipment that will be used; and cowboys who will compete that night at the Horse Heaven Round-Up Rodeo.

The cost is $50 and proceeds will benefit the Tough Enough to Wear Pink campaign for breast cancer awareness.

The idea came from a similar event in Montana called Chicks n Chaps Women's Only Rodeo Clinic.

"The nice thing about fairs and rodeos is that everyone borrows from everyone because we don't compete against each other," said Lori Lancaster, BFFR manager. "It's for a good cause - we've raised $85,000 in four years. It's nice to give back and find different ways to do it. When we can teach them about rodeo and gain new fans, it's a good thing."

Rodeos are comprised of seven events, but only the barrel racing features the cowgirls. This program will help the women get a better understanding of what it takes to ride a buckin' bronco or rope a calf on the run.

The event, sponsored by Lourdes Medical Center and Numerica Credit Union, has 16 participants signed up, including a trio of women willing to take a walk on the wild side.

"We just thought it would be a hoot," said Deborah Davis of Kennewick, who will be joined by best friends Jeannette Bales of Pasco and Victoria Percifield of Richland.

Bales will celebrate her 38th birthday Friday, and will attend Cowgirl College with her girlfriends.

"She said she wanted to go to the fair for her birthday, and when I saw this, it was just perfect," Davis said. "I saw the ad in the Herald on Monday and signed us up. This is the craziest thing we have done."

Bales, a secretary for the Pasco School District, is looking forward to the outing. Her husband, Marty Bales, is a team roper, and she has attended plenty of rodeos.

"At first, I was like, 'What?' But it's right up my alley. I'm more excited to see what they do," she said, looking at her friends. "I've had great birthday parties, but nothing wild and crazy like this. I'm sure I'll have a stitch in my side from laughing so much. It will be memorable."

Davis, a teacher at Highlands Middle School in Kennewick, is the ringleader of the group - organizing everything from barbecues to shopping.

"She's the event planner," said Percifield, a personal banker. "We do what she tells us to do. I've been to the fair but never to the rodeo. As long as there aren't any real horses, I'll be OK."

There's no need for the women to be intimidated by the livestock. Rocky, the black stallion who will be their roping partner, is made of molded plastic, as are his calf and steer friends.

Give Rocky a little kick, and one of his four-legged friends will shoot down a 20-foot runway. This is where the roping skills will come in handy, as the women will try to lasso the animal before it reaches the end of the track.

In the barrel racing tutorial, riders will have stick horses and will maneuver around a modified barrel course (the actual course would be like running the bases at Wrigley Field, with an extra loop from second to home plate). In the roping class, students will lasso plastic steer and cow heads that are stuck in hay bales.

"We couldn't use any live animals because of insurance reasons," Lancaster said. "We will be roping dummy calves and steers so they can see the different size loops they need to rope different livestock."

The women also will get a feel for the rough stock events. The rigging for the saddle bronc and bareback events is ready to go, as is the mechanical bull, which will be an option.

If the livestock proves to be a bit much, Barry will be there to step in.

"We have exceptional rodeos or kids rodeos at the rodeos I go to all around the country, where they can have hands-on experiences," Barry said. "All ages can have fun if it's something they aren't used to. It's a good idea to have them learn how hard it is to do when the professionals make it look so easy. Ladies will have a good energy toward that."

Barry said Harrison is the perfect sidekick for this event.

"I work with JJ at quite a few rodeos during the year," Barry said. "He is one of the funniest guys in the business. He'll make it entertaining for the participants and the instructors."

What the women didn't know when they plunked down their money was that they will be the main attraction for the sponsors' dinner Saturday night. Western dinner theater, if you will.

"I was thinking the sponsors will be entertained by that," Lancaster said.

After all, having fun is what it's all about.

Want to learn to be a cowgirl?

Sign up for the first Cowgirl College, where real cowboys will give wanna-be cowgirls a few lessons in roping and riding at the Benton Franklin Fair & Rodeo in Kennewick. Cost is $50. Proceeds will go to the Tough Enough To Wear Pink campaign for breast cancer awareness.

Registration has been extended through Monday and is available on the fair's website at http://bit.ly/cowgirlcollege.

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