For all the talk about cowboys being more fit or cowgirls using better technique en route to victory, the true key to success for rodeo participants is whether they can gain an animal's trust.
Sometimes, that bond must be established within just a couple of minutes as bull riders try to do with the animal in the chutes.
Or, it's developed over a long period of time like that between a barrel racer and her horse back on the ranch before touring the rodeo circuit.
Without that trust, disaster looms.
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With it, an eager crowd's applause awaits.
The fourth and final day of the 97th annual Clovis Rodeo showcased both those who could and couldn't form that trust with their respective animals, with some horses following each and every command the cowgirls gave them and most bulls tossing cowboys in the air like raw pizza dough.
Among the highlights at the Clovis Rodeo Grounds was Kelly Tolbert of Hooper, Utah, taking first place in barrel racing as she rode her 8-year-old mare, Cleo, to a rodeo-best time of 16.80 seconds on Sunday, and Shane Proctor of Grand Coulee, Wash., holding on to the bull-riding victory with a score of 89 from Saturday.
"She had really tight, smooth turns this time and just ran the way I always thought she could," Tolbert said of her horse that she's competed with for the past four years. "The weather was great. She felt great. She was happy to be here. It was a good team win."
Proctor stayed on the bull Hot Chocolate the entire 8 seconds as it bucked and twisted and spun around Saturday. Sunday's bull riders weren't as fortunate, with the bulk of the participants bucked off quickly and unable to tabulate a score.
One of Sunday's bulls, Touch of Class, made a 180-degree turn in midair to knock off Lindsey Rankin of Hillsboro, N.M., in 6.18 seconds. Another Sunday bull, Cash Money, moved so much in the chutes that when it was time to start bucking, the 3,000-pounder launched off Sartor Nicholas of Mira Loma in a mere 1.81 seconds.
Shawn Hogg of Odessa, Texas, was one of the few bull riders to last 8 seconds Sunday as Wish This appeared to give in to Hogg's control midway through. Just prior, Wish This kept moving and was breathing heavily in the chutes -- signs that he was not happy to have Hogg on his back.
"That bull could really buck," said Hogg, who scored an 85 to finish in fifth place. "He had a hair trigger in the chute. You kind of touch him and he'd want to buck in there. He was just ready to do his job.
"I like a bull with some fire and excitement in him. You know he wanted to get me off his back. I really had to get aggressive to get there and last the 8 seconds. About 3 or 4 seconds in, I could tell I had him from there -- he'd buck but couldn't throw me off."
The Texas tandem of Trevor Brazile and Patrick Smith won team roping.
Hunter Herrin of Apache, Okla., was victorious in tie-down roping after posting the fastest time during the first round then the second-fastest time during Sunday's second round.
Jacobs Crawley of College Station, Texas, scored an 84 to place first in saddle bronc riding and edged two second-place riders by one point.
Kaycee Feild of Payson, Utah, claimed top prize in bareback riding. And Marysville's Brad McGilchrist took first in steer wrestling.
Meanwhile, Sunday's three local participants -- Sheena Robbins of Fresno in barrel racing and Madera's team roping duo of L.D. Gill and David Gill -- all took eighth place in their respective events.
"I was just hoping to win a little money," Robbins said. "I really liked riding here. Horse was good. He just didn't nail the first barrel today and it was tough to make up for that."
Mark Thompson, the Clovis Rodeo board member and rodeo announcer, said this year's rodeo drew some of the largest crowds ever.
Official attendance isn't expected to be finalized until Tuesday. The Clovis Rodeo ranks as the third largest in the state and among the top 15 in the nation.
"I thought everything was awesome," Thompson said. "We were so happy to see that many people in the stands. It's a great product."