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Cowboy rides full circle
Bronc rider Stephen West began his career in Boro last year
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Savannah native Stephen West, 23, comes out of the chute on horse 222 while competing in the bareback bronco competition during the Statesboro Kiwanis Rodeo Friday. West rode bareback for the first time at last year's inaugural Kiwanis Rodeo and soon after joined the Hedrick Rodeo Company as an employee. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

    A year ago, a Savannah man climbed onto the back of a bucking bronc for the first time at the Statesboro Kiwanis Rodeo. Friday, Savannah native Stephen West was back at the rodeo, making his first eight-second ride.
    A great deal happened in between, he said. After making that first ride last year, West talked with Hedrick Rodeo Company owner Danny Hedrick and ended up being hired to work. When he wasn’t tending horses on the road or working on Hedrick’s Madisonville, Tenn., ranch, West was riding broncs.
    “Last night was the first time he ‘made the tooter,’ ” Hedrick said, referring to West staying on the bronc for a full eight seconds.
    It was ironic that he made the first successful ride back at the arena where it all began.
    His parents were in Statesboro on Friday, watching their son ride for the first time. West didn’t grow up around horses, and wasn’t raised on a ranch, but he was bitten by the bucking horse bug when a horse owned by a girl he dated decided to let loose with some fancy moves.
    “The horse started to buck, and I had fun with it,” he said. When he was buying horse feed at Anderson’s General Store a short while later, he saw the Statesboro Kiwanis Club’s first rodeo advertised and signed up to ride.
    It has been an adventure ever since, he said.
    “He moved in, lives in one of our apartments, and works full time for us,” Hedrick said.
    Having someone sign on and stay isn’t common, he said. “Usually they have the want-to but don’t have the heart. They find out it’s not easy, and most of the time it hurts.”
    But West said he found his true calling when he topped the bareback bronc last year.
    “It felt like it was me, what I am supposed to be doing,” he said. “Some things click; some things don’t.”
    Hedrick said West is a hardworking and dedicated employee and a determined rodeo cowboy who doesn’t mind the long hours and grueling work.
    Last night, a full year and three weeks since his first ride, West rode the bronc for the full eight seconds — a year’s worth of practice, learning and work to reach his goal.
    “That’s what it takes,” Hedrick said. “It’s why most people don’t do what we do. He spent the whole year getting slammed to the ground, learning.”
    The Statesboro Kiwanis Rodeo saw a crowd of about 3,000 Friday night and a slightly smaller showing Saturday afternoon for the matinee show.
    Statesboro Kiwanis Club rodeo committee chairman Bill Anderson said the group expected a large crowd again Saturday night.
    People enjoyed great food and kid’s entertainment as they shopped with vendors before the rodeo.
    “We missed it last year and decided to come this year,” said Virginia Rogers, a Statesboro resident. “I’d never been to a rodeo. I love it, although it was a little hot.”
    Sales of cold drinks and sno-cones skyrocketed during the daytime show.
    “We came last year, and returned,” said Kayla Underwood.”I like rodeos, watching them on TV.
    Bull riding is her favorite event. “It’s exciting, and has such an adrenaline rush,” she said.
    Contestants competed in steer wrestling, calf roping, bull riding, saddle bronc and bareback bronc riding, barrel racing and team roping.
    Fun events included kid’s calf scramble, where they raced to pull a ribbon off a calf’s tail, and steer dressing, where teams had to put clothing on a very uncooperative steer — after they caught and restrained it.
    Paige Brown said she enjoyed the rodeo, because it is an “extremely enjoyable family event. Statesboro needs more of this.”
   
    Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.

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