World champion bareback rider Kelly Timberman to compete in Colorado Springs

By Jen Mulson Updated: July 11, 2017 at 4:30 pm • Published: July 11, 2017 0

Even as a kid, Kelly Timberman wanted to be a horse whisperer.

He sought to conquer and ride the animals nobody else could.

Fifteen years, one world championship and $1.5 million in prize money later, he's proven that his instincts for bareback riding were spot on.

"My dad was my first hero," said Timberman, 41, from his home in Casper, Wyo. "He rodeoed when I was a little kid and retired when I was in the second grade. My dad rode at a high level. He rode around bareback champions. As a kid, being in the same room with those people, you can understand the atmosphere and the stories. I fell in love with it."

Timberman will compete in the 77th annual Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo, which runs Wednesday through Saturday at Norris-Penrose Event Center. More than 200 men and women will stir up dust in seven events, including steer wrestling, team roping and barrel racing. The Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo Parade kicks things off at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday along Tejon Street downtown.

"We are the No. 7 or No. 8 highest purse rodeo in the country," said Gene Renaurt, president of the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo board. "There's a lot of excitement about coming here. We're able to bring some of the best competitors from around the country."

Timberman has competed in at least 10 of the local rodeos through the years.

"I love the arena," he said. "You feel like a gladiator walking in there. It's a classy rodeo. It's just one of those rodeos you feel good at."

New this year are American freestyle bullfights on Wednesday and Thursday.

"There's a certain amount of danger with that, and excitement," Renaurt said. "The event is gaining popularity at other rodeos around the country. We were looking for something that stayed in line with our Western heritage but added excitement to it."

Bullfighters have the chance to take home $5,000. The other events each offer a $15,000 purse, which attracts contestants from around the world.

About 32,000 visitors attend the rodeo each year, for its fierce competitions and its family friendly mechanical bulls, mutton busting, kiddie dress-up review, pony rides, photo opportunities with longhorns, vendors and concessions. The Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo Foundation donates event earnings to local military charities and families; it contributed about $90,000 last year.

Timberman's been on the professional rodeo circuit since 2002 and admits to being the "dinosaur" in a crop of younger contenders. He credits an intense daily training schedule to his career longevity, doing cardio workouts, weight lifting, circuit training, eating a proper diet and nightly sessions on a horse or a bucking machine specially created for him.

The sport typically isn't kind to the human body, but Timberland managed to avoid breaking any bones until last year at Cheyenne Frontier Days in Cheyenne, Wyo., where a horse ran down the fence after his ride and caught his foot on a post.

"I don't deal with the joint discomfort and pain that a lot of guys have dealt with," he said. "There's rarely anybody my age riding bareback horse because of the physicality of tearing up the body. Not that I have better genes; it's just that I took better care of myself."

Riders don't know which horse they'll be on until about a week before the rodeo, but as soon as they find out, they compare notes.

"What's magnificent about the sport, because it's so dangerous, there's not room for competitiveness against the other guys," Timberman said. "I know that sounds strange, but if I'm at a rodeo and I draw the best horse there and don't know him, I'll ask another cowboy what the horse is like. He'll tell me about any tricks to get by it. I can possibly beat him, but he won't withdraw information from me. There's no other sport that guys will do that for you."

It's also important to the cowboy that fans know the animals are treated well. The horses are worth thousands of dollars and only compete 10 to 12 times a year. The rest of the time, they live the good life, grazing in the pasture and getting strong.

"People spend years bringing up horses that love to buck," he said. "We can't force them to do it. They just do it. We treat them like queens and kings. Everything in rodeo is won off the back of animal. If the animal is hurt in any way, they lose money. We want them to feel as vibrant and youthful as they possibly can."

He finds it ironic that fans initially pity the horses.

"Once you're behind the chutes and up close and personal to the animals," Timberman said, "most people, when they see them, they say 'Poor cowboys,' not 'Poor animals.'"

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