75 Years of Poly Royal Rodeo

By AnnMarie Cornejo

Photo courtesy of University Archives

The rich smell of trodden soil clings to the air as students deftly navigate the arena, their horses seemingly gliding beneath them with little command. Each move is built on a legacy of practice and dedication.

It’s the 75th anniversary of the Poly Royal Rodeo, the annual highlight of a Cal Poly Rodeo program rich in history and deeply rooted in tradition.

“Rodeo represents every bit of what Cal Poly stands for,” said Coach Ben Londo. “Not only is it about honoring the past, rodeo also embodies the Learn by Doing philosophy.”

Since 1956, the Cal Poly Rodeo Team has earned 44 National Titles, making it one of the most prestigious programs in National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association history. Londo, a Cal Poly graduate and 2014 Coach of the Year for the association’s West Coast region, played a part in that success. As a student, he earned bareback riding and all-around champion titles in 2005 and 2006 at the College National Finals Rodeo.

However, it’s not the victories that Londo treasures most about the sport. In recent years, while many colleges have drastically reduced their college rodeo programs in the face of budget constraints, Cal Poly has continued to honor its role in American heritage. It is one of only seven colleges in the West Coast region to have maintained a rodeo program. Londo sees value in the traditional skills the sport teaches.

“Rodeo was developed from the tools and tricks of the trade used by cattlemen for generations to maintain and take care of their herds,” said Londo. “It is the perfect sport to show that level of heritage.”

The time-honored values of hard work, dedication and goodwill remain an integral part of the program. Cal Poly graduates translate those same ethics and learned diligence into a variety of careers.

“The mystique of the cowboy is part of American history,” said Cotton Rosser, a championship-winning rodeo team alumnus whose Flying U Rodeo Co. has earned him a spot in the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame. “Cal Poly does it right. Good cowboys come from California, and world champions come from Cal Poly.” 

Learn more about Cal Poly Rodeo here.

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