The Nile is not just a river in Egypt

It’s also a rodeo in Montana.  One of the largest in the country, it’s a “stock show, pro rodeo and horse extravaganza.”  We went to the final night’s show, at an indoor arena here in Billings that was packed with cowboy hat and boot-wearing cowfolk and regular folk.  Before the big Saturday night show, there were three days of stock show festivities: cattle auctions, bulls (and their semen) for sale, horses groomed for the occasion, and socials with the Senate candidates.

But Saturday night was the final event, the climax of the competition in cowboy sports.  The unashamedly elaborate opening ceremonies began with two soldiers, recently returned from Iraq, rapelling down from the rafters as a three-story American flag unfurled between them.  Then, the announcer asked us to celebrate one of those great American freedoms, the freedom of religion.  So he lead us in prayer, and sanctified us all — and the rodeo — in the name of Jesus Christ, the one true lord and savior.  I’ve never heard so much applause at the end of a prayer.

Anyway, my favorite part of the rodeo, other than the pyrotechnic-studded opening ceremonies, was the mutton busting.  In this event, little children, ages 4-6, hop on top of sheep and hang on to the fur for as long as they can.  I assume this is the training event for riding a bucking bronco or testicle-tied bull later on in life, but these kids are maniacs.  They wear helmets that resemble catchers’ masks to protect them from the inevitable fall from fleece.  As for the sheep, well…with the broncos, a couple cowboys on horses round up the wild horse and get him to calm down.  With sheep, they stick a cowboy in the middle of the arena with a sheep on a leash, and as the other sheep ditch their kids, one by one, they flock to the one in the middle of the ring.  By the end, the flock of ten can be easily led away from center stage because of the sheepish tendency to follow the herd.

Mutton-busting was certainly the highlight of the night — adorable prima donna rodeo kids in catchers’ masks falling off of sheep after three-second rides.  But we also saw bucking broncos, steer-wrestling — in which cowboys jump off horses and onto cows — calf-roping, bull-riding, and another good one, barrel racing.

Barrel racing is one of the few events that women actually ride, and, perhaps not coincidentally, it is one of the few events that actually requires skill at riding a horse at top speeds.  It’s hard to train to ride a bucking bronco; it seems to be one of those things that you just get better at by doing it over and over again and losing more and more precious brain cells.  But in barrel racing, women guide their horses around three oil barrels in tiny loops at top speeds.  This takes skill on a horse, and it doesn’t require the loss of brain cells.  Despite the mild misogyny that clung to the rodeo, these women could show the men a little something about riding a horse with speed, skill, and beauty.

We left the Nile with souvenirs of our cowboy night in hand, and tender, awkward feelings of Humane society love in our hearts as we felt alternately bad for the animals, but also for the cowboys, kids, and womend

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3 Responses to “The Nile is not just a river in Egypt”

  1. Jerri Stroud Says:

    Robin:
    I enjoyed this post. I remember going to rodeos as a kid, including the Rooftop Rodeo in Estes Park, Colorado. Can’t wait to hear about the campaign. Do you think Tester can hang on?

    I’m back at work after getting my pacemaker, but my editors don’t seem to be asking me to do much yet. I feel pretty good, but haven’t started exercising much except for a walk around the block on Monday. I have to stay out of the pool for another week, and my bandage is on until next Monday. Can’t lift my left arm over shoulder height for a month so probably won’t really start swimming until after Turkey Day.

    Take care.
    Aunt Jerri

  2. Craig P. Says:

    Penny told me of your rodeo post, as she’s aware that I’ve been to many a few in my home county (my family has 2 boxes = 12 seats for the SBCHSR – San Benito County Horse Show & Rodeo – 4th weekend in June), and once in Salinas. You’ve quickly picked up on:
    1. Jesus makes an appearance at virtually all rodeos.
    2. Barrel racing is a real skill (have a niece that is fiercely competitive in the event)
    3. Physical damage is generally shared btw the animals & the humans, though I’ve yet to see anyone shoot a cowboy w/ a broken leg. (There is always a vet & an md at rodeos, but oddly no psychiatrist to help the young to question why they consider climbing atop an angry and agitated 1500# animal fun.)

    What you may have missed
    1. Team roping, which often includes women, demands a high level of skill, as does competing in a hackamore event, a cutting event, and figure 8 roping – all of which can also include women. There are other skill events, and paradoxically it is these events that are less common at professional rodeos – more likely to be at amateur ones.
    2. Cows have udders & milk; bulls have testicles & semen; steers – they got nothing.
    3. Jumping onto cows (steers?) – that was probably called bulldogging, & as ridiculous as it looks, someone in my county died doing it 20-30 years ago. Even before, and definitely since, I’ve no understanding of why anyone would do it.
    4. Rodeo is a Spanish word, and at a few events it’s still given the Spanish pronunciation – rō’dāō. In my county, we looked down on any other pronunciation.

    Anyway, glad you were able to experience an alternate lifestyle. Shall I tell your folks to give you a subscription to Range magazine for your birthday?

  3. George H. Stroud Says:

    Reminds me of the story about the woman at a dude ranch.
    A wrangler was showing around a young woman guest, pointing out the enclosures for the mares, the geldings and the stallions.
    What’s a gelding, she asks, and the wrangler stammers and suggests she ask the foreman. So she does.
    The foreman is also shy about answering, but finally goes at it this way:
    “Well, you undertand mares and stallions. So when we want to breed a mare, we put her in a corral with a stallion.”
    “So what about the gelding?” she asks.
    “OK. When we put the stallion with the mare. we send the gelding along as a consultant.”

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