It would be nothing short of sacrilege to visit Texas and not spend at least one evening eating overly cheesed nacho’s, drinking warm beer and watching some real life cowboys get to work.
After a week exploring the Texas Hill Country, we had seen our fair share of cowboys. Chap clad gents in skin tight levis, stetsons, and crocodile skin boots roamed the streets proudly. I’ve never seen so many men interested in shoes as I have in Texas. Cowboy boot shops are brimming with gentlemen of all ages sampling various styles and colors whilst women watch on attentively, looking to bag themselves a cowboy.
In my mind, the Rodeo was going to be the equivalent spectacle of the local fayre coming to town. Oh no. How wrong I was. The Rodeo is THE event of the year. The Rodeo is the one day of the year where families get to dress to impress and show the World what they’ve got. You would think that as a State of Church goers that families get this opportunity every Sunday. There is, however, a distinct sense that the Rodeo, unlike the Church, offers a chance for the community to let loose and dress as inappropriately as they please, with every outfit a chance to outshine the next.
In the middle of a sleepy farming town, hundreds of cars and trucks crammed into a modest convention centre car park. With neither of us owning any appropriate cowboy attire we stuck to jeans and t-shirts, that was our first mistake. It was clear from the moment we left the car. Teams of girls in the shortest of skirts dusted in diamonte and backcombed beehives looked at us as if we had mistaken this Rodeo for the cinema. Eagerly smiling in an attempt to fit in we grabbed our bottles of beer and entered the arena.
What appeared to be a school gym hall had been transformed into a sandy paddock that in that moment was hosting a lesson in the lasso. Hundreds of gym benches lined the side of the arena where families laughed, girls flirted, children played tag and lone cowboys stood attempting to look mysterious.
The bull riding was the last in a series of four events over the course of about three hours starting with an event called Mutton Bustin’ that see’s children riding and racing sheep. At one end of the arena is the hold where gargantuan angry, slobbery bulls are ushered into small traps, whipped and teased until they are deemed angry enough to compete. That part was hard to swallow but what was even harder to comprehend is how these miniature sized teenage cowboys were confident that they would be able to wrestle with these mammoth mammals without getting themselves severely hurt or worse killed.
By the time the bull-fighters were ready to take to the arena, army of girls/women had made their way to the hold, eagerly attempting to catch the eye of a competing cowboy. With every caught smile, glance or kiss blown there was an air of expectation from the women that dished out these good luck charms, in the hope of perhaps a drink or dance later that evening.
As cowboy after cowboy mounted their paired bull, deafening clatters from the bulls horns against the metal holds rang throughout the arena. The sound of each bull’s angry breath could be heard from every stall. The looks on our faces were of such shock when the bull and rider finally started their flamboyant and spectacular dance that the women stood next to us felt compelled to put us at ease with some words of comfort. ” They look like children don’t they?” she said smiling. “Don’t worry this is what they’re trained to do, they’ll be fine!”
Perhaps twenty men rode a bull that night, half of them crawled back to the holding pen whilst cowboys on horseback and brave men dressed as clowns attempted to distract the bull from the man who had fallen from it’s back.
A truly bizarre but entertaining night, we left with a new found appreciation for horsemanship and a fondness for the Rodeo. It’s safe to say that the bull fighting was too much to swallow, too much torment and disrespect for the animals that were the stars of the show. No, for us the main stars of the show were the audience, the community who had captivated our attention and conversation all night. The true Kings and Queens of the rodeo.