Summertime in the Southwest is rodeo time. We’ve got 4-H rodeos, high school and junior rodeos, high class amateur shows, punkin rollins, ranch rodeos and, of course, professional productions.
In the old days we had several especially fun amateur rodeos — the kind where you can pay your entry fee and get your number half an hour before the event. Usually, the events included horse races. We had relays, pony express and even some matched races. The race track circled the arena. There were no starting gates, of course, so the horseback “starter” rode inside the arena alongside us and shot a pistol into the air when we were semi-lined up. The finish line was in front of the grandstand, so everyone could easily see who won.
At those rodeos the action starts in early morning, everything stops at noon for “dinner on the ground,” and then it all takes off again for the rest of the day.
Contestants don’t pay admission, so once I got my number pinned onto my shirt, I could drive outside the grounds, pulling my horse trailer. My non-contestant friends hid inside the trailer, and we drove back inside, parking far away from the gate. It worked great.
At many punkin rollin rodeos, spectators can sit on the fence to watch the action. One time our friend Johnny found himself a good spot and got semi-comfortable by hooking his boot toes under the rail below.
All went well until the bull riding. One big, snorty Brahmer with really long horns dumped his rider in the dirt and then proceeded down the fence, hooking at everything on it. People bailed off like a string of ants on a hot wire. All except Johnny. He fell backward, toes still hooked under the rail, and broke a leg. To this day we greet him with, “Got bucked off any fences lately, Johnny?”
The 4-H rodeo contestants are the most unpredictable. One year at a 4-H rodeo, a little boy maybe 11 years old showed up to ride his steer. He had his loose rope — cowbell attached — slung over his shoulder and was wearing the full regalia — big hat, split-top boots with fancy spurs, a glove on one hand. His best buddy came along, too, saying he was there to “set him down.”
The breakaway roping was going on at the other end of the arena, and the steer this boy drew was already in the chute. The arena director pointed the youngster to the correct one. The little cowboy climbed onto the gate and looked inside. His steer was fairly ordinary except he had extra long horns, and was doing a lot of stomping and snorting.
The boy looked down at that steer, looked behind him at the arena and without a word got down off the gate and headed outside.
When the arena director asked, “What’s the matter, son?” he didn’t answer. Didn’t look back. Just kept on walking.
His buddy, following along, turned to the director, shrugged and said, “He don’t want him.”