Cesar Talamantes said he comes from three generations of cowboys. Not cowboy in the sense of the old Western movies, but men who ride on horseback to herd and tend cattle.
"A lot of my family, cousins and stuff, are in charge of ranching and ride horses while doing it. I decided I wanted to do something like that, too, but I started bull riding," Talamantes said.
He's one of many non-local students who decided to move to San Luis Obispo to start their higher education journey by attending Cuesta College.
During Talamantes' junior year of high school, he and his immediate family moved from Mexico to Spring Valley, California.
When he moved to the United States, he didn't want to leave his passion for bull riding behind so he joined his high school rodeo team.
While he learned to adapt to his new surroundings and practice his English, he was perfecting his bull riding skills. He's been gaining experience and competing for about three years now.
He often returns to his hometown to not only visit his extended family, but to compete in bull riding competitions.
During this past school year, he learned that he could continue his passion beyond high school and that Cuesta College has a rodeo team that he could join.
"My parents wanted me to go to college, and I wanted to keep riding. This is the perfect place to do it," he said.
Talamantes is currently in his first year of Cuesta, and while he said he's working on general studies courses initially, he wants to pursue an animal science major with the hopes of becoming a veterinarian.
In order to achieve that dream, he said his first option is to hopefully transfer to Cal Poly to continue his academic education and to continue riding bulls with its rodeo team or apply to the University of Montana (because it offers an education track in his major and has a rodeo team).
Ryan Cartnal, dean of Institutional Research, Library, Learning Resources and Instructional Technology, said Cuesta College has long been desired by both local and out-of-area students for its beautiful location, stellar programs, and proximity to Cal Poly.
"Students who come to us from out of the area represent about 30 percent of our total population," Cartnal said. "Whether they graduated from a local high school or come from out of the area, the most popular educational goal is to transfer to a four-year institution after completing their general education."
He said the most popular majors among students are business, engineering, pre-nursing, and kinesiology.
Aimee Davis from Eagle Point, Oregon, also made the move to attend Cuesta College for the rodeo team. Davis applied and was accepted to Cal Poly, but she said getting her first two school years done at Cuesta was the right decision for her financially.
It's also a pathway for her to establish residency before she applies to Cal Poly, which is her plan after she completes two years at Cuesta.
The biggest part of her decision, she said, was finding a college that had a rodeo team.
Davis has been involved in the rodeo scene since she was 5 years old and said it's a big part of her life now.
"I competed throughout high school and at the national level. I go to rodeos throughout the year, and it's just something that I really love and am passionate about," she said.
Currently, Davis is part of the Cuesta College rodeo team alongside Talamantes, but she helms the breakaway, goat ties, and team ropes aspect of the rodeo.
"I love it, I think, because of the nervous rush I get when I'm competing. It's just fun and keeps me busy," she said. "I've just learned a lot about hard work, dedication, and the drive it takes to do it."
Cuesta College rodeo coach Clint Pearce also took the route of attending a community college before a four-year university because the college had a rodeo team.
"College rodeo was probably the only thing at times that kept me engaged in school, because you know you're out of money or having a hard time with your classes. It would be a lot easier to go get a job and take the easier path," Pearce said.
He believes some of the athletes in the rodeo team feel the same way. They're not only passionate about the sport but it's what gets them through the difficulties of higher education.
Pearce and his wife, Connie, established the team about five years ago, and last year's men's team placed fourth in the nation.
As co-coaches, the pair also works with Cal Poly's rodeo team as the university extended an invitation to its arena. Pearce said he was motivated to start the program because his son had attended Cuesta College at a time when it didn't have its own team.
Now, he said, the athletes' passion comes directly from the sport.
"I think it's worth mentioning that ... they're extremely passionate to the point that if we didn't have a rodeo team, many of them wouldn't be coming to Cuesta," Pearce said. Δ
Staff Writer Karen Garcia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.