The show must go on: Rodeo performers risk the dangers

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SALEM (WSLS10) - From bare back horse riding to bull fighting and riding, the Salem Stampede Rodeo is back at the Civic Center Friday night! For the hundreds of performers, this is a lifestyle. It requires traveling on the road and weeks away from home.

There's a lot of preparation involved with only having a week to set up. It takes a large effort to transport the livestock from show to show but, to also set up sturdy pens that will keep large bulls weighing up to 24-hundred pounds in. However, without the performers who risk the dangers, the show would not go on.

Working with animals that perform to no script, the element of danger always lurks.

"30 stitch there, 25 stitches down there, 15 stitches there,' said Jerry Elles, announcer and former bull rider. "If you're a competitor riding bulls like I did for a living for 26 years, it's not a matter if you're going to get hurt, it's when you're going to get hurt."

It's the rodeo's 49th year in Salem. Jerry Elles rode at the very first show. Now, with age his riding days are behind. But, it's not enough for Elles to forgo this lifestyle.

Since Elles rode, some safety techniques have changed while others stayed the same.

"After the loss of one of the greatest bull riders of all times, the safety vest you'll see the contestants wearing came into play," said Rodeo Public Relations Director Kevin Debusk. "So, many of them now, wear helmets."

"We are wear some leg pads and some of us wear shin guards," said bull fighter Tyler Furr. "But, I just stick to the vest and I cover my vitals."

"Buying a few seconds before the next competitor rides in, I'm going to make you laugh, pick you up and have a good times," added rodeo entertainer Austin Stewart.

It's about learning to roll and tuck to soften a fall.

These cowboys are like family as they all travel together for weeks at a time.

"This is about close a knit family deal with and they are some of the neatest people you'll ever be involved with," said Elles.

They all said it's about putting on a show, pursuing a passion, and changing into character.

"The face is pretty difficult, because you don't ever want to copy somebody else, because you want to be unique," said Stewart while dressing into costumer.

Management said 40 tons of sawdust has put down for the animals and 600 tons of dirt fill the arena...that too also helps soften the fall.