Springfield, Neb. Dixie Chicks tunes played over a loudspeaker and calves escaped lassos in the arena before a nearly full grandstand at the seventh annual Heartland Rodeo here Saturday.
The rodeo at the Sarpy County Fairgrounds was sponsored by the Heartland Gay Rodeo Assn. It drew about 70 contestants for 12 events, including calf-roping on foot, barrel racing and bronco riding.
The Saturday and Sunday event is raising funds for four Omaha-area charities.
One of the competitors, Kelly Thomas, 41, of Carson, Iowa, said she participated in six to eight International Gay Rodeo Assn. events each year.
"We're a rodeo family," said Thomas, the owner of an Omaha bar. "It's nice to go to the rodeo and see everybody."
Her father, Omar Holderby of the Kansas City area, had come to watch his daughter and her partner compete.
"I just watch," said Holderby, a 61-year-old retired real estate agent who is also gay. "I'm too old. I can't do that."
Sitting in the grandstands was Tom Fennell, 67, of Omaha. He said he was not gay but wanted to attend a rodeo in a small town.
"I haven't seen a rodeo for a long time, that's why I came," he said. "When you go to a small-town rodeo ... it's a bunch of cowboys having a good day. It's good to have a small atmosphere instead of the big hullabaloo in Cheyenne or North Platte."
Some of the weekend's events are unique to gay rodeo, said Heartland Assn. member Rodney Majors of Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Those include a wild drag race and goat dressing, he said.
The wild drag race consists of three people -- one dressed in drag -- and a steer. The person dressed in drag stands at a finish line.
The two other cowhands must direct a steer from the chute gate to the finish line, where the person in drag must get on the steer and stay on it until all four feet of the steer have crossed back over the finish line.
In goat dressing, two people try to put a pair of underwear on a goat in a timed event.
Majors, 52, said such events were designed to help participants who are not used to rodeos feel more comfortable and build their enthusiasm.
"A lot of people will start with these and move into. ... other events later," he said.
Not everyone enjoyed the event, however. Several protesters stood across the street holding signs. One called out, "Turn away from sin!"
Promoters expected 800 to 900 spectators through today.
The rodeo donated more than $10,000 to charities last year.