Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Tales of a Rodeo Rookie

Despite growing up in Southeast Texas, I had never been to a rodeo until I was a reasonably mature adult. I say that I was mature because I couldn’t age into any new privileges for the next 45 years or so. At any rate, my husband’s company was having a social at the National Rodeo Show and we had tickets. My husband, being a Yankee, presumed I would know my way about a cow. I hadn’t the heart to tell him my knowledge of live stock ended at the grocery counter.

We got to the rodeo and there were great foods all everywhere, but somehow it felt a bit cruel to walk about eating a cheeseburger with so many cows and bulls around. I couldn’t help thinking they might get mad you know, and they're a might bigger than me. Strolling through the open stalls full of lightly secured 1500 lb. beasts was also unnerving, especially given the number of greenhorns like myself pretending not to be greenhorns by patting the cows and talking about what type they were. I was impressed until I realized all they've done is read the 4H tag.

Going into this sort of a culture can become a cult experience. With being surrounded by cowboys and cowgirls, ranchers and farmers, it’s hard not to want to fit in and belong. We walked into the auction room to watch the selling off of a prize bull. I tried to comprehend what it is that the pros see that I didn't –only to discover my husband had momentary insanity and was considering a bid on said beast. “He can live at your Uncle’s ranch. It’s an investment. Wouldn’t you like to own a cow? You’re a Texan.” Fortunately for me, someone else upped the bid and I was able to break him free of the siren call of the auctioneer before a big black Angus prize breeder came up. I wasn’t sure I’d have had a prayer of not owning a bull if we hadn’t left.

Entering the main arena for the rodeo events, I realized I was a classic rock kind of gal stuck in a Country Western world and that the most current CW hit I could name was “Achy Breaky Heart.” Seeing a guy dipping Skoal confirmed the city slicker genes in me and also made me wish I hadn't eaten the chili.

Finally, it was time for the roping and the riding. Some girls came out and did barrel racing. I did pair barrel racing as a kid, once. After knocking over all three barrels in both my runs, the next year I was relegated to play horse musical chairs in the kid riding festival at camp –the event for all the “non-riders” in the group. Watching the junior rodeo members, I found it ironic that these parents voluntarily allowed their children that they won't let ride bikes without helmets, run out to wrestle cows. One had to hope the whole family bought into this rodeo thing. I’d hate to imagine explaining to Grandmother why Johnny got a broken collar bone if she didn’t understand the cowboy culture. “WHAT DO YOU MEAN HE WAS RUN OVER BY A COW?”

After the junior rodeo, the adults took over. I understand why a cowboy in days past would need to be able to rope cattle, break a horse, even barrel race, but the physical need for strapping a rope on a 1000 lb angry brute with large horns that can kill you eluded me. The only other sport that comes close to this sort of willful battle between man and beast where the beast has the advantage is snake charming, and again, I’m at a loss as to why anyone would willingly chose to do this.

Still, watching the skill of these men and women as they lassoed calves and tied them up using the rope in less than a minute, I had to marvel. I started to feel sorry for the calves who after being thrown to the grown and roped, would be herded back to the pens for auction and possible slaughter. Then, I remembered how much I liked steak.

Retribution was coming though, as a maverick red calf gave one of the rodeo contestants serious trouble. He ran out of the lasso and then when the cowboy was off his horse, charged. He bit the guy before the rodeo clowns were able to lead the creature back to the pens. One could just imagine him speaking to the other calves, leading the conspiracy against us, their captors. “Just you wait fellahs, the big one over there ate a burger just now, and I’m fairly certain Uncle Leo had mad cow disease.”

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