Their faces are taut, concentrated, and often a little pale.
No, not the little old ladies on the pew at church, clutching their purses for dear life. I’m talking about the bronc and bull riders at the Snake River Stampede.
Our announcer-on-horseback, Boyd Polhamus, occasionally interviews the riders right after their eight seconds or less. The great part about that is that although breathless, you can hear the adrenaline rush in the cowboys’ voices.
Watch a bronc jump straight up in the air like Tigger the Tiger-but with a lot more attitude-and you’ll think breathless. On patriot night clear from the other side of the arena we could see the gates rattling with an antsy, agitated bronc that was just busting to be set loose. Steven Dent was declared at one point as ‘the new sherrif in town’, with a ride scoring an 82. From the stands, the ride looked unbelievably intense, with the cowboy’s legs looking like wet noodles flopping around.
As bullfighting clown Justin Rumford did a run past the seats by the dirt, he high-fived everyone. A grandfather picks up his young grandson, holding him just high enough over the fence to get a high-five, too, putting his little one before himself, as grandparents are prone to do.
Looking around at the audience that evening, I kept hearing the phrase, “I see tough people,” in my head. It was military night, and tough doesn’t even begin to cover what they or their families do. Like the cowboy mentality, our military gets the job done, no matter what, and they don’t let anybody or anything stand in their way. They’re our human barrier and buffers, maintaining our freedoms, and we’d do well to never forget that. The writer in me knew that I was sitting amongst a sea of heroic stories of how individuals and families ‘cowboy up’, for our benefit. I wished I known them all. Our announcer reminded us at the beginning of the program (which always includes the presentation of the flag, and the singing of the National Anthem, and a prayer) that our freedom to pray openly and wherever we choose is initiated by the Constitution, and preserved by our military.
Because of the kind of country we lived in, we got to enjoy a rodeo where the only harm we were worried about at the present was what might come to a cowboy or cowgirl during an event. With bull’s names like Insaniac, Dirty Deeds, Pure Poison, Squeeze Play and Forensic Files, we had reason for concern. When one cowboy limped off after a bull ride, it was pretty clear that a limb or two was going to need some ice.
How can you give a kid a name like ‘Rusty’ and not expect him to rodeo? I got a kick out of going down the program each night, searching out great cowboy names. I found D.J., Guy, J.W., Sunshine, Guytin, Dalton, Wace, Mac, Chase, Cody, R.C., Zack, Cooper, Gabe, Kollin, Jhett, Tate, K.C., Jacobs, Cade, Tyrel, Cort, Merritt, Sterling, Tyrell, Spud, Clayton, Riley, Dallee, and one of my all-time favorite cowboy names, ‘Buster Barton’.
We continued to get mini-bios on the riders, whenever there was a second or two to squeeze it in.
‘Heath Ford writes gospel music songs,’ we were told.
A clever steer went running out of the chute and stopped short, letting the steer wrestler on his horse run right on past. Tricky little devil.
Justin Rumford was and Boyd Polhamus were at it again.
“How many people here are teenagers?” Justin called out cheerfully. A big cheer came from the stands.
“Pull yer pants up, for Heaven’s sake!” said Boyd Polhamus, as the older set laughed in agreement.
Polhamus’ chaps were a sight to behold. I remembered last year I’d blurted out, “Those are colorful pants,” to past rodeo queen Courtney Crowe, who laughed, “Those are chaps.” I’m learning. This year, the announcers ‘chaps’ were fringed with shimmering silver. Fancy Chaps…vs. Fancy Pants.
When a saddle bronc dropped to the ground in an effort to throw its rider, even though a very intentional, calculated movement on the bronc’s part, it still meant a re-ride opportunity for the cowboy. This was reminiscent of a two year old taking issue with something.
“He threw a fit!” Polhamus said, summing it up perfectly.
Halfway through the rodeo, I left my seat near the front and joined a friend and her family that were seated in the upper level.
“Where are you?” I texted to her on my phone, “At the Boise Office Equipment sign, under the horse’s backside,” she answered. Where else but at a rodeo might we be able to have such an exchange?
Since my friend was originally from out of the country, she had a few questions about the rodeo. Flashback to 2010, when I knew next to nothing. Back then, I was doing all of the asking, and my new-found rodeo friends were doing a lot of the educating. (Luckily they were patient with me). There I sat, explaining that to be born a rodeo animal was a good deal, they only really ‘worked’ for minutes per week, and were very well-treated. I told her about how it’s their nature to buck and kick, what they liked to do, and related that to any free-spirited child. (We all know one… and I am one!)
I hadn’t realized just how much I’d learned over the past couple of years from others, a bit of reading, and from a lot of observation. What an opportunity for a mind-opening experience, and I’m so glad I took the Stampede up on the blogging position they offered in the Press Tribune once upon a time. I have a lot of rodeo heroes, a favorite bucking horse (Bottle Rocket, because he’s simply an incredible animal), an event I love to watch the most (steer wrestling), and event that makes my heart stop and turns me into my worrisome German mother (bull riding), and good rodeo friends to continue to glean information from. The rodeo friends were the link between my city world and their country world, being willing to stand between both and provide a buffer where it was safe to learn and explore.
We were surrounded by people who provided a buffer on Patriot night at the Stampede, keeping us safe, protected, and allowing us to become whoever we want to be without boundaries or restrictions. We should all thank God for our Military.
I hope they and their families had a wonderful night out at the rodeo.