I didn’t get much sleep on Friday the ninth of September. I lay awake thinking about a document I signed earlier that day. Taking the advice of Don, a daredevil who habitually gets hurt, I signed up to compete in my first-ever rodeo. Why? Because I am a man who laughs nervously in the face of danger and who is pathologically unable to resist adventure. Melodramatic as all hell, but those were my reasons.
Tired of staring into the ceiling of Don’s motorhome, I got up before dawn and walked the grounds of Driscoll Ranches. The morning mist lay thick in the tree-covered valley, and the soft damp air tickled my skin. I walked past the pen where the steers stood. Were they nervous too? They didn’t look it. I patted one on the head and whispered, “See you in the arena.”
I competed in three events. The easiest was Goat Dressing. In teams of two (My partner was Jamison, a friend travelling with Don and me.) you run up to a goat, lift up its hind legs and put on a pair of pink panties. My best position was tenth place out of about 25. Then again, as the announcer said, “If you don’t wear them, it can be hard to know how to put them on.”
A more challenging event was Steer Decorating, or Steer Deco for short. (A steer is a castrated bull.) This is another team event in which a ‘header’ pulls a steer across a line using a rope around the horns of the steer. Once over the line, the ‘tailer’ ties a ribbon around the steer’s tail. It doesn’t sound so bad, but a steer is a big animal and standing behind one and holding its tail while tying that ribbon is nervous work.
Mark Lawson was the header and I was the tailer. Our best time was 10.5 seconds which earned us fifth place out of 25 and my first-ever rodeo ribbon!
My position in Steer Deco was my best during the rodeo, yet the event that I was the most proud of was Chute Dogging.
Chute Dogging is easy to explain. You start in a chute with a steer. When the chute opens, you must move the animal over a line a few metres away and then wrestle it to the ground.
The rules may be simple, but that makes it no less scary. As I stood in that chute with one horn tucked under my left armpit, my left hand in the steer’s mouth and my right hand holding on to the second horn, I couldn’t help but wonder what the hell I was doing.
But there was no turning back. I called for the chute to open, and then it was just me and the steer. I wrestled with the animal for 45 seconds before the time ran out. Let me say that again. I wrestled a steer for 45 seconds! The damned rubber-necked animal spread it legs and no matter how much I fought, it just wouldn’t go down. Exhausted, I stumbled back towards the chute, not entirely disappointed since at least I had not given up. Then a judge approached me and said that the buzzer had gone off 15 seconds too early and that I was eligible for a re-run.
I can write a doctorate dissertation on mixed feelings based solely on the few seconds it took me to say, “OK.”
On the re-run, I wrestled the steer to the ground in 5.8 seconds and earned myself eighth place out of about 30. I have not felt such joy, excitement and pride since I graduated university!
I had two goals arriving at the rodeo: to be brave enough to compete and not get hurt. Mission accomplished. However, my friends fared worse. Don got bad rope burns in Steer Deco and something called Wild Drag after the steers dragged him across the ground, and yet another steer kicked Jamison during Steer Deco. In comparison, my minor bruises seem trivial.
The Rodeo Community
I loved the rodeo, and not just because of the thrill of the competition. The people I met there were just as exciting.
The cowboys and cowgirls had a certain earthy quality that I couldn’t help but fall in love with. The men were proper gentlemen, but not in a boring English upper-class way but rather in a whiskey-swigging, wise-cracking, easy-going and damn sexy way. The women were gorgeous and packed enough balls to ride bulls. What more could you ask for?
Put another way, I doubt that there was a single bad lover at the rodeo.