Rodeo, Explained

At a bit after noon, I headed down Portal 1 and found my way to my seat at my first rodeo. Sure enough, it was right above the chutes. The guy next to me asked where I’d gotten my ticket. I’d gotten mine from a guy selling it on the grounds. The guy in the cowboy hat sitting next to me bought his from an “old boy down in Georgia.” I didn’t really believe him, or thought that there was a Georgia, Wyoming or something, but sho-nuff, he had bought his ticket online from someone in Georgia. He assured me that these were great seats, which was something of a relief. Of course as suspicious as I was of the guy who sold me my ticket, getting in the gate was a big enough relief.

Instead of showing cartoons or previews of future rodeos before the show starts, rodeos have demonstrations. The highlight was the Cheyenne Darlings, a group of sixteen high school girls who ride ponies around in intricate patterns. They were carrying flags, so they had to drive using just one hand. This would be impressive itself, but since they were high school girls, one had to assume that they were texting with the other. The guy sitting next to me assured me that those girls and horses put in lots of hours of practice.

The first event was Bull Riding. These bulls are bred just for these events. Both the Behind the Chutes tour guide and the rodeo announcer made a big deal about how these animals had to work for only eight seconds a day Get it? A ride is judged only on eight seconds.

After the guy jumps or falls off, a couple of the eight guys who are sitting around on horseback rope the bull around the horns and drag him over to a gate that one of them pulls him in to. Sometimes, however, the pull just sees the gate and runs on in. Apparently they know the drill and are happy that their hard day’s work is over.

Two judges assign up to 25 points to the rider and two more judge the animal for a possible total of 100 points. That perfect score has happened only once, I was told on the tour. I’m pretty sure that the animals don’t care much about the points.

The bucking bronco (with a saddle) and bareback riding are judged similarly. After the eight seconds are up, though, one of the cowboys that’s helping out, rides over near the bucking horse and the guy jumps off the bucking horse, hugs the guy on the other horse and then jumps down. I’m not making this up.

They put these straps around the horse’s belly, that I presume is to annoy them so that they buck more. After the cowboy events, one of the horseback guys pulls the rope thing off the horse, which some other guy comes and picks up with a stick that has a hook on the end.

There’s also steer roping, in which a guy throws a lariat around a steers horns (it’s game over if the rope the thing around the neck), jumps off his horse, and runs over to the steer. The contestant’s horse, apparently aware of this custom, carefully backs up a bit to keep tension on the rope, but not drag the steer much. Then, the cowboy ties up the front two legs and one of the rear legs and throws his hands in the air so that the judges think that he’s done.

The announcer described at great length that this practice actually has use on the ranch. If a steer is sick, one needs to make it be still in order to provide medical care. As I learned a couple days later, these things don’t come when they’re called. This event is judged on the amount of time it takes to tie up the poor animal’s feet. Unless, of course, the steer doesn’t stay tied up for at least six seconds. At the “Daddy of ’em all” they use steers who haven’t been roped before, so they are less likely to lie back and say, “Oh, the whole roping thing again, huh, OK, whatever.” If they really want to be realistic, they should do it only with animals who need medical attention.

There is also an event called steer wrestling, in which a guy just jumps off his horse, grabs the steer by the horns and then tries to get the thing to lie down on its side. It reminded me of when I used to wrestle with Thor and lie him on his side, although Thor didn’t have horns.

There was also this team roping thing, in which one guy roped the steer’s horns and another dude, in some way that I absolutely cannot imagine, somehow got a rope around both of the steer’s hind legs. If a bunch of cowboys hadn’t done it, I’d have assumed it was one of those things that happened by mistake and you couldn’t possibly do again.

So, that’s a rodeo.

You can see a bunch of pictures here.

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