Photo: Guest appearance of famous Clydesdales at Oakley rodeo.
I was recently invited to attend a rodeo in Oakley, Utah over the July 4th weekend. Excellent! I combined a couple days solo in Park City to roam unencumbered into every art gallery on the street with the rodeo trip. As luck would have it, I was in town for the Park City Fourth of July celebration. Small town America at its very finest. I got to watch their holiday parade from the porch of a local café. I was thrilled beyond words. I video-taped everything.
Being alone was fine, but I was ready to join my friends. They collected me from Deer Valley, and off we went. They were my hosts for a rodeo in Oakley, Utah, not too far from their home. I’m not much of a sports enthusiast, but had been to two rodeos previously and was hooked. My first rodeo was in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, in 1975, when my husband and I lived on a Sioux Indian reservation. Sam had volunteered for the Indian Health Service, and I was a ‘plus one,’ if you will. I knew nothing about rodeo events, but found the whole spectacle thrilling (at the same time wondering why God’s name those participants would willingly subject themselves to such torture).
My second rodeo was in 2011 in Rapid City, South Dakota. Sam and I took our granddaughters to see our old haunts; the Black Hills, Badlands, Devil’s Tower. The rodeo was part of a tri-state fair. The fair, classic Americana, included a tractor pull, jam and jelly judging. There were cages of rabbits of several different types, some quite exotic, that vied for ribbons; calves were led around a ring by their 4-H Club owners. There was a carnival with rides. My granddaughters, then eleven and thirteen, were not impressed by the jellies or rabbits, but really wanted to try all the rides. I peered at the ferris wheel with suspicion. Exactly how safe was this contraption? As I inspected the motor, the girls had hopped into a seat and were already gone.
Now for the rodeo. In the calf-roping event, a calf is let loose into the ring and a mounted cowboy goes after it like a bolt of lightning. Or so it must seem to the calf. The rider lassos the calf (that must be hard to learn), and secures the other end of the rope to his saddle. He then leaps from his horse, and throws the calf to the ground. Oof. Occasionally the calf resents this and offers resistance, adding precious seconds to the timed event. During the maneuvering, the competitor’s horse skillfully backs up, keeping the rope between horse and cowboy/calf taut. What an unbelievably smart horse. Quick as a wink, the cowboy produces a small rope that he had held between his teeth, and ties the calf’s legs together. Champion time 7.0 seconds.
Armed with this small bit about knowledge, I was ready for my third rodeo, 2021 variety. All rodeos include calf roping (two types), bronco riding, bull riding, ladies’ barrel racing, other stuff. But beyond these “star” cowboy competitors were equally impressive cast members. I thought the broncos and bulls were coaxed from neighboring fields to be in the show. Absolutely wrong. These guys are bred to be mean and violent (the animals, not the riders). They are transported from show to show, and win prizes for their performances. Who knew.
If I understood my hostess correctly, two amazingly skilled riders owned these beasts. And they played an important role in keeping the competitors from being hurt or killed. Yikes. These two men rode their incredibly trained horses in each event. When a rider atop a bucking bronco was released from a chute, these horse and rider teams knew exactly where to position themselves. One kept a fair distance to observe which way the bronco would bolt, the other stayed much closer to the competitor. When the bell sounded to signal the end of the contest (after 8 long seconds), the close guy somehow dragged the rider onto his own horse. Or, if the rider had somehow gotten tangled in a binding, the rescuer extricated the rider in distress. All while the bronco bucked and spun around at great speed. Amazing.
The bulls seemed even more dangerous to me. When they unseated a rider they often tried to stomp on him. Or gore him. Those bulls ready could hold a grudge. If the rider had been hauled to safety, the disgruntled bull tried to attack various helpers stationed around the fence of the ring. Those guys were amazingly agile, and could scramble to the top of the fence in seconds.
Occasionally rodeos are televised, but I can’t imagine how watching one on TV could ever compare to a live performance. Now, to plan my next adventure.
Pray for me, and for all your friends, relatives, and colleagues in need of a little help.