Tricks of the Trade
Iowa sisters combine skill and spectacle on the rodeo circuit
Story by Deborah Jansen, Photography by David Peterson
“Put your hands together,” shouts an announcer, and the Wild Riders burst into the arena, their horses rearing and pawing the air, the performers clapping their hands overhead and throwing kisses to the crowd.
Fans clap a deafening beat. Cowboys wave their hats and whistle. Mothers jiggle toddlers on their hips.
After an opening lap, Meishja Petersen and Junior, her copper mustang, lunge into form — Junior galloping, Meishja grabbing his mane with one hand and the saddle horn with the other.
She balances on one leg, spreads her arms, and extends the other leg backwards — a Crane Stand. Her trick wins a nod of approval from a bronc rider on the sidelines.
Before the applause subsides, Abigail Petersen surges into action on Poco, her wide-flanked American Paint horse. Securing her right ankle in a looped strap, she slides to one side and freefalls off the saddle.
The Cossack Death Drag requires her to dangle upside down, hands free, dragging her arms and left leg through the dirt. Poco rounds the arena at a steady clip but shaves too close to the side.
Abigail’s right foot catches the fence, and her eyes flash. A split second later, the foot is back in position, but her left knee slams her face. Meishja stares momentarily before launching the next trick. The show must go on.
A week before the Wapello Rodeo, a blue minivan arrives at the Petersen farm just outside Sperry. Twenty years ago Ambrose Monroe, a Lakota Sioux, came to give Emma Petersen her first riding lesson.
Now he comes whenever her daughters — Abigail and Meishja, known on the rodeo circuit as The Wild Riders — call him.
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