My dad was visiting this weekend, so while I didn’t spend much time at the barn riding (although he did come meet Simon) there was one very horsey activity we went to – Rodeo Austin. Every March, hipsters get excited for South by Southwest and horse loving Austinites get excited for Rodeo Austin.
My experience with rodeo in North Carolina is slim. I went to a rodeo at the Raleigh fairgrounds once, and remember it had about 5 barrel racers and a few bull riders. There may have been some roping, but nothing intense and it certainly wasn’t pro rodeo.
In Austin, the rodeo is quite the event. It lasts a solid two+ weeks and is accompanied by a stock show, carnival, horse/dog performances and a concert every night after the rodeo. The first time I went I was overwhelmed with how intense (and campy) it was. The indoor arena is transformed with lazers, spotlights, a jumbo tron and lots and lots of cowboys drinking beer.
Yesterday with my Dad we went to see the rodeo and the Charlie Daniels Band (devil went down to georgia!) but the format is pretty much the same year after year.
They start off with a prayer and a dark house where a horse and rider bring in the American Flag for the national anthem, and then do a gallop around the arena with the flag. The cowboys all take off their hats, stop drinking their beer, and bow their heads.
The first actual event is bareback bronc riding. It’s fast paced to get the rodeo started, but people usually stay on for the 8 seconds. If cowboys had a problem yesterday, it was because they didn’t have their feet in a certain position on the first jump and got disqualified for the foul. My favorite part is watching the outriders catch the broncs afterward.
Steer wrestling is intense. If you’re going to leap off your galloping horse to then flip over a steer with your bare hands, you better be tough. Most of the guys get up limping in some way shape or form as they walk back to their horse. Yesterday, the announcer picked out one cowboy and said that he was going to Dallas after the rodeo to get scope surgery done on his “busted up knee”, and that he was a diabetic who needed an insulin pump. They said that he took the pump out for rodeos, and the announcer said “Kids, let this be a lesson for you that obstacles can be overcome.” I took the message more as a “Kids, don’t try this at home. Insulin pumps are best when used and if the doctor says you need surgery please don’t jump off a horse onto a cow.”
Speaking of kids, there’s an event specially for them called Mutton Bustin’. This is where you take a 5 – 7 year old boy or girl, throw them on a sheep and give them a score for how long they can hang on. At least there are helmets and body protectors involved, and even though I would probably never let my child do this – all the kids seemed really happy and the event is pretty cute. No tears, no injuries (thankfully!).
Team roping isn’t as dramatic as steer wrestling or calf roping, but there’s a lot of skill involved. Mostly, I just enjoy watching the roping horses.
Saddle bronc riding is my favorite event. The horses are dynamic (do you ever wonder how they could jump if they can buck that high and well?) and the cowboys that stay on have a lot more style than just flopping around like they tend to do on bulls or bareback broncs. Whenever I watch this, I wonder how I would do… and then I remember I’m a chicken and I hate riding buckers and I immediately throw out my cowgirl bronc dreams.
Calf roping is the one event where I feel really sorry for the calf. Sure, they get up unhurt and trot away just fine but the dramatic jolt at hitting the taunt rope kind of bothers me. Instead, I concentrate on the horses – because these horses are amazing. As soon as the rope hits the cow they sit in the dirt and back up to help the cowboy. Their ears are forward, and they clearly love their jobs. For me, it’s exciting to watch their anticipation, execution and then relaxation (and pats from the cowboy) after a job well done.
Barrel racing is another fun event, and one that I have a lot of respect for. Gaming riders are hard core, and it’s something I’m not good at at all. Last night, they showed a video from a previous night where a rider almost knocked two barrels but used her hand to set them back right twice before galloping off. That’s incredible.
Then there is the bull riding. To be honest, I can’t get into bull riding at all. Yeah they are flamboyant and dangerous but eh… I just feel like it’s a really stupid event. What kind of cowboy was sitting around the ranch bored one day and said, “Hey – I really think that bull wants me to ride it. Yes, that’s an excellent idea.” Enough said.
They always end the rodeo with a youth barrel racer driving around the broncs in the ring in a big group. The announcer gives a big, cheesy spiel about how this is the foundation of the rodeo and an icon of our past in the American west and how mustangs built this country (even those these horses aren’t mustangs at all) yadda yadda yadda blah blah blah.
The rodeo is cheesy in bits, intense in others, but overall a lot of fun. These pictures are all from the first year I went where I had better seats, but I’m going again on Wednesday to see the Alabama Shakes and may be sitting closer – so if I get any new good shots I’ll be sure to share them on the blog! Are rodeos a big deal where you live?