Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be cowgirls: They might turn into bull riders instead. At least, that's what happened to Ashlin Spence, aka Flip, of Fort Collins. The sixteen-year-old Poudre High School student was the only girl to compete in the bull-riding event in the Salt Lake ProAm Olympics Rodeo -- out of about 1,000 competitors. Flip was also the 2001 junior champion of the Wild Bunch Bullriding series. She's broken some bones, bruised up some ribs and busted out a front tooth, but Flip plans to keep on riding about a hundred bulls a year. You go, girl.
If you want to learn to ride like Flip -- or, more likely, just flip head-first off some livestock -- here's your chance. Each year, Lancaster's Rock-N-Roll Rodeo Gear sponsors two three-day championship bullriding and bullfighting schools at the indoor Bar W Slash Rodeo Arena in Aurora. Classes are offered for all ages and levels of experience, although 15 through 25 is considered the prime age for bull riding. Participants should have their own gloves and spurs;the school supplies the bulls, and there are enough for each student to have his own ride. The $350 tuition includes instruction from champion bullfighter Rowdy Barry and Fort Collins's own Mike Moore. The spring session takes place the first weekend in April, with upcoming schools planned for October or November.
Your mama was always worried that you'd go off and join the circus, but you went to college and made her proud instead. It's not too late for you, though, because the trapeze isn't just for super-athletic, death-defying circus performers anymore. In 2000, a group of people left the Imperial Flyers, a Denver-based amateur-flying-trapeze club, and decided to construct an indoor rig at the Bladium Sports Club so that they could practice in the winter. At the same time, they started Thin Air Trapeze, a nonprofit trapeze school. Beginning classes at Thin Air Trapeze teach you some basic trapeze moves with the added security of safety lines at your waist. Now people between the ages of 9 and 96 can learn how to climb and take off from the perch, how to swing, how to fly in the "knee hang," and the all-important lesson of how to fall to the net gracefully. Thin Air Trapeze also offers intermediate and advanced lessons for trapeze enthusiasts. If flying high above the ground at fast speeds is not for you, Thin Air Trapeze also teaches circus-arts classes closer the ground, such as juggling and trampoline tricks. You can learn to fly on the trapeze for $75 for four sessions, or stop by on a drop-in basis for $25; however, reservations are required. You also must sign a waiver to participate in the high-flying fun. Nervous yet? Visit them on the Web at www.thinairtrapeze.com.
A sister sport to our buddy the trapeze, aerial fabric is a graceful, artistic and physically challenging discipline. You've maybe seen aerial dancers at the circus or on TV, but you probably never pictured yourself doing such a thing. Cathy Gauch, founder of Aircat Aerial Arts, can teach you. She's well-versed in high-flying acrobatics and has an extensive aerial repertoire, including trapeze, hoops, ropes, bungees, swings, straps and fabric. She teaches novice and intermediate aerial dancers ages twelve and up at her studio in Boulder and at Bladium Sports Club, where our friends from Thin Air Trapeze also teach. Additionally, Gauch teaches aerial hoops, Spanish web rope and classes for kids between four and eight. Aircat Aerial Arts is also a performance company. Look for more information at www.aircat.net.
Just because you can't get that hydrangea to flourish on the north side of your garage doesn't mean there aren't hundreds of plants that thrive in the bright sun and crisp air of the Rocky Mountain Region. Since 1997, it has been the purpose of the Plant Select program -- a cooperative effort of the Denver Botanic Gardens and Colorado State University -- to seek out and distribute the very best plants for landscapes and gardens from the mountains to the high plains. Each year, a half-dozen or so plants make the cut, as either Recommended (plants that have been grown in the region for years), Originals (time-tested hybrids), or Introductions (brand-new plants discovered by the program). Look for this year's Mesa Verde Ice Plant Introduction, scientifically named for longtime Denver horticulturist and Plant Select director Panayoti Kelaidis.
If you want to do more with your garden than plant showy annuals, this could be the year you give back to the ecosystem. By taking a few positive steps, you can turn your open space into a certified wildlife sanctuary that's recognized by the National Wildlife Federation. Planting native flora that provide food and shelter for birds and other creatures and providing water year-round are just two of the simple things you can do. The specially trained habitat stewards at the Rocky Mountain Natural Resource Center offer assistance for your more involved projects. The critters will love you for it, and they'll tell all their friends.
Now that you've turned your back yard into a wildly popular wildlife retreat, what do you do when your furry visitors decide they'd rather nest in your chimney? Log on to www.greenwoodwildlife.org for tips on handling displaced baby raccoons, squirrels and birds. The site also features a sound gallery of bird calls and amusing Flash-animated paw prints that follow your cursor across the home page. The sanctuary is licensed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Colorado Division of Wildlife to treat and release injured animals, which it has been doing since 1982.
If wild visitors have decided not only to take over your living space but to dismantle it while they're there, it could be time to call in the experts on peaceful inter-species co-existence. Since 1987, Wildlife Masters have been available to provide advice on discouraging incursions by a wide variety of small varmints, from rodents and snakes to skunks and pocket voles. This time of year, the more than two dozen volunteers in the county's program, modeled after the Master Gardener volunteer corps, field a number of calls about getting rid of woodpeckers, or, more likely, the northern flicker, which has a habit of drilling huge holes in the sides of houses. Here's a tip: Fake owls don't work. Check out www.ext.colostate.edu/coop/ ctylist.html for a list of extension-service offices in other counties.
The latest baby polar bear and baby giraffe are, of course, welcome additions, and who can resist a wee pair of warthogs? But the ever-expanding Denver Zoo added a particularly genteel touch to its grounds last spring with the debut of a gorgeous endangered-species carousel. Kids love to pick their favorite mounts from its hand-carved menagerie, which includes shiny, lacquered pandas, tigers, panthers, giraffes, zebras and more, including an elegant peacock throne for those little ones too timid to go up and down and around and around at the same time. You could say the zoo experience has come full circle.
Now that your yard is overrun with creatures from the wild, your dog could probably use a day trip. Take him backpacking, and he could earn a Champion title from the Canine Backpackers Association. All he has to do is complete three ten-mile hikes while carrying a pack, water bowl and water weighing 25 percent of his body weight. If he carries less weight, he can still become a Trail Dog. CBA is open to all dogs, mixed-breed or otherwise, and humans can join for a mere $20 per year. The organization is the brainchild of Conifer writer Maggie Bonham, and the Web site, www.caninebackpackers.com, features some very useful rules for hiking with dogs, champion or otherwise. First among them: Don't let him chase wildlife -- he can do that at home.

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