The big screen at the far end of the arena displayed what I couldn’t see from my place in the stands. In all his pixel glory a cowboy is twisting a strip of leather and rawhide around his hand and the saddle so he can create a suitcase-like grip. With each second he is tying himself more firmly to the bronc’s back. I can’t help recalling what a former classmate said when I interviewed him earlier about being on the rodeo circuit as a saddle bronc rider. “It was the most comfortable, natural thing for me to do and it’s what I like the best,” he said.
“I wasn’t interested in tying myself to a bull.”
There is a bang as the horse shifts in the stall, jostling the cowboy and causing the men around him to jerk back. After a moment the spat is nothing more than a memory.
Seconds later the door flies open. The horse leaps out with explosive energy. Flying out like a coiled spring it bounds forward kicking at the air in energetic earnest. The crowd is cheering trying to glue the cowboy to the bronc’s back with their enthusiasm.
Points will be awarded to both the bronc and the cowboy for their performance. This is a shared moment, a split effort, a reenactment of a historical bond—bound to less than 8 seconds in time.
Earlier I had a post about the Little Britches Rodeo—a kid version of the Pro Rodeo. Now the little kids had a tough time riding sheep and some tumbled off rather abruptly.
Take that thought and multiply it by at least a thousand. Then you have the adult version of the rodeo. The animals are at least three times bigger and a lot heavier. So why do people like to strap themselves to animals bred to throw them off?
I suppose it’s like climbing Mount Everest or any other mountain. They do it for the thrill. They do it for the bragging. They do it because they love it. Most actually follow what is called the Rodeo Circuit—moving from rodeo to rodeo to try to earn as much money as they can. Did I mention they win money when they place high enough?
That’s how my former classmate, Cole Neely, makes a living. Here he is riding in the saddle bronc event to the best of his ability. The idea is to stay on the horse for eight seconds. He also has to keep one hand in the air while he’s being thrown about.
Unfortunately he had to bail when things got too rough.
Problems can occur at any time during the eight seconds cowboys must stay in the saddle and they adapt as needed. After all they are working with a creature with a mind of its own.
This rider was caught in the rawhide strap I mentioned earlier. He was participating in the bareback bronc riding event which does not allow saddles.
He got away safely, quickly rolling clear of the falling hooves.The two men on horses are there to help the riders safely dismount their bucking horse after they make the horn. These men also remove the flank or bucking strap (which you can see near the horse’s hind legs in this photo) which stops the horse’s bucking. The flank strap does not harm the horse since it’s covered in sheepskin. Rather it irritates the horse’s well “private square”, as my sister tactfully said it, causing the horse to jump around and buck.
Some more frozen moments from the bareback bronc event.
Here are some photos of the bronc saddle event where riders do not strap themselves in and have the convenience of a saddle with stirrups. Stirrups are where cowboys put their feet so they can evenly distribute their weight on the horse’s back.
At the end of the evening was the bull riding which is the craziest event of all. Due to excessive rain I couldn’t have my camera out for some shots of the bull riders to show you just how mind rattling the event is, but here is a video to give you an idea.
Now you see those oddly dressed guys running around the bull when it throws the rider and is about to stomp him into a pancake? Those are called rodeo clowns and their job is to distract the bull with bad jokes and dancing. Just kidding, they don’t have time for jokes because they are too busy dodging the bull.
Meet our rodeo clown, Wes Harder. When not distracting bulls he was amusing the crowd and earlier that day cheering up kids who hit the dirt during the Little Britches Rodeo.
Aside from the individual extreme events there was also the bronc team event. Here a team of men hangs onto a long rope attached to a bronc. They must pull down the bronc’s head and sooth it by holding the bronc’s head and blocking its eyesight. Then the team pushes a rider onto the bronc and they let go. The rider must then direct the fully unleashed horse around a barrel to win the event.
In steer wrestling the goal is to ride next to a steer, leap alongside it, twist it over and have it touch the ground flat.
I once saw a bunch of Australian and British soldiers from a nearby army base attempt to bring down a steer at a rodeo on their base. They were running after it trying all kinds of techniques to get its legs from under it. But the steer refused to go down.It was a lot like seeing the little kids chasing after the cattle. It was gut-busting hilarious. After the soldiers had tried for 15 minutes a local cowboy calmly stepped forward, grabbed the steer around it’s middle and popped it onto it’s side in 15 seconds flat.Needless to say this cowboy had probably been doing that his whole life and many of the soldiers may never have even been 5 feet from a cow… ever. But it was still funny.And it instilled Canadian patriotism. Yeah, we Canadians have people who can wrestle with cows.