A couple of weekends ago, Mr Pict decided we needing to do something fun and different and spontaneously got tickets for a rodeo. Mr Pict had been to a rodeo before, when travelling in either Wyoming or Montana, but it was a first experience for the kids and me. I am always up for trying new things but the kids were not sold on the idea, not even the horse daft 10 year old. It has been grotesquely humid and stinking hot here in Pennsylvania lately so Mr Pict had opted for the evening rodeo. Partly the kids were aggrieved that we were having to go out for the evening instead of them playing video games or watching a movie but I was glad that we had because it was still pretty steamy out even as darkness fell. For me, the only downside to the evening show was that I didn’t have enough light to take decent photos.
We started our jaunt outside the arena where there was lots of food, drink, and paraphernalia to buy. My youngest son had to be dissuaded from buying a cowboy hat. The boys love fairground food so they leaped at the opportunity to gorge on funnel cake and my 11 year old bought himself a massive pickle on a stick. What is it about sticks that makes the food more festive? I cannot say that I can even guess the answer.
We entered the arena and found a spot on the bleachers that gave us a decent view of the performance area. Having never been to a rodeo, I had no notion of what to expect or how things worked. I decided to treat the whole experience like an anthropological study since I knew I was going to be set apart from the action rather than being properly engaged in it. The atmosphere reminded me a lot of the Redneck Festival we had found ourselves at three years ago. I never even began to figure out how the events were scored. Clearly an element of it was to do with time, how long each rider could stay on the horse or the bull, but otherwise it was all entirely obscure to me.
The first event was the one I always associate with rodeos: folks wearing cowboy gear riding on horses that are desperately trying to throw them off. Not a single rider lasted for very long. Each one was “blink and you miss it” fast. I couldn’t really follow what was going on in any great detail. To my mind, most impressive were the chaps who were stationed on horses ready to get into the fray and rescue riders and lasso horses. They had real skill. The next event involved riding on bulls. Bulls that were annoyed. Completely crazy. Why do people do this for sport? Again, no rider lasted very long. It was over even quicker than the horse riding. One bull fell on top of a rider, which made everyone in the audience gasp, but the bull got to its feet and the rider limped off as if it was just another day at the office. Seriously, why do people do this for fun? While the bucking horses and bulls were ridden by all male riders, there was an event that was all women. That involved riding horses at high speed around barrels in a specific order. Obviously the quickest horse and rider were the winners. If you can imagine a horse doing a skidding handbrake turn, then that was what was happening as the horses pivoted around the barrels. The angle of the horse to the ground was pretty shallow. It was pretty impressive.
There were “entertainments” between the events. One of these was a Mexican cowboy who performed with a lasso while standing on a horse. I don’t really understand how to make a lasso work at all so I couldn’t detect what was extra fancy or tricky about the things he was doing. Folks in the crowd who did appear to understand, however, appeared to think his lasso jiggery-pokery was a bit special. Then there was a clown who performed for the crowd within the arena. There were clowns everywhere at the arena; it was teeming with them. I have a lifelong clown phobia thanks to a dreadful early experience at a circus. These clowns appeared to be members of the organisation holding the rodeo and fundraising for charity. Despite their good deeds and honourable actions, they just made my flesh crawl. My oldest son told me that rodeos are well known for having clowns and I should have expected it. I hadn’t. It was a shock. Anyway, the clown doing the entertaining, however, was simply dreadful. His patter was stilted and lame and from a bygone era, not one I am nostalgic for either. My sons were aghast at the misogyny and xenophobia of the jokes. At one point during a singing skit, my 10 year old had his head in his hands just willing it to end.
I think we all felt that the rodeo was an interesting experience and that we were glad we went in order to have that experience. However, none of us are likely to be eager to repeat the experience. It just wasn’t us. At least now we can all say, “This isn’t my first rodeo”. That’s something.