If you've never been to a rodeo before, you might not know what ''Calf Roping,'' ''Chute Dogging'' or ''Goat Dressing'' are. But if the country-western theme strikes a chord with you, the 16th annual Atlantic Stampede Rodeo, scheduled for Sept. 7-9 on the rodeo grounds of the Montgomery County Agricultural Center & Fairgrounds in Gaithersburg, is the perfect place to get a crash course in gay rodeos.
For those unfamiliar with the Atlantic States Gay Rodeo Association's (ASGRA) annual gay rodeo, Patrick Hunter, public relations chairman with the group, describes it as ''a weekend event featuring a rodeo competition with bull riding, steer riding, speed events on horseback as well as some camp events,'' that everybody can take part in.
Camp events include the Dolly Madison Race, a comical reenactment of the historic flight of Dolly Madison from the White House during the War of 1812, done with three participants in costumes.
''Teams compete to see who has the best time in that event,'' Hunter says.
This year organizers added events for kids, including a ''Stick Horse Race'' and a ''Piggy Back Flag Race.''
''A lot of people in the community are starting to have their own kids, or who may not have their own kids, but know somebody who has kids... and we really wanted to try and do something that kids could really be a part of the rodeo itself, aside from just watching the events,'' Hunter says.
''In the past couple of years we started to notice that people would bring their kids to the event.... It was pretty much, you came and you [watched] and probably in the past two years, we noticed that there were more people who were bringing kids, and it was just another part of the community that we really wanted to try and serve.''
While everyone can participate in the Dolly Madison Race and the kids' events, Hunter points out that sanctioned races are limited to members of gay rodeo associations.
Jennifer Vrana, a 38-year-old member of the Liberty Gay Association from Philadelphia, attended her first gay rodeo in Washington in 1992, as a member of ASGRA.
''I went as a spectator and two cowboys needed a female for the 'Wild Drag Race,''' Vrana recalls. ''I was picked out of the crowd on Friday night, and we won, and I got addicted. The following year, I just kept adding more and more events.''
This year Vrana is competing in seven events, and she holds last year's title as ''All Around Cowgirl,'' for having the most accumulated points over the weekend.
''ASGRA will always be very dear to me. They've done a lot. They broke rodeo onto the East Coast. They took a sport that's known to be West Coast, and they brought it home. They brought it to this region, it's been extremely successful over the last 16 years, and because of that success, we're able to actually grow.''
In addition to the events on the rodeo grounds, ASGRA offers evening events at the host hotel, the Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill, including performances by the D.C. Cowboys; New York City-based Manhattan Prairie Dogs, which Hunter describes as a ''very historical dance troupe''; Tamara Marks, a country/folk/blues singer, whose style is often compared to Mary Chapin Carpenter; D.C. Lambda Squares, and other local performers.
''If that isn't enough for you, or if you are shy about coming to an event, or you don't know how to dance, you can take dance lessons from [former ASGRA president,] Gaither Pennington,'' Hunter says. ''He'll be doing some two-step, some waltz, so that way if you're a little unsure or intimidated about coming because you don't know how to dance, you can learn on the spot.''
Hunter says it's the perfect place to make new friends.
''The best thing about the rodeo is the people who you meet and the friends that you make. I joined 10 years ago so that I could start a social circle, and I definitely have. I've made really great friends and really awesome people who are incredibly supportive.
''It's the best time you will ever have at any event, your whole entire life.''
For more information visit www.asgra.org or call 202- 547-9590.
Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill
400 New Jersey Ave., NW
Montgomery County Agricultural Center & Fairgrounds
16 Chestnut St.