High School Rodeo-- it's crash, burn and family ties

Bil Bowden
Tad Pequignot launched

Tadd Pequignot was shot high into the air, seemed to hover for a moment and then crunched into the Pennsylvania Farm Show's dirt floor. The 'launch' and the short flight was a thing of awesome beauty, really. The crash was downright ugly.

Pequignot escaped this bronc ride with a bruise or two and would roll out of bed the next morning with some sore muscles. As quarterback for the Dover High School football team this past season, he often woke up like he's been hit by a truck. But this time, he was riding the 4-legged truck that didn't appreciate his company and nearly bounced him into the stands.

Tad got up, brushed the dust off his blue jeans and walked through the gate to get ready for calf roping, a more genteel sport, at least for the cowboy.

pequignot family

Always one of the State Farm Show's most popular events, the Pennsylvania High School Rodeo Association (PHSRA) hosted its rodeo and again packed the large arena with a standing room only crowd. While Pequignot was the only cowboy, at least four girls were from York County including Aimee Getgen, Kamie Landolfi, Ivy Shoemaker and Anna Grace Kennard.

If some of these surnames sound familiar, it's because their siblings or parents might have been part of the rodeo scene for generations. Some former cowboys and girls now run the PHSRA, have won national awards, qualified for national rodeos and ridden in the pro ranks.

On Saturday, 15-year old Landolfi, also from Dover, took only seven seconds to set a new state record in the breakaway roping. Her mother Tandi roped and raced barrels when she was her daughter's age and for years after that.

Kamie's father David has been president of the PHSRA for three years, but will tell anyone that Tandi does all the real organizational work. They rode rodeo together and were American Professional Rodeo Association riders. David was the 1998-9 calf roping champion, and Tandi was the 1998 all-around cowgirl. Kamie's sister Kelsey rode in the PHSRA, but now competes on a professional circuit with David as a roping team. Girls don't typically do team roping, says Tandi.

And again, typically, girls don't ride bulls or rope calves, but the Landolfis have been known to play around with those events on their farm.

"Maybe we should have told the girls to stay away from rodeo-- it would have been much cheaper," says Tandi. "Kamie would probably be willing to give bull riding a shot. She's not the type of girl to let a broken fingernail bother her."

That's usually the case.

landolfi family

Tad Pequignot 's sister Whitney, now 20, started her rodeo career at only five years old, as did her brother. She won the state championships in her senior year in barrel racing and qualified for the national rodeo finals. She's attending Penn State, studying to be an equine veterinarian.

Tad and Whitney followed a long family history into rodeo. Their grandfather, Jim Miller, started the PHSRA and the family still lives on his farm, along with horses and cattle. An indoor arena helps rodeo training during cold winters.

Jim Miller's daughter Darby met Todd Pequignot at Dover High in 1987. Todd wrestled there under the tutelage of coach Charlie Jacobs and even coached there for a while. Darby brought Todd into rodeo. She had already won a room full of ribbons.

Todd's 'more or less retired' now, he says following a crash-and-burn career as a bull fighter. Putting his wrestling quickness to good use, Todd baited the bulls to attack him, drawing attention away from the bucked-off cowboys. The more well-known rodeo clowns have it easy-- they use barrels.

"Clowns are usually retired fighters," explains Todd. "Had a ten-year run up and down the east coast. Broke a few ribs twice, blew out my knee when a bull collapsed it."

"It looks a lot scarier than it is. You can fake them out; they're big (1500-2000 pounds) but not fast. It's definitely an adrenalin rush kind of thing.  Fear is not an option."

Tad roping

Todd then tried his hand at bronc riding, where Darby saw 'a lot of my wrecks'.  It took two or three years before I got the hang of it.'

By then, they started a family, and Todd went into safer occupations. He now works at the Association of Baptist World Evangelism in New Cumberland, where praying comes in handy during rodeo events.

When Tad decided to take up bronc riding-- "I like football, but rodeo is my passion, he says"-- he had some convincing to do. His mother had been to dozens and dozens of rodeos, and saw the havoc they can do to bodies.

"She was against me bronc riding," says Tad. "She insisted that I take a bronc riding course, but it still took some persuading.  She doesn't like to watch, but she prays before I get on.  And again when I walk away."

And when Tad walked away from Saturday's buck-off, she said another prayer.

"That ride was a blast. Not much to think about, just hang on. And the next thing I know, I'm on the ground," he says. "You never know how or where you're going to land, and you hope you don't get kicked on the way down. It's not 'if', but 'when' you're going to get hurt."

Tad doesn't plan on making the rodeo his life's work. He's hoping to become a livestock auctioneer.

It's much safer.