I am not a sports person. The only team sports that ever interested me were the Brooklyn Dodgers of the 1950’s and more recently, the World Cup of Football (soccer) but I have always had some interest in the sports where one is actually competing against oneself.
No sport is probably more like that than Rodeo. There the cowboy risks life and limb in order to do better not only than his competitors but better than he did the last time he rode.
Rodeo, logically enough, started among cowboys (Vaqueros) in Spain and Mexico who would get together to test their working skills against each other. In the first quarter of the 19th century it came to the United Sates, out west and Northern Mexico. Rodeo became more formalized after the civil war and Prescott Arizona claims to have the earliest professional rodeo where admission was charged in 1888.
Growing up with the TV shows of the 1950’s such as Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rodgers, Gene Autry, The Lone Ranger etc. I loved the west and always imagined being a cowboy! So a great thrill for me was the rodeo at Madison Square Garden, inaugurated there in 1922. According to a real cowboy I met sometime ago it is the goal of every rodeo rider to do their thing at the Garden and they work their way up through the regional circuits. So again, I was spoiled I had, unknowingly, already seen the best.
Some things are different, of course, at the annual Rodeo De Santa Fe, which we attended recently. For instance our Mayor, Javier Gonzales, participated in the team steer roping the first day; and further this notice is not necessary in New York City: “HORSES may only participate in the parade but cannot be ridden through town or at the Plaza afterwards per Santa Fe Police Department.”
|Mayor Javier Gonzalez|
A relatively new event, approximately 30 years old, is Mutton Busting, which occurs twice during the program, once before the official rodeo begins. Children 4 and under weighing less than 60 lbs. are supplied with a vest and helmet and placed on a sheep in a shoot. When the shoot opens the sheep runs out trying to get rid of the child who rarely lasts the full 6 seconds required. The cutest one I saw was the sheep who ran out without the child who was left standing at the entry to the shoot with a “what happened” expression on her face. Most contestants just dropped off as they were coming out of the shoot. One little boy who was sitting next to us and went off with his parents when his time came in the second round had a similar experience, but he was not at all disappointed, and told me he would be happy to do it again. Unfortunately he will be too old next year.
There are seven other events in all and one can see why they are all necessary activities on a ranch, such as bareback riding, steer roping wrestling and tying the legs of the steer so it can be branded.
Barrel racing is probably the event that shows the greatest control in leading a horse and is usually performed by cowgirls. It’s certainly more genteel but it is also the most lyric. Speed alone is not enough that horse has to be guided seamlessly in clover-leaf patterns around three barrels. Even if the rider is good enough not to knock over a barrel the horse must also be very skilled and always has to be on the correct foot not to slow down the ride.
The most popular and most exciting contest is the bull riding. Bull taming has been traced back to Minoan times, 27th to 15th centuries B.C.E. They have one section near the beginning and another at the end which everyone stays for.
We felt we had gotten our money’s worth in good riding and much excitement and are looking forward to next year.