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.