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Roping 'em In

The cowgirls of Pierce saddle up tonight for college's annual rodeo--a Valley tradition since '47.


Cowboys and cowgirls will gather at Shepard Stadium tonight to compete in the Pierce College Intercollegiate Rodeo, a rough-and-tumble Valley institution since 1947.

Contestants will vie for the chance to compete this summer in the 50th annual National Intercollegiate Rodeo in Wyoming.

For the first time, Pierce is fielding an all-female team against nine other Western colleges: its archrival Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, UC Fresno, UC Davis, Lassen College in Susanville, West Hills College in Coalinga, the University of Nevada-Reno, Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo, Merced College and College of the Canyons in Newhall.

Pierce is hoping to ride rings around them. Or more precisely, triangles. In the barrel horse event, the track is three-sided, marked by a trio of 50-gallon drums that horses and riders thunder around as though they were skiers on a slalom run.

Nicole Phelps, 20, in her second year on the Pierce team, is no novice at handling fast horses in tight spaces. She started competing in rodeos in high school and is working her way through college "starting" 2-year-old colts for Hollywood Park.

The job entails putting a saddle and bridle on a colt for the first time and riding it. "I get them before they go to a trainer," Phelps said last week. "They (colts) are like yearlings; they come out of the pasture and they're crazy."

She and Erin Brock, 21, and Kari Scattaglia, 20, are the Pierce College rodeo team. All three are equine science majors. Brock is an experienced mule skinner, having operated a pack-animal station at June Lake. Scattaglia exercises horses at an Agua Dulce stable, and this fall she will enroll at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. The other two plan to apply there too.

They devote three to four hours to rodeo team practice five nights a week. Their professor, Ron Wechsler, who organizes the rodeo, said dedicated team members are in demand in the "industry," as he calls the trainers, dealers, equestrian center managers and movie-animal wranglers who make up the profession. Those who go on to four-year colleges can become veterinarians. There is even a specialty called "equine attorney."

This weekend's rodeo events include saddle bronco and bareback riding, bull riding, steer wrestling, team roping, breakaway calf roping and goat roping. The latter requires dismounting at high speed to tie up the goat. Professional rodeo clown acts will entertain, and Shepard Stadium has been plowed up for the two-day competition.

Animal rights activists will likely picket at the college's entrance to draw public attention to what they claim is cruelty to animals. Wechsler has said the animals used inthe event are bred for competition and are well-cared for.

Visitors should enter the campus from 6201 Winnetka Ave. The stadium gates open at 6 p.m. and the competition starts at 7. Tickets are available at the gate or through Ticketmaster. The cost is $6 for children, students and seniors; $8 general admission. Call (818) 719-6463 for more information.

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