A rodeo arena is the stuff of cowboy dreams

May 26, 1994|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Sun Staff Writer

It isn't easy being a Maryland cowboy, but Chip and Randy Ridgely aim to fix that.

"I've been riding for 13 years, and nowhere have I been able to go to an arena in the state of Maryland and get on as many bulls as I need to practice," said Chip, 28, an accomplished bull rider and announcer in rodeos across the country.

But in a few years, the brothers hope to erect what they say will be the state's only permanent indoor rodeo arena, to be built on their 210-acre farm on Route 97 in Cooksville.

For the past three years, the brothers have been practicing their bull riding in a 100-by-80-foot oak board corral, which has three steel-pipe bucking chutes.

If they build the 5,000 seat arena on what is now horse pasture, the brothers hope to put on full rodeos as well as livestock shows and auctions. The brothers already are in business raising bulls for rodeos, which they say can fetch 10 times what the animals are worth as beef cattle.

"They just paid $10,000 for a good bucker," said Randy, 26, of a group of rodeo organizers from the northeast.

The Rocking R Rodeo Arena, as the Ridgelys call their young rodeo business, offers bull-riding clinics to local cowboys for $50 a session.

"We start them out on a barrel first," explained Chip, referring to a 55-gallon drum mounted on a pair of truck suspension springs and a wheel that allows the brothers to imitate the bucking, spinning motion of a real animal.

With 13 adult bulls and four yearlings, the Ridgelys say they finally have enough bulls to practice on, teach with and sell to rodeos.

"If somebody's got a bull they can't handle, or just want to get rid of, we try and take care of them," Chip Ridgely said.

When the brothers aren't on the rodeo circuit, they are out tending to their animals or working in the field that provides hay and grazing land for the animals. Like their father, Brice Ridgely, they are auctioneers for Ridgely's Auction Service, a family business.

The brothers' plans for a rodeo arena are still being developed, and could be formally prepared to county planning and zoning authorities within two to three years, according to Chip.

Whether the Ridgelys are allowed to build the arena will depend on how planners and the zoning board interpret the new "rural business" designation placed upon 13.9 acres of the Ridgelys' family farm in February of this year.

The zoning was granted for a full-service gas station, a tractor repair shop and a few small stores along Route 97.

The West County's best-known growth control activist, John W. Taylor, who in the past expressed concern about what the new zoning category would allow, is not fazed by the arena proposal.

"It's really not the sort of thing that I was afraid of," said Mr. Taylor, who is running for County Council in the district. "First of all, I was born in Texas, so you're not going to get me to say anything bad about rodeos. . . . . It sounds like something that you would do in a rural area, with the caveat that its scale be appropriate to the surroundings."

If they go ahead with the project, the Ridgelys will bring plenty of rodeo experience to the venture.

The brothers have competed in rodeos from Upper Marlboro in Prince George's County to Niagara Falls, N.Y., to Fort Worth, Texas.

Randy said that even after recovering from a knee injury and a broken collarbone, he placed fifth last year for bull riding in the First Frontier Circuit, an Eastern division designated by the Pro Rodeo Cowboy Association. He also placed in the top 10 for steer wrestling.

Chip, who has nine years' more experience than his brother, got into the circuit finals in Albany, N.Y., in 10th place for bull riding -- his third time in the top 10.

Unlike his brother, Chip said that he isn't cut out for what he calls the "suicide event" of steer wrestling. He admits, however, that bull riding also has its hazards. He once took a horn in the mouth, which tore out teeth and bone.

Randy is unimpressed by the story. "It was a long way from his heart," he said of his brother's injury. "He'll be all right."

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