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Young whippersnapper at Frontier Town

BERLIN — Shane Karson stood in the dooryard of his childhood home at the center of Frontier Town admonishing his 3-year-old son, Clay, to pay attention. Clay was swinging his bull whip above his head and preparing to snap a target out of his father’s hands, pretty much as Karson had done in that very spot at that very age.

Clay let loose and snapped the whip right on target. The cold morning diminished the crack the whip was supposed to deliver but that was something Karson said could be solved by remembering to keep the whips in the house now that it’d gotten cold.

Karson has fond memories of the Frontier Town of his youth. His father, Larry was the campground’s first caretaker, riding the trails and making sure the campground was sufficiently maintained and authentic. Although that was more than 50 summers ago, Karson remembers it clearly enough to marvel at how little has changed about the immediate area even though the park and, really, the entire region is almost unrecognizable from when he first went west with his family and the rodeo.

Karson spent his youth competing, roping steer and riding bulls — according to him he was more of a bull sitter than a bull rider — but found out pretty quickly that his talents were more in working with the animals than breaking them. His mother, Jan, made her living as a trick rider and although different genders do different kinds of performances, by hanging around Karson began picking up some of the tricks the male riders performed.

His first break was as a Pony Express rider, the riders who switch from one moving horse to another. From there he began to develop routines in Roman riding — riding three horses at once — and “whip artistry.”

Rodeo entertainers perform their various tricks in between events but are private contractors, booking themselves sometimes for an entire year in advance with various rodeos. It’s a travel heavy occupation and making contacts along the way is not only useful but important.

Karson’s wife, Suzy, was actually the least horse-oriented person in her family, but eventually came to excel at the trade, distinguishing herself by performing the “liberty stand” where the rider leans forward, hands aloft while standing on a galloping horse.

By the time Susie and Karson married, while they weren’t quite ready to put an end to the traveling, the notion of easing up wasn’t as onerous as it might have once been. After Clay came along and took so well and easily to performing, the family found a happy medium.

Todd Kennedy, who runs Frontier Town and the leather shop, as his father did before him, reached out to Karson who was ready for the opportunity. Now Karson has his father’s old job, riding the trails in the morning, checking to make sure the stage coach hold up go off without a hitch and performing for the Frontier Town patrons all summer long.

But this weekend, the whole family will be back doing their trick riding at the Lone Star Rodeo, as it comes to the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center. Karson said getting the gig  was almost happenstance. The family still does some trick riding — both in competition and as entertainment for rodeos — and tries to do bookings they find convenient. When Karson heard the Lone Star Rodeo was coming to town he reached out to the promoters, with whom he’s worked much of his professional life and told him he was available to do the Salisbury show.

He, Susie and Clay are looking forward to performing for a home audience, especially Clay who has taken to the performing as well as he’s taken to the riding and whipping and charms the crowd without trying.

To catch a sneak peek at the kinds of tricks that can be expected at the rodeo check out the Karson’s website:

The Lone Star Rodeo’s 2011 United Nations Tour opens 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 21 and Saturday, Jan. 22 at the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center. Early arrivals are encouraged as each night has special entertainment. On Friday night, The Bo Dickerson Band will set the tone for an exciting evening with a performance beginning at 6:45 p.m. 

On Saturday, pre-show entertainment includes a ‘Best Dressed Cowboy and Cowgirl Contest’ and Gold Rush for children ten and under. 

 Tickets for the Rodeo are $10, upgraded VIP tickets (which include lower level reserved seating) are $22 at, by phone at 410-548-4911 or in person at the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center Box Office.