It also doesn’t matter whether his stiffest competition saddles up to rope on a warm and sunny winter day when Stock Show patrons are wearing shorts and flip flops.
That’s because weather never has bucked the “World’s Original Indoor Rodeo.” The Stock Show Rodeo still owns the bragging rights for conducting the first organized rodeo in an indoor venue 100 years ago.
In March 1918, the Fort Worth Stock Show first went indoors at Cowtown Coliseum in the Fort Worth Stockyards. A century later, the Stock Show Rodeo, which this year runs through Feb. 3, is conducted inside Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum, the renowned rodeo's home since 1944.
The advantage of indoor rodeo is simple: it eliminates the weather factor. In rodeo, it’s imperative the gritty and aromatic arena dirt floor is in the same condition for every contestant regardless of the performance.
Cooper is the defending tie-down roping champion at the Stock Show’s traditional Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association show, which runs 16 days and 29 performances, more two-hour shows than any pro rodeo throughout the world. He said he takes comfort in knowing weather is never a factor.
“When you have 29 performances, when it’s that long, Mother Nature can come in and do a lot of different things, especially in North Texas,” Cooper said. “So, it’s very nice to be indoors and to know that I can show up at any one of the 29 performances and have the same chance on any day.”
A venue in place
When the Fort Worth Stock Show Rodeo went indoors in 1918, organized rodeo had been around a little while, but was still in its infancy. The West Texas community of Pecos, which claims to have held the first organized rodeo, conducted its first edition in 1883. The Cheyenne Frontier Days in Wyoming conducted its first rodeo in the late 1800s. But those rodeos were and still are featured in outdoor venues.
In 1918, the Fort Worth Stock Show Rodeo was in position to hold a rodeo indoors as a result of the state-of-the-art Cowtown Coliseum. The Coliseum opened in 1908 under the guiding hand of then Stock Show president S. Burk Burnett, a prominent cattle rancher at the time who was the owner of the famous Four Sixes Ranch.
From 1908 to 1918, Stock Show organizers featured aspects of a rodeo within western riding shows in the new coliseum, according to Clay Reynolds’ 1995 book, “A Hundred Years of Heroes: A History of the Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show.” For example, in 1908, a “bulldogging” act was performed by Bill Pickett, who is credited with inventing steer wrestling, a standard event at today’s pro rodeos. A “bronco bustin’ ” event also was on the card.
In 1916 and 1917, the Stock Show featured the Miller’s 101Wild West Show, which was a big hit with fans. The show offered “bronc riding, bulldogging, steer riding and roping.” But in 1918, organizers opted to feature a regular event instead of a Wild West show that would pit cowboys in competition with one another for cash prizes.
The events included bronc busting, wild horse races and calf roping. Billy goats were actually used instead of calves. Two years later, the Fort Worth Stock Show Rodeo became the first to feature bull riding as a standard rodeo event.
Matt Brockman, the Fort Worth Stock Show’s communications director, said a main reason the Stock Show was able to become the first indoor rodeo was that it had the key elements in place.
“When you think about the world of rodeo at that time, which was still in its infancy, it was inevitable that somebody, somewhere was going to have a rodeo indoors,” Brockman said. “Fort Worth was the first place it was done. I think the big reason was the Stock Show predated the rodeo by more than 20 years. So, the Stock Show had the infrastructure in place to have an indoor rodeo. The really awesome thing about that is how it connects and reinforces Fort Worth’s image as arguably the most western of all major metropolitan cities in the United States.”
Brockman said the Fort Worth Stock Show, which conducted its first edition in 1896, has had a lot to do with Fort Worth’s becoming a city with a strong western flair.
“Fort Worth is a western town 52 weeks of the year,” Brockman said. “So, much of that was spawned 122 years ago when the very first Stock Show was held. Then, it began to be reinforced. For example, 1908 rolls around and Stock Show president Burk Burnett spearheaded the efforts to build the Northside Coliseum for the Stock Show. For roughly nine or 10 years, there were Wild West shows in the coliseum, Then, in 1917, leading onto 1918, a committee created a cowboy skills contest with events that were pretty similar to what we have in our rodeo today such as bronc riding, calf roping and steer wrestling.”
Making an impact
Over the past century, Fort Worth’s bold move to take rodeo indoors has proven to have enhanced the sports’s burgeoning growth. Today, many of the world’s largest western riding shows are indoors. The Professional Bull Riders, for example, kicked off the 25th anniversary of its top tier tour, the Built Ford Tough Series, in New York’s Madison Square Garden on Jan. 5. The PBR conducts about 25 to 30 Ford Series tour stops each year and most of them are indoors.
In February, the RFD-TV’s The American will be conducted at AT&T Stadium in Arlington in conjunction with the PBR’s Iron Cowboy, a major stop on the PBR’s Ford Series. During The American, some competitors can earn up to $1.1 million.
Since 1985, the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s Wrangler National Finals Rodeo has been conducted inside Las Vegas’ Thomas & Mack Center on the UNLV campus. Ever since the National Finals had its humble beginnings in 1959 in Dallas’ Fair Park Coliseum, the rodeo equivalent of the Super Bowl has been indoors. In fact, the NFR in reality replaced the renowned Madison Square Garden Rodeo that was the sport’s championship event of the season for many years.
A level playing field
Tim Lanier, the general manager at Cowtown Coliseum, said the decision to hold a rodeo indoors was revolutionary.
“It was important for Fort Worth to be the first (to host an indoor rodeo), but it was more important for rodeo because it leveled the playing field,” Lanier said. “You have fairer competition, not depending on which day you were up because the conditions were the same for everyone.”
Unlike pro football that’s mostly outdoors, the entire field of rodeo competitors usually are not all scheduled to compete on the same day. With that in mind, indoor venues allow everyone who is entered in the rodeo to compete under the same conditions no matter which performance they are scheduled.
Taking rodeo indoors helped it become a year-round sports business, as well. During the winter months, for example, the larger stock show rodeos in cities such as Denver, Fort Worth, San Antonio and Houston are billed by competitors as “the building rodeos.” They offer larger purses and enable top finishers to get off to a lucrative early season start.
Going indoors, especially during the winter, has the obvious advantage of being able to hold a rodeo despite nasty weather. Throughout the 2018 Fort Worth Stock Show, officials expect to conduct six western riding shows, a total of 36 performances, inside Will Rogers Coliseum.
Though the Cowtown Coliseum hasn’t hosted the Fort Worth Stock Show Rodeo for the past 75 years, it’s the home of a weekly rodeo that’s classified as an “open” show, meaning pros and amateurs can enter. Unlike other weekly rodeos in cities such as Steamboat Springs, Colorado, that are outdoors and seasonal, Cowtown Coliseum’s rodeo bucks 52 weeks a year.
“We wouldn’t be here today if we were outdoors,” said Cowtown Coliseum manager Hub Baker. “Thanks to the city of Fort Worth, we have heating and air conditioning. We’re proud of that. We’re the only rodeo in the world that’s every Friday and Saturday night year-round.”
Billy Huckaby, a rodeo historian who announces the Cowtown Coliseum’s weekly rodeo, said the iconic venue’s longevity commands respect.
“In rodeo, there’s a lot of dispute over where the first rodeo was held, but there’s not much dispute that the first indoor rodeo took place in Cowtown Coliseum, Huckaby said. “There’s the fact that 100 years later, we still have rodeo in that same building. I wonder, is there another building that still is hosting the same sporting event 100 years later?”
The right place
At the Cowtown Coliseum rodeo, fans sometimes can see some of pro rodeo’s top competitors such as Cooper, a four-time world champion from Weatherford, and 23-time world champion Trevor Brazile of Decatur. World class competitors sometimes enter the Cowtown Coliseum rodeo because it houses a smaller arena that’s very similar in size to Las Vegas’ Thomas & Mack Center’s dirt floor where they will compete for big prize money throughout the 10-day December National Finals Rodeo.
Cooper, who has competed in the National Finals Rodeo nine times, noted the similarities.
“They’re nearly identical — the dimensions, the atmosphere, it’s a live performance, the start is the same — it kinda starts getting your mind-set for the NFR,” he said. “It really gives you the feel of the big shows.”
Tillar Murray of Fort Worth, who qualified for the 2017 National Finals last month in barrel racing, said she entered the Cowtown Coliseum rodeo beforehand to prepare for the Las Vegas championships. Once barrel racers reach the National Finals, they have to run their horses through a very short pattern in the small Thomas & Mack Center Arena, which can be a stark contrast from competing in large outdoor arenas throughout the regular season.
But Murray said the Cowtown Coliseum Arena and the Thomas & Mack Arena have a similar look and feel. One big factor, Murray said, is barrel racers cannot see the first barrel until they enter both the Cowtown Coliseum and Thomas & Mack dirt arenas through a narrow alley.
“The Cowtown Coliseum is the closest thing to Thomas & Mack,” she said. “It has what you call a blind first barrel, meaning you don’t fully see it from the alley way. There’s also a short set-up altogether at Cowtown Coliseum where the barrels are about the same distance from the arena wall.”
Great for fans
At both Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum and Cowtown Coliseum, fans relish being close to the action. The Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum seats about 5,700 spectators for rodeos. Cowtown Coliseum seats about 2,500. Though that pales in comparison to newer venues such as AT&T Stadium that can hold more than 100,000, Cowtown Coliseum was billed as an opulent venue when it opened in 1908 and Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum was state-of-the-art when it was birthed in 1936.
However, the Fort Worth Stock Show Rodeo’s storied history within Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum is nearing an end. In 2020, all rodeo performances will be conducted in the new, technically advanced Dickies Arena, which will seat about 9,300 fans for rodeo performances.
Ed Bass, the Stock Show’s board chairman, said the new Dickies Arena will offer rodeo fans the same type of appearance and feel as the Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum.
“Will Rogers Coliseum was built very much with rodeo in mind and we’ve tried to follow that same model with the new Dickies Arena,” Bass said. “When people go in, they’re going to say, ‘This is like the Will Rogers Coliseum, but look how much bigger it is.’ ”
Though the new arena will offer about 3,600 more seats than Will Rogers, Bass said Dickies Arena will give fans the same type of intimate feeling.
"We’re going to have no nosebleed seats,” Bass said. “Every seat will be a good seat.”
Bass said the new Dickies Arena will have the same arena floor as Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum.
“We’re not cutting it down for more seating,” Bass said. “We will seat not quite twice as many people, but we don’t want to be oversized.”
The Stock Show Rodeo currently runs 23 days with a ranch rodeo, a couple of ethno-centric rodeos, two nights of bull riding, an all-star pro rodeo and the traditional PRCA show, which is called the World’s Original Indoor Rodeo.
But this year, both the Cowtown Coliseum and the Fort Worth Stock Show Rodeo are celebrating their important historical roles in a century of indoor rodeo.
Brad Barnes, the Stock Show’s president and general manager, said the organization’s leaders over the past century are to be commended for making strategic moves to construct advanced facilities and improve the sport.
“Our first home was built by the tenacity of Stock Show president Burk Burnett, and the Northside Coliseum became indoor rodeo's birthplace in 1918,” Barnes said. “Without Amon Carter Sr., the Will Rogers Coliseum may have never become a reality and as Stock Show chairman he helped bring groundbreaking innovation to indoor rodeo such as radio and television broadcasts.
“Because of the tremendous efforts of our current chairman, Ed Bass, the legend continues and the next 100 years will take the World's Original Indoor Rodeo to much greater heights in its new home, Dickies Arena. Already, we're making plans for a new rodeo format and the fan experience in Dickies Arena will be second to none. These, truly, are exciting times.”
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price said the new technologically advanced arena will extend Fort Worth’s legacy of prominence on the timeline of rodeo as a sport.
“We have the oldest running indoor rodeo in the world and this will just stretch us out to keep us on top of that,” Price said. “It will take us to that next level.”