The fast-paced cowboy contests known as rodeos were something of a myth for me growing up in Southern California. They were akin to a Medieval knights’ tournament. I knew they existed, but they were from the times of yore – distant and dreamlike.
If you ever find yourself in Colorado, do yourself a favor and go to a rodeo. (Caveat: I am confident there are wonderful rodeos in other parts of this great nation, but since we haven’t driven that far yet we can only sing the praises of Colorado’s).
The direct experience of a rodeo is so impressive it’s difficult to put into words. This is a thing that must be experienced.
My only mistake of the evening was wearing a California Berkeley sweatshirt to the event. It won me some stiff glances, and I may have been passed over for the air guitar contest because of it, but people were really nice once I started asking questions. When traveling, you’ll learn that just about anyone you meet is eager to tell you what they know, even if you’re a goddamned liberal.
“Where do they find these bulls?” I’d asked. We’d just watched four grown men willingly saddle themselves to a bull that dispatched each of them in about a half a second.
“Oh, we breed ’em for this,” a man told me. “Reg’lar bulls are about as peaceable as they come. It takes a special kind o’ work to get ’em to crawl up into your shorts.” Same goes for the bucking broncos. They’re bred to kick the cowboys off of them.
What is so impressive about the rodeo is just how quickly everything happens. Each contest is over in a matter of seconds. Bull riding, bronco riding, team and solo roping, and bull wrestling are each four to eight seconds in length. As ranchers, I’m sure these skills are necessary, and the contest celebrates the skill and dexterity needed to raise cattle.
The best part of the rodeo, though, the very best and also the most strange, is the calf scramble. You can’t imagine there are that many children at a rodeo, but come calf scramble time more than a hundred kids materialize in the middle of the track. All of them poised and waiting…waiting until some grown up lets loose a calf with a ribbon tied to its tail. The first kid to pull the ribbon off wins a prize. It’s pandelerium out there, and just because someone got the ribbon does not mean that the kids stop chasing the calf.