Chatting with a buddy (Rob Jones) today, I recalled some of my crazier ideas, from an earlier life. When I was young and foolish (before I became old and foolish), I got seriously into rodeo. When I say seriously, what I really mean is, it got serious.
Coming from west Texas, I’d been raised with horses, and had spent a good bit of time in the saddle. Later, I spent a couple of years down in Sonora, riding line for one of the big ranchers down there. I’ve always been more comfortable riding than walking or driving, and I’d had to cover more than one ornery bronc that didn’t feel like puttin’ up with me. So when a couple of guys from the local rodeo club ran into me at the stables, and asked me why I wasn’t a member, all I could say was, ’cause I’m not a rodeo cowboy. They laughed, and told me that was okay, they had damned few members that were. They were trying to promote rodeo in the area, and were looking to get enough support to put on a rodeo the next year. So they wanted to know if I was a real cowboy, or if I’d just found that hat.
I was at the next meeting, and found out they were right… out of nearly fifty members, there were only six or seven that had ever even been in a rodeo, and two of them were barrel racers! Hell, there was more than that that only owned an English saddle!
Over the next few months, I went to a lot of local buckouts with those guys, and let ’em talk me into trying bull riding. The cost wasn’t too bad… a rope and bell cost me under $50, and a set of second-hand spurs for $10, and I was well on my way to eating my first taste of arena mud.
I was hooked on it the first time, and spent all weekend, every week, practicing limping out of the arena, ’til I got to the point that I could at least cover all but the rankest animals they had at the buckouts. Of course, local buckout critters are a tad different from pro stock. Most of ’em are bored with the whole thing, and have figured out just how little they really have to do, to keep from getting nailed in the butt with a hot-shot. And a head-hunter (a bull that’ll try to stomp a mudhole in your chest, or mount your head on one of his horns) normally doesn’t last long… it’s bad for business. Besides, a decent bull will get sold to a stock contractor, to turn out in a real rodeo, if he’s got any real spirit.
In a few months, I was feelin’ pretty cocky, having gotten good enough to rarely get my hat dirty, so when the big 4th of July Rodeo came up in National City, I signed up for the Friday show. Saturday and Sunday were pro only, but it was wide open for anyone with a screw loose, on Fridays. $55, and a couple of signed waivers later, and my name was in the hat for the draw!
The bull I drew was called Pussycat. If you know anything about cowboys, and stock contractors in particular, you’ll understand why that name wasn’t reassuring to me. I decided to take a look at ole Pussycat.
The atmosphere behind the chutes is a lot different from what most spectators might expect. There’s an air of tension that’s almost tangible, throughout the show. Bullriders, broncbusters and clowns are all crowding past each other, helping someone tighten his spurs, wrap a knee or giving advice, mostly unsolicited. As your bull comes up in the feed chute, you climb up and look him over, and maybe ask someone if they’re ever drawn him, and what’s his style. Some bulls will just buck. Some will spin. The really tricky ones will suddenly reverse their spin, to try to throw you off balance (more than one have rid themselves of my weight, that way). Some are headhunters, and some will just walk away calmly, after you either jump, or fly, off their back. A few will have learned that the fastest way to get rid of that annoying 200 lb pest on their back, is to scrape past the gate post on the way out of the chute.
The cowboy, on the other hand, doesn’t have a lot of options available to him.
- #1 – stay on for the full eight seconds, all the while keeping his free hand above shoulder level.
- #2 – put on a good show, making it look both impossible, and easy, at the same time. Only points bring home the money!
- #3 – regardless of how well #1 and #2 work out, try to get out of the arena with all the body parts he had when he came in. Dignity is desirable, but will often be cheerfully forfeited in favor of body parts.
The bull can be counted upon to help make it look impossible. Everything else is up to the bullrider.
I climbed up on the chutes, to take a look at Pussycat. He promptly mashed my foot between the fence rail and his horn. I heard a couple of snickers from the other riders around me, and I’m sure at least one from ole Pussycat.
“Anybody here ever drawn Pussycat before?” I asked.
“Sure! He’s a piece o’ cake,” said one of the stock hands tending the chutes. “Clockwise spin like a helicopter, but no change-up. When the buzzer sounds, he’ll stop cold. Your baby sister could ride him!”
His partner chuckled, but didn’t say anything. That was a bad sign!
About that time, a clown got plowed under, and the ambulance pulled into the arena. We all got to take a break, while they tried to make sure they got all the pieces of him onto the stretcher.