My bucket list is long and varied but right up there was to go to a real, live rodeo. One that wasn’t for tourists but for locals, for professionals. When I found out that we’d be in Santa Fe for the 64th annual rodeo, I was as excited as I’ve been since I heard that Leonard Cohen was coming out of retirement and that I’d gotten tickets to see him in Amsterdam. And that was a few years ago.
It was like being on the set of a western movie with everyone but me in costume. Hats and boots, jeans and piped shirts were the order of the day. I had to remind myself that it was all real. Very real. And that these lads really were cowboys.
This was the final night. Riders had been competing since Wednesday and this was when the best of the best strutted their stuff and went against the clock or the bull or whatever. I hadn’t a clue what was going on. Rodeos are about more than simply staying in the saddle – but more than that I can’t say. What I can say though, is that they’re very patriotic. Very American. At least this one was.
When the American Flag was led out for the opening ceremony and all serving or retired service men and women were asked to stand so that the crowd could show their appreciation, I was a little taken aback. When the MC spoke of how Vietnam Veterans did not get the welcome home they should have received, I was surprised. And when every single man in the fairground doffed his hat and sat/stood in silence at the National Anthem, I was moved to tears.
America gets a bad rap. Were it a person, it would be larger than life, loud, brash, and walk with a swagger. Yet I’m increasingly inclined to believe that what the world mistakes for arrogance is actually national pride, a pride in country that should be mimicked rather than maligned. Okay – maybe the heat was getting to me. That and the heightened levels of testosterone. Whatever. I was in my element.
From the outset, at the Mutton Bustin‘ where kids (boys and girls) start their rodeo careers by riding sheep – bareback, I was enthralled. And from there, it only got better.
The people watching was excellent. And the eavesdropping even better. It was like something you’d see in the movies. First date at the funfair. Awkward silence. Nervous laughter. This was America at its best. Clean. Wholesome. All about family. It seemed that rodeo’ing (is that even a word?) is a sport that spans generations and knows no gender. Women and men rode equally well. Defeat was taken on the chin. If you fell or didn’t land that steer, you simply got up, dusted yourself off, and walked tall to the applause from the crowd who seemed to value the effort more than the outcome.
Texting and using a mobile is nothing out of the ordinary at all. But somehow, in my parcelled mind, cowboys didn’t text. And I have to fess up to being a tad disappointed to see technology rear its ugly head and shatter my rather idyllic illusion. Admittedly, and again in my parcelled mind, cowboys didn’t talk much either – most of my heroes are the tactiturn type – so I was a little disappointed to see that these lads had succumbed to social media.
I read Pam Houston’s Cowboys are my weakness when I was living in California. And that wasn’t today or yesterday. Every time I moved since, I have packed that book with me. I’m not so naive as to believe that today’s twenty-first-century cowboys are of the same ilk as those who roamed the range one hundred years ago, or even fifty. People change. Society changes. But yet, on a hot Saturday evening in Santa Fe, I succumbed once more and lost my heart to a cowboy…or three.