Oh, a rodeo!




By Caitlin Kelly

It’s a pretty American way to spend a summer evening — and, despite years of living in the U.S., albeit in the Northeast — I had never been to a rodeo.

It is, I discovered, a huge sport, with its own governing body and men kept loping past us bearing huge golden and engraved belt buckles, evidence of their earlier prowess.

The idea is to showcase, competitively, so many of the skills that ranchers and cowboys, men and women, use in their daily life.






So Jose, who was born and raised in Santa Fe, New Mexico, bought us box seat tickets, which meant  two battered bare metal folding chairs in the shaded section, at the front ($27 each) and took me to my first rodeo.

I knew, intellectually, competitors could get badly injured and hoped they would not, and only one man limped out of the ring.




The first event had very small children — ages four or five, each wearing a helmet — each trying to stay on top of a large sheep for as long as possible, clinging to as much muddy and matted wool as possible. Most lasted about a second!




Then men came out on bucking broncos and here’s a video of what that’s like! They have to stay on the horse for eight seconds to qualify and each are scored.

More men came out, racing, to lasso a steer, jump off their horse and lash three of the steer’s legs together, fast.

Then men came out in pairs to do the same job.

There was a rodeo clown.



The rodeo clown, a legend in his field                            photo: Jose R. Lopez


There was only one official photographer in the ring, a man in a pink dress shirt; it was very difficult (as you can tell from my cellphone images here!) to get good photos as only cellphones were allowed for the crowd to use to take pictures.

The rodeo queen and princess thundered by on their horses, with gorgeous turquoise chaps.

Women rode around the ring with large flapping flags of each local advertiser.



Could she possibly be more badass?!


Then a woman came out — of course — riding atop two racing horses at once. Then jumped through flames.



The winner!         photo: Jose R. Lopez


The barrel racing was my absolute favorite, with women competing to gallop into the ring, round three large barrels at top speed without knocking one over (a loss of five points for each accident) and gallop back out; the fastest, of course, was a 10-year-old girl who did it in barely 17 seconds.

It was so much fun!

It began at 7:00 pm and was done about 8:30 as all the kids went next door to the visiting carnival to enjoy the small Ferris wheel and other rides.




There were corn dogs and tacos and soft-serve ice cream and (!) deep-fried Twinkies and we had a great chat with a woman who — of course — had lived in Toronto when I did, and a woman named Stephanie, wearing layers and layers of spectacular Navajo jewelry (some of which she was selling), who had hoped to barrel race her horse, Teller (she showed us his picture on her cellphone) but registered too late. She was, for sure, in her 50s, maybe beyond.

There were little boys in chaps, old men in cowboy hats, women in mini-skirts and weathered cowboy boots. The sun set over the Sangre de Cristo mountains and the sky became a watercolor wash of violet.





10 thoughts on “Oh, a rodeo!

  1. Jan Jasper

    You say “competitors could get badly injured” – how about the animals? This is inhumane. How can anyone enjoy watching this? I’ve read that when the animals buck, it’s because they have a strap around their groin with sharp points cutting into their underbelly. This is horrible.

    1. I know. When I realized why the horses buck, I was shocked and not happy. I didn’t know at all until I saw it. The other activities did not harm the animals. I am not sure there are sharp points (not defending it) but a strap cinched tight. Still horrible, yes.

      The demonstrations of other skills I thought were worth seeing.

      1. Jan Jasper

        I’m glad that you thought about this. Some people would be immune and uncaring. I get that there’s skill involved in rodeo. There’s also skill required in bullfighting Doesn’t make it any less cruel. It’s all a disgusting business.

      2. God, no. I was really stunned. The horses ARE bred to buck, apparently.

        And bullfighting is nuts, in my view. I could never watch it.

        The barrel racing was astonishing, as was the woman riding 2 horses at once….I am in awe of great horsemanship.

  2. I went to the Calgary Stampede once natch. I loved watching the cutting horses (for cutting a particular animal from the herd). The communication between horse and rider was amazing and a sort of rugged gracefulness. One of the competitions also had dogs in addition. The skill was was really something. I didn’t go to the chuckwagon races. So dangerous to both horses and drivers.

    1. When we got home from it, our host said she’d seen a woman killed (a photographer in the arena) and a cowboy badly hurt. No question it can be very dangerous…not appealing to me.

  3. your descriptions of the event, the people and the scene are wonderful. I too see the skills involved here, but worry about the animals, as well as the people. that being said, I know this is a regional and cultural tradition, and you were merely taking it in and experiencing the whole scene, not making a judgment.

    1. I would never endorse animal cruelty! I watched it carefully and could see that the events went very quickly.

      I am glad I saw it…living in a NYC/Northeastern bubble it’s too easy to forget, or never see and realize, there ARE very different regional and cultural traditions in this enormous country.

      The women riders were superb.

  4. It’s sure dangerous, but cruel? Bulls and bucking horses represent major capital investments to the ranchers that own them. They have names and statistics, like other professional athletes, and it is of paramount importance to their owners to keep them in top physical condition. Part of the score you receive from your ride is derived from the challenge the animal presents to the rider, so no professional cowboy wants to be stuck with a 98 pound weakling. If a ranch can’t produce stock of suitable quality, that rancher could well be running dogies to the high density feed lot, where the real cruelty happens; all of which says that it may not be pretty, but that angry bronco is treated every bit as well as that teenage girl’s beloved barrel racer.

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