“Put on your big girl pants and ride!”
The little town of Ridgeway just down the road had a Labor Day rodeo, so we went to see the fun. This was not a big, glitzy rodeo. There was a grandstand that accommodated maybe 500 people, which was a significant percentage of the local population.
We liked the cowgirl casual style of shorts and boots. Everyone seemed to know everyone else, and while some of the contestants came from other towns in search of points against their standings in the rodeo circuit, there were local riders too. The horses were hanging out in the parking lot, just waiting for their jobs to start.
First the county’s rodeo queen and her court were introduced. They were all middle schoolers. Apparently by the time the girls get to high school they have better things to do, such as barrel riding or calf roping. The queen and her princesses had a mentor who was obviously very important to them, and who taught them one of the most important lessons for rodeoing and for life: “Put on your big girl pants and ride!” Almost all of them used that sentence somewhere in their biographies, and by the time the announcer got through the whole roster, he was having a hard time keeping the laugh out of his voice when he’d get to that bit of wisdom, unanimously embraced by the girls.
The girls might go for the sparkle and glitter of the crowns, but they fit over the hats, and their sashes were leather, not satin. Future cowgirls in training.
The local high school quartet sang the Star Spangled Banner, and the crowd sang along while the flag was galloped around the arena. There’s something very touching about a grandstand full of people singing that song. It may be done with more love than style but it gets to me every time.
And then the rodeo began. First came the bare back bronc riders. The score: horses 4, cowboys 1. You could practically see the horses snickering as one after another they dumped their riders in the dirt and trotted off to the gate, their work done for the day.
The steer wrestlers didn’t do much better. This team got a score, but a lot of them were unlucky enough to draw steers who’d been to one rodeo too many, and who knew if they kept running they were going to get thrown down, so they put on the brakes right out of the chutes, leaving the steer wrestler empty handed at best, face first in the dust with the steer standing behind them at the most embarrassing.
The next event was one I’d never seen before: steer packing. Teams of 4 cowboys had to catch a steer, load it with two packs and a couple of buckets and a wash tub and get it across the finish line with all its packs on it. This team didn’t win.
The calf roping was a little more successful than some of the other events, but there were still some calves that managed to avoid getting roped. This rodeo stuff can be really hard!
The littlest cowpokes got to do their part in the rodeo with a stick horse race for 5 year-olds and younger. This part of rodeo isn’t hard, and unlike the grown-ups, everyone came away with a prize.
Team roping had only partial success. It’s hard to get that rope around both back feet.
The barrel riders were exciting. Some of the just skimmed those barrels and if they were lucky, the barrels just rattled but stayed upright.
Next was another new event to me – rider pick-up. The idea is that you have a stranded person, a-foot in the middle of the stampede or in a flash flood. You can use your own imagination to set the dire straits that poor unhorsed person is in. And here comes their partner to swoop in and scoop them up and gallop to safety. This team did pretty well. Others, not so much. The passengers slammed into the side of the horse, leapt on with such verve that they went right over the horse into the dirt, ended up dangling sideways across the back of the saddle, or were grabbed with a yank that made the whole stands groan with sympathy for the dislocated joints of elbow and shoulder. The horses exhibited great tolerance, not kicking, stomping, or otherwise abusing the inept passengers as they fell under their feet or sprawled across their rumps. There was much laughter! But this second team stole the whole crowd’s hearts:
Remember shorts and boots? She brings her little girl out and puts her on top of the barrel.
She signals her daddy to come and rescue her. Dad gallops up and brings his horse to a stop, snatched up his little girl and heads back to the finish line, determination in every line of Dad’s face, delight on the little girl’s.
And after her moment in the arena, she rides Daddy’s horse back to the trailer while he walks alongside.
The saddle broncs were the next main event, and the score was horses 4, riders 1. This rider managed to stay on the horse until the buzzer sounded. Most of the riders reminded me of a song that a friend of ours wrote about cowboys:
“He’s never been first in the big rodeo, and on most of his rides he got throwed.”
And last but not least came the the bull riders. I was glad to see that the bull riders now wear protective vests and helmets with face guards. When a man is strapping himself to 1,500 pounds of pissed off, he needs all the protection he can get. It’s hard enough to stick on those monsters as they do their pirouettes and jetes and airs above the ground.
It was a most excellent rodeo.