The American spirit was in the air at the Sonoma County Fair's Wine Country Rodeo Friday night as Tracy Hinson, Miss Wine Country Rodeo, raced around the arena on a white horse waving an American flag.

Onlookers in the crowd removed their cowboy hats as she rode to the tune of "God Bless America," and they cheered as a handful of horses came charging into the arena.

Right out of the gate, a cowboy was thrown off a bucking horse.

"These horses are born to buck," the announcer said. "Take a good look, ladies and gentlemen. That's what America is about."

Cowboys rode fast after calves, swinging their lassos, catching the youngsters and jumping off their horses to quickly tie their legs. Some missed and slid in the dirt, while others completed the task so fast that if you blinked you'd miss it.

Jon Banister, a retired cowboy from Petaluma who competed in rodeos for more than two decades, watched the team tie-down roping competition from the sidelines. He stopped competing in rodeos after he had kids, but brought his son along to watch the show and checked the Little League playoff scores on his iPhone during breaks in the action.

"There's not a lot of sports out there that we can say are our own," Banister said. "It's an American tradition, rodeo. This is our sport."

A wrangler slid off his horse to rope a steer, but instead rolled over the animal, and then the steer trotted over him. Despite the drama, the cowboy was able to get up and walk away, relatively unscathed.

"That hurt," Banister said. "A little rough on the cattle, too."

The rodeo will continue at the fairgrounds at 8 p.m. today, and winners will be announced at the end of the competition.

And if that's not enough cowboying for you, the Mexican Rodeo will be held at 5 p.m. Sunday, hosted by Ezequiel Pena, a Grammy award nominee.

"I hope the people come out and support it," Banister said.

You can reach Staff Writer Cathy Bussewitz at 521-5276 or