Eugene Pro Rodeo American Flag

Meet Me At The Rodeo: How Rodeo Defined The Stages of My Life

I tried and tried to pull a post onto the page that was horse-oriented and funny and informative. And while I did get some words down, it was missing heart. So instead, I felt compelled to share with you a little event that is very dear to my heart: my town’s pro rodeo.

I have been going to this rodeo since I was 11 years old. I went there as a 4H-er and participated in the calf scramble. In the calf scramble, they let about 50 4H kids loose in the arena with 20 calves. The kids have 3 minutes to corral a calf and coax/pull/push it into the middle of a chalked circle. If you are one of the kids that wrangled a calf into the circle, then you received a free steer to use in the 4H fair and sell at auction. As a consolation prize for not getting a calf into the circle, kids would receive a $100 gift certificate to use at the local western clothing store.

Now, I had lambs in 4H and had absolutely zero interest in competing with a steer, but damn if I didn’t want a new pair of lace up Justin boots and being the youngest of 5 kids they were not going to just drop in my lap. So I went out there and ran my ass off with gusto “trying” to drag a calf into the middle of that chalked circle. But, wouldn’t you know it, I just couldn’t quite get one of those slippery buggers into the circle, so I got my consolation prize. Three years in a row the Eugene Pro Rodeo supplied my growing feet with new Justins. I apologize if this seems shady for a tween, but I think we can all agree a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do for new boots.

Justin Boots & 4H Lamb
Oh yes, the picture of style with my black velvet pants tucked INTO my lace up Justin boots.

Even after I left 4H, I still made it to the rodeo every year through high school and into my early twenties. I am a people watcher, and there is never a shortage of things to feast your eyes upon at a rodeo. Obviously there are plenty of cowboys, and the queens with their blinding-white smiles, red lips and fast wave. And then there’s the ever-present pick-up men in the arena, who make riding next to a bucking bronc look easy, hauling cowboys off those bucking broncs is just part of the job. I’d like to meet those men up close, I bet they have some damn good stories to tell.

There are all walks of life who attend rodeos, from families, to old timers reliving their glory days to lots of single twenty-somethings. For many years I was in the twenty-something category, although I never sported the American flag bikini top and cut-off shorts outfit that I spied on a girl one year. The saying that less is more (as in, less skin showing) is true. There’s even a term for the young women pining for the competitors’ attention: buckle bunnies. I was never a buckle bunny, more of the desperate-to-be-a-cowgirl genre (see my move to an Arizona guest ranch). At one of the rodeos in those years I even participated in an amateur bull riding competition, I paid $50 bucks to ride a young steer for, oh, about 3 seconds before he writhed and kicked and got me off his back. Eight seconds is a long time to stay on when you’re an unwelcome passenger.

By chance, I ended up meeting the daughter of this rodeo enterprise through work and began volunteering with her at Tough Enough To Wear Pink events. My coworker became a very dear friend and I became even more connected to the rodeo. I watched her for several years, years when we didn’t even know each other yet, carry the American flag around the arena during the national anthem. If ever there’s a time to get choked up at a rodeo, it’s during the national anthem. There were years after 9/11 that the dedication leading up to the anthem would bring you to tears. The fact that my brother was serving in the Marine Corp at the same time, only made the dedications more profound.

My dear friend, who has been carrying that large American Flag (largest in the area I’m told) for years, has recently passed the torch. The job has become too much to manage while juggling toddler twins. This year she invited me to carry that red white and blue flag on one of the nights. With much trepidation, I said yes. I’m thrilled, honored, excited and terrified. I am now 33 years old, I’ve been going to the rodeo for 22 years, only missing a few years when I was working in Alaska, or chasing other adventures. This year marks the 25th anniversary of this Rodeo, this hallmark of my childhood, my teen years, and my connection to horses through years when there was no room or money for them. I am truly blessed to have been given this extraordinary opportunity. Now please, let’s all join our hands in prayer that I’m not  going to be the woman who drops Old Glory during the 25th anniversary rodeo. Amen.

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If you have any interest in volunteering as part of the rodeo, they always appreciate the help, you can contact the Oregon Horse Center.

rodeo kids, future rodeo stars
I love these little cowboys, their eyes never left the arena.

*Feature image courtesy of Kristi Defoe Stewart of Stewart Performance Horses

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Theresa Rice

Writing a modern day western and telling my daily stories of humor, sadness or inspiration. Depending on the day, it might be all three.

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