Home on the range in Dundalk, bronc rider earns spurs

October 01, 1994|By Kevin Eck | Kevin Eck,Contributing Writer

The stereotypical image of Dundalk is that of an industrial community, all concrete and steel.

Not exactly the place where one would expect to find a rodeo star.

But there he is anyway. And we're not talking about John Travolta. Jimmy Grasso is a real urban cowboy.

After working all week in his moving business, Grasso, a 39-year-old Dundalk resident, spends his weekends competing in rodeos on the East Coast.

He is recognized as the best saddle-bronc rider in the eastern United States.

"When I come home from the rodeo in my cowboy hat, boots and chaps, people look at me like, 'What in the world . . .' " Grasso said.

Today and tomorrow, Grasso will compete at the Harford County Equestrian Center in Bel Air in a rodeo sanctioned by the International Pro Rodeo Association.

So how does a New Jersey native who has lived in Dundalk for 17 years become a cowboy?

It wasn't something Grasso ever planned. In fact, until he was 28, the closest contact he had with a horse was watching the Lone Ranger and Trigger on television during his childhood.

Then Grasso ran into a friend who rode bulls at a place in New Jersey called Cowtown, and Grasso agreed to assist him for a year.

After a while, however, Grasso went from pulling the rope for his friend to riding the bulls himself.

"I said, 'I can do this,' " said Grasso, who is 5 feet 7, 170 pounds. "So like a fool I got on a bull.

"I went to a bullriding school in Oklahoma, and the third one I got on I rode. I did that at Cowtown for a year and a half."

From there, Grasso went to school to learn bareback riding and then saddle-bronc riding.

"At first, I didn't even know how to put a saddle on the horse," he said. "But once I did it, it was like heaven."

The technical requirements of saddle-bronc riding make it one of the most difficult rodeo events to master. For example, on fTC leaving the chute, the rider, gripping a thick rein attached to the horse's halter -- his only means of securing himself -- attempts to place his feet over the horse's shoulder a split second before the animal's front feet strike the ground on his first jump.

An eight-second ride is required and it is judged on the cowboy's spurring action, his control of the horse and the degree to which his toes are turned out. The horse's bucking efforts also contribute to the score.

"Balance is very important," said Grasso, who once broke his foot after being flipped by a horse. "Sometimes you go one way and the animal goes the other way. Eight seconds can seem like eight hours."

Grasso spent three days at a school to learn saddle-bronc riding. The following weekend, he was competing in the event.

It wasn't long before he was picking up paychecks and winning titles. He has qualified for the First Frontier Circuit Finals 10 times.

Grasso's sponsor, Cancun Cantina, pays for his entry fees and ** traveling expenses. He said he earned somewhere between $5,000 and $6,000 in his most successful year.

"At one rodeo, I made $2,800 in the finals," he said. "All that for 24 seconds of work."

But Grasso doesn't do it for the money.

"I'm just a weekend warrior," said Grasso, who has a wife and

three sons. "I just do it for the love of it."


When: Through tomorrow. Competition today begins at 7:30 p.m. and tomorrow at 2 p.m.

Where: Harford County Equestrian Center, Bel Air.

ATickets: $6 for adults and $4 for children under 12. They can be purchased at the gate or in advance at Carol's Western Wear in Glen Burnie and Laurel, Carol's Boutique in Cancun Cantina's near BWI Airport, Keene Dodge in Jarrettsville and Churchville Tack and Ranch.

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