In the shadows of the Oakdale Saddle Club, tucked away in a labyrinth of trucks and trailers, a boy flips a steel steer onto its side and strings its front leg.
Rodeo may be a lifestyle to many, a sport bred into cowboys from California, Wymoning, Texas, New Mexico and beyond, but the closer you look, the closer you realize ...
It's a young man's sport.
The physical toll the rodeo doles out has driven many into retirement or the real world, and if the wear and tear don't catch up to you, the travel and expenses eventually will.
"I don't ride bulls no more," said Oakdale High graduate Bo Bacigalupi, whose last ride landed him third-place money at the 2014 Oakdale Saddle Club Rodeo. "I got other priorities in life. Two little girls. (Rodeo) is a hard way to make a living, I'll tell you that much."
Still, the rodeo has persevered.
The Oakdale Saddle Club has hosted the rodeo for the last 67 years, drawing many of the world's biggest names to its small arena along Highway 108.
Rodeo salutes its stalwarts, the cowboys who seemingly defy age and time, but the torch is often placed in the hands of the babyfaced cowboys, the ones with the energy to rope and ride across the country, chasing checks, fame and rodeo queens.
Oakdale native Ryle Smith is no spring chicken. At 31, he's been a professional for the last eight years, and rodeoing at the Oakdale Saddle Club since he was 5.
Though his career has reached a new pinnacle -- Smith is No. 2 in the PRCA's current world all-around standings -- he says he feels an obligation to mentor and teach the sport's next crop of stars.
The rodeo, he says, requires more than bravado, a lesson he learned early in his career. There takes some serious savvy in navigating the country with a horse in tow, hustling between as many as four rodeos in a week. Young cowboys must learn how to manage their money, their time and, most of all, their egos.
Because the rodeo will knock you down.
Success isn't promised, and momentum on the PRCA doesn't often travel. It comes and goes, sometimes with no rhyme or reason.
On Friday and Saturday, one of the most decorated cowboys on the PRCA circuit, no-timed in two of his strongest events. That Smith, a calf roping and steer wrestling specialist, had grown up inside the Oakdale Saddle Club arena doubled his frustration.
The hard truth is this, young cowboys: Chances are you're going to leave professional rodeo with more battle scars and war stories than money in the bank, Bacigalupi warned.
"These guys grew up around the sport of rodeo. It's just bred into them," he added. "That's what they're talented at. But think about the guys that have been in rodeo for 10 to 15 years. Some of them may have invested their money right, but I bet 75 to 80 percent of them will have a regular job like the rest of us."
Yet, the attraction remains, and just as one generation takes the torch, another readies in the shadows.
During Saturday morning's slack, young hopefuls crowded the edges of the arena, peeking through wire fences or hanging from the rails.
John Amerson, a 10-year-old from Ceres, hung out near the barrier, studying the team roping action and bouncing questions off his grandfather, Roy McGuire, a retired 62-year-old roofing contractor.
On the catwalk that spans the chutes, two boys chased each other with toy pistols, pausing each time a rodeo cowboy burst into the arena.
Amerson hopes to one day take the torch.
He's been roping "ever since he was old enough to swing a rope," said McGuire, who has raised a family of ropers. McGuire said he, his son and his three grandsons rope almost daily at their Ceres home, "but the steers don't run like this."
Amerson loves everything about roping, and the Oakdale Saddle Club Rodeo will forever have a piece of his heart. Saturday's slack was his first rodeo, but certainly won't be his last.
The torch will be his before long, but Bacigalupi hopes when that day comes, Amerson and the next wave of rodeo stars understand the terms of the agreement.
There are no guarantees, other than great sacrifice and stories.
"Rodeo is good for the kids to be around," Bacigalupi said. "It keeps them out of trouble and keeps them off the street. That's good for young kids."
"If you want to rodeo, to be the best, you have to put everything aside and just go for it," he added. "For some of these guys, they're leaving behind tons, leaving behind family for two to three months at at time. It can be really hard."