Cowboys stretched on the dusty ground and perched themselves on the rails of the stock pens. Trick riders prepared their hair and makeup and costumes.
Judges bided their time, having already inspected the cattle, bulls and horses, which stood and lay docile in their pens, growing more restless as the time drew near.
They were all waiting for the action to begin.
And then it did.
One after another, bucking broncos burst from the gate, flailing cowboys on their backs, quite literally kicking off the Saturday night action in the fourth-annual Blythewood Doko Rodeo.
Horse and bull riding is all about the brief spurts of adrenaline, riders say.
“All that (nervousness) goes away once you climb in the seat and sit down on your bull. Then you know it’s time to go,” said bull rider Chilo Landin, a 19-year-old from Gray Court, S.C., who’s been riding for about three months. “When I first started, everything was real fast. It was all a blur. And then the more you get on, everything starts to slow down.
“Bull riding’s a lot about muscle memorization. You don’t think when you’re on the bull. You just react while you’re on it.”
Before his competition, Landin said he likes to spend a lot of time talking to other people until just before the bull riding starts. He listens to music and stretches alone, trying “not to let it get to me in my head.”
The preparation phase lasts longer than the action for the competitors, who spend just seconds in the arena.
Bareback rider Tyler Pasour, of Weatherford, Okla., was thrown from his horse, Bucking Joe, in less than eight seconds before he limped out of the arena, grimacing.
An eight-year veteran rider, 23-year-old Pasour is no stranger to pain, having recovered from numerous injuries and surgeries in his career. He’s broken every bone in his face from being smashed into a fence, blown the tendons on the inside of his right elbow and, most recently, crushed a vertebra in his lower back.
But he keeps riding because, for him, it’s second nature, he said.
“For me, bareback riding, it’s just a fight,” Pasour said. “You have to throw the first punch, and you have to keep fighting the whole time.”
When he’s healthy, he’ll often compete in four or five rodeos a week, he said.
To get ready for his eight seconds – or less – in the arena, Pasour is in constant preparation mode. He’s at the gym twice a day every day, strengthening the core and shoulder muscles needed to hold on and move with the horse beneath him.
Before the competition began Saturday, he mingled by the horse and bull pens with the rest of the cowboys, some stretching, some spitting, some adjusting their hats and chaps, all getting ready for showtime.
“I still get a little nervous before (a ride),” Pasour said. “During, I have no idea what goes on. And after, I just pack up and go home or on to the next one.”