A showcase of my photographs: Nebraska’s Big Rodeo

A thunderhead cloud threatens but eventually travels south from Nebraska’s Big Rodeo during saddle bronc riding in Burwell, Neb., on Thursday, July 25, 2013. In its 92nd year, the rodeo continues to draw thousands of fans to the town of 1,200 people. ALYSSA SCHUKAR/THE WORLD-HERALD

Five years ago – just a few months before I was hired at the Omaha World-Herald — I traveled to Burwell, Neb., to photograph Nebraska’s Big Rodeo. I was a freelancer then and very, very green, but I found myself in a visual dreamworld. Cowboys, rodeo queens, beautiful horses and magnificent bulls were everywhere, and they rodeoed in gorgeous light! What more could I ask for?

Participants in the wild horse race, most of whom live in or near Burwell, Neb., struggle to contain their horses during Nebraska’s Big Rodeo on Thursday, July 25, 2013. Burwell’s rodeo is one of few in the country that still have a wild horse race, which requires participants to contain and saddle a horse, then ride it completely around the track surrounding the arena. ALYSSA SCHUKAR/THE WORLD-HERALD

Since 2008, I’ve been trying to make my way back. I was curious to see how the event had changed. I worried that, in order to stay with the times, the rodeo board would decide to update the grandstands or mimic big city rodeos with fancy production and an excess of flair.

Beutler & Son Rodeo Co. pickup man Shandon Stalls watches the chaos of the wild horse race during Nebraska’s Big Rodeo on Thursday, July 25, 2013. Beutler & Son Rodeo Co. provides horses and cattle for the competition and has been associated with the rodeo in Burwell since 1947. ALYSSA SCHUKAR/THE WORLD-HERALD

To my delight, I found that much of the rodeo had stayed the same. In fact, changes that were made, like updated bucking chutes and carnival rides, added to the atmosphere.

Members of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association hold their hats as 2013 Miss Burwell Rodeo Olivia Hunsperger passes by during the opening ceremonies on Saturday, July 27, 2013. “This may be a small town, but it’s got a big rodeo, and it’s got a really big heart,” Hunsperger said. ALYSSA SCHUKAR/THE WORLD-HERALD

Don’t just take my word for it. Below, you can hear from 2013 Miss Burwell Rodeo Olivia Hunsperger, bullfighter and rodeo clown Andy Burelle and Beutler and Sons Co. stock contractor Bennie Beutler about the experience of Nebraska’s Big Rodeo.

I left Burwell with full confidence that, should I return in another five years, the citizens of the town and the proponents of the event would keep the body and soul of Nebraska’s Big Rodeo together. Read Joe Duggan’s story to learn more, and check out more of my photographs of pretty light and cowboys.

With the help of cameraman cowboy Dallas McCarville of Burwell, I’ve also put together the following video from the wild horse race.

Burwell native Bryant Kelley waits to compete in the Marty Sheets Memorial Junior Steer Riding event during Nebraska’s Big Rodeo on Friday, July 26, 2013. Junior events are mixed with professional events and allow young cowboys to develop their skills on a large stage.

ALYSSA SCHUKAR/THE WORLD-HERALD Sweethearts Bryce Dibbern of Amherst, Neb., and Tylee Coffman of Dunning, Neb., perch on a fence to catch a view of the team roping during Nebraska’s Big Rodeo on Saturday, July 27, 2013. ALYSSA SCHUKAR/THE WORLD-HERALD Jade Blackwell of Rapid City, S.D., takes a moment to gather his composure before competing in saddle bronc riding during Nebraska’s Big Rodeo on Friday, July 26, 2013. As the rodeo’s popularity has grown, larger purses are offered to winners, leading to better and more established riders competing. ALYSSA SCHUKAR/THE WORLD-HERALD

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