How To Carry The American Flag For Rodeo Grand Entry In 7 Easy Steps

I’m coming up on the one year mark since I carried the American flag for the Eugene Pro Rodeo. Although I’m happy to relax this fourth of July, I’m also a little nostalgic about my experience carrying the flag. What better way to take a trip down memory lane than give you some tips on carrying a flag for the rodeo? So here you go, how to carry the American flag for rodeo grand entry in seven easy steps. So easy.

1. Step one: You got invited to carry the American flag (YAY!) at your local rodeo. Now its time to FREAK OUT because being asked to carry America’s most powerful and enduring symbol is a huge honor and you’ll be riding in front of 6000 people and you cannot, under any circumstances, drop the flag. Get cold sweats. Consider backing out. Immediately shame yourself for thinking of backing out of something you desperately want to do but are scared shitless to do.

Rodeo Sun And Flag

2. Secure a horse. Can’t be just any horse. This must be the rodeo unicorn above all unicorns. Must be cool with a giant flapping monster chasing him down while he’s galloping around the arena. (Step 2a. Make sure you and your horse gallop. You’ve got to pick up speed in the song, you can’t be loping at a western pleasure pace. That flag isn’t going to stand out if you’re loping at a slow trip.) Your unicorn also must be able to cope with the clicks and pops and from the sound system, the roar of the crowd that will come at the end of the song, the thunder from their boots stomping the bleachers and the adrenaline-drenched scent pouring off the stock animals pacing in the back chutes. No big deal right? Oh yeah, your unicorn also needs to be okay if the flag wraps around his face and completely obscures his vision because the wind changed and pushed the flag forward as you made your circle. And under no circumstances can the rodeo-unicorn-horse freak out at the fireworks that go off when they sing “bombs bursting in air.”

Rodeo Flag Horse

3. You’ve been invited, you’ve decided on your flag-horse unicorn, now you and your horse need outfits. The saddle pad is the requisite flag pattern with the stars and red and white stripes. Then you need to add some festive polo wraps or splint boots. When you put the splint boots on the big day make sure you control your nervousness so you don’t hyperextend your thumb. Not that you’ll feel it in the moment, but after the adrenaline wears off and for a few weeks later every time you try to grab something you’ll marvel at the fact that you were so hyped up on adrenaline you hurt yourself and didn’t even know it. Not that I have any personal experience with this or anything. Your outfit should be something red, white, or blue. I don’t advise wearing a flag shirt while carrying the flag. Otherwise you’ll find yourself in a weird who-wore-it-better scene with an inanimate object. (Obviously the flag wore it better.) I opted for a red, sequined shirt from Hobby Horse that made my boobs look big. I figured I could distract with shiny boobs so no one would notice any flubs. “Is she on the wrong lead? I think she is. But wait, oh look at that glittery red bosom. What was I saying about the wrong lead?” Also, buy longer pants than you normally wear. You want your boots covered. You don’t want that awkward look where the pants are hiked up and revealing half your boot.

American Flag Rodeo Run

4. Tools to get the job done: A flag boot and a big ass spur. Yes, I said only one spur. I don’t care about your inside leg’s spur. It can be a ball spur if you want. But that outside spur should be something a little longer and beefier. Here’s why, it turns out when you have a ten foot flag pole resting on your stirrup and against your leg you can’t move your leg nearly as much. Now maybe your unicorn has a barrel for a ribcage and you have shorter legs so you can easily lay your heel right into his side. But if your leg is a little long, if your horse is a little slab sided, you’re going to have a harder time getting your spur into the horse’s side. What was that I was saying about the wrong lead? Yeah, that was me. I picked up the wrong lead. Let me teach you, learn from my flubs. Now maybe I didn’t ride to the best of my abilities. Or maybe there were 6000 people watching me carry a 5 ½ by 10 ½ foot flag, including my brother, a Major in the Marine Corps, and my father who is a Vietnam veteran and I was more nervous than a horse in a glue factory. Anyway, get yourself a big spur and use it on your horse before the big day so he doesn’t jump out of his skin when you lay that poky rowel on his side. Get a flag boot that is pointed at the bottom so you can snug the flag pole down into the point and get a tight grip on it. You want the flag boot to fit tight around the pole so it doesn’t move at all.

Rodeo Horse

5. It’s the BIG day! Warm up your horse. Curl your hair. Use lots of hair spray. Do your makeup. I opted for lots of makeup that said “I love being out here and I’m not scared at all.” Pin your hat to your head with more bobby pins than seems necessary or even wise. I don’t care about your headache. No one wants to be distracted by your hat flying off in the middle of the NATIONAL ANTHEM. They want to be thinking about God, their country, their military family members past and present, their love of horses and rodeo and dreams untold. They do not want to think about your silly hat flying off mid-“rocket’s red glare.” Use another pin.

I forgot to add this earlier. You know that friend you have who always says “I have an oil for that?” Get some essential oils from her for decreasing massive amounts of anxiety. Apply liberally to your wrists and neck and cleavage and pretty much your entire upper body. I don’t care how excited and confident you are. You are going to be nervous. And again, people do not care how nervous you are, they want to see you carry that flag with pride and glory and gallop around the arena. They do not want to see you choke under the pressure and hunch in your saddle because, oops, this is actually super intimidating.

Okay, so you’ve got your hair and makeup done and hippie oils on. I’m all for naturopathic solutions. But I’m also for tried and true methods of anxiety control. About an hour before, go get yourself some whiskey. I prefer Pendleton. One, maybe one and a half shots. Nothing more or you’re going to turn to jello. You can’t be jello. You have to be Clint Eastwood in Pale Rider, the hero. You are the bad ass carrying the flag. No jello. I take back the half shot, just do one shot only. I don’t want you coming back here telling me how I got you drunk before your big ride.

6. Pick your horse’s hooves. Get back on your horse. Wait at the in-gate for 45 minutes. Push away any anxiety or fear. You are Clint Eastwood. I’m sorry your spirit animal is Clint Eastwood in this scenario and not some strong female lead. I couldn’t think of one. If you do, think of her. And then tell me. Anyway, you’re Clint Eastwood. You get to carry the American Flag (What an honor!!!) don’t screw it up. I’m kidding. Kind of. Have someone pick your horse’s hooves one more time.

Rodeo Waiting At The In Gate
I have no idea how this photo was captured with almost no one else in it because there are people everywhere at the in-gate, but here it is. Right before that glorious ride. Photo credit to B. Smigelski-Young

7. Go ride that flag around. Don’t run over the person singing the national anthem. Don’t even get too close to them. Again, not that I did this and saw the singer’s eyes get big as he watched me swinging wide around the corner. I’m just saying, as a precautionary measure. Running over the guy, or gal, singing the national anthem might be as bad as dropping the flag. Don’t worry about dropping the flag, I know you won’t do that. Your hand and shoulder will be numb at the end but I know you won’t drop the flag.

8. Ooops, looks like there’s an eighth step. Go have some whiskey and breathe a sigh of relief that you carried our beautiful flag and you looked beautiful and your horse was flawless and your hat didn’t come off and you didn’t drop the flag or pick up the wrong lead or run over the singer. Congratulations! Have a happy Fourth of July!

Post Ride Hug
Hug your friend who knew you could do it the whole time and never doubted you for a second. Even when you got the cold sweats.

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All photos, except where noted, credit to Chris T. Sloan, my favorite equine photographer!


Why I Saw A Hypnotherapist, And How It Changed My Outlook

Sometimes, our desires are a little, or a lot, beyond what we believe we can do. Carrying the American flag for the rodeo is one of those dreams of mine that I struggled to believe I could actually accomplish. A little less than a month prior to the rodeo I sat in my kitchen crying to my husband about how worried I was about carrying the flag. I had worked a few times with the horse I was planning to use and felt confident in her calm demeanor, but I had little confidence in myself. The large flag was proving more difficult to manage than I realized and I’d had a couple nights of practice that didn’t instill much confidence in me. I felt sick with worry at the thought of the event and that I had less than four weeks to get myself into flag-carrying shape.

About a year ago, for reasons I cannot recall, I found a hypnotherapist in my town and had been interested in what she did. I now thought about her and wondered if she could help me, if she could put a spell on me and help me succeed in carrying the flag. The day after I cried to my husband about my worries, I called the hypnotist’s office. She asked me what I was hoping to work on. I told her. She asked me if I was physically capable of carrying the flag, I said yes. She asked me if I had been practicing with the flag, and I said that I had. She told me to keep practicing, that hypnotherapy wasn’t magic. Her blunt statement made me laugh.

I ended up meeting with her twice, each time we chatted for about a half hour before getting into the relaxation/positive visualization/hypnotherapy portion. She used the pre-chat to guide what I was looking to get out of the experience with her and what I was hoping ultimately to achieve on my own. My first session she focused intensely on me being capable, confident, proud and honored while carrying the flag. She helped me to stop my mind from going to the worry place and dumping adrenaline in my body and increasing my anxiety. She helped me to shift my focus to the place of honor, the place of confidence. It was a remarkable shift. It was a shift I can feel in my body. The worry place is in my stomach and makes me sick, the place of honor, of pride, is in my chest and feels light and joyous.

Carrying The Flag at The Rodeo
Waiting for our turn in the arena.

After my first session with her, every time I would start to get a little nervous, a little worried, start imagining all of the horrible things that could go wrong, I would just shut down those thoughts and think of the people I was really carrying the flag for: my two Marine Corps brothers and my Navy Veteran father. I would think of the absolute gratitude I felt for the chance to carry the flag. It sounds so simple, too easy really, but it worked. And I kept practicing with the flag, and my practice got better. Not just because the hypnotherapy shifted my mindset, but also because I had a wonderful trainer helping me work with the horse I would be using.

My second session with the hypnotherapist we focused again on the place of honor and gratitude, but she also asked me why I called carrying the flag an opportunity. And it made me realize that this lifelong dream, something that I had always secretly envied and loved and watched with adoration, was also something I never imagined I could do. I never even really told anyone that it was a dream of mine to carry the flag. It only came out a little at a time to a close friend, granted a close friend who regularly carried the flag. But it was she who really made me name the desire. She outright asked me if carrying the flag was something I wanted to do. I told her absolutely yes but that I was also terrified by the idea.

Rodeo Sun And Flag
About to enter the arena

Now maybe some of you are wondering what the hell is the big deal. But I get nervous showing my horse in front of about 50 people, now add about 5000 people and a giant American flag that you can’t drop under any circumstances. Add the noise of the crowd, the cannon fire in the middle of the song, the shapes of the sponsor flags around the arena, the smell of the stock animals. It’s a lot for a horse to manage. It’s a lot for a rider to navigate. And there is an emotional component to it. I have pride in my country. I come from a military family and have experienced both of my brothers being in war. The flag isn’t just a decoration taken out over a few summer holidays and shown at sports events, it means something to me. People have died fighting for what our red, white, and blue flag represents.

So during that second session with the hypnotherapist I realized that if I wanted to keep dreaming bigger and bigger dreams, if I wanted to keep striving to live just beyond my comfort zone, I would have to name my desires. I would have to believe that my ridiculous, audacious and inconceivable dreams could be possible, that they could come to fruition. I might not know exactly how, I might not know where dreaming such dreams could take me, but I have to be bold enough to put it out there. In carrying the flag I was lucky, I had a friend who pulled my dream out of me, she urged me on. But there isn’t always going to be someone who cares so much, who teases the dream out little by little and pushes me on along the way. I have to own the role I play and reach as far as I can on my own.

The second session made me feel like I had received a small kernel of enlightenment. How can you ever expect to achieve a dream you’re not willing to name? How can you ever expect to get something you’re too shy, too insecure, too whatever to ask for? In that moment, I realized that I couldn’t. I couldn’t expect to receive anything that I haven’t asked for, reached for, worked for. It’s not magic, you have to work for it.

Its Not Magic You Have To Do The Work

If you’re wondering, the hypnosis portion of our sessions was a little like being between sleep and awake. There was vivid visualization of what we discussed. It was a type of deep relaxation with an imaginative picture-story. It was a little awkward at first, but I decided I was paying to try and help myself, I might as well dive into the experience whole heartedly. So I let myself be lost in the visualization. I could remember most everything that happened during the session, I was conscious of what was going on around me. This is important because I am a cynic and did briefly wonder if the woman was going to rifle through my purse and steal my identity. But she didn’t, and even if she had, I would have come out of the relaxation and known what she was doing. After both sessions I felt as relaxed as if I had just had a massage, right down to my legs feeling wobbly.

When the day came to carry the flag, I spent the morning drinking mimosas with visiting friends. I can think of no better way to start the day. Then I got my ½ inch layer of make up on, applied a half can of hairspray to my curls and headed off to the barn. I was still nervous, quite a bit actually. But we got a practice ride in and I settled a bit. Then I sat with some other friends and had a little whiskey and coke and settled some more. Then I put on my sequin shirt, bobby-pinned my hat to my head and got on my paint horse. We stood behind the in-gate for about an hour, waiting for our turn. You might think that would cause me to be more nervous, but it had the opposite effect. I got to watch the rodeo court riding into the arena, the drill team shifting around and then running in, the sponsor flag runners do their run-ins. Little by little each of the groups entered and left the arena. Then came a memorial ride in honor of my friend’s mom and I found myself all choked up with tears in my eyes. My friend handed the enormous flag up to me, we unfurled it, and then I got really choked up. She tugged my reins to pull me toward the in-gate.

It was finally my turn. I clucked and squeezed my calves and got my horse up into a jog. We had a little bit of a rough start and we ended up going into a lope much earlier than I planned, but we loped around the arena for five minutes, with that big beautiful flag flying and one of my brothers and my father and the rest of my fan club watching. Once I got out there I was actually far less nervous than I thought I’d be because I had a job to do. I could not focus on my nerves or people or what my nervous imagination was dreaming up. I had to keep my horse going and the flag upright. And I did. And it was beautiful. I am so grateful to have had the experience.

Here’s a link to a one minute video of my great ride

I hope you believe me when I say, whatever your big dreams are, they are possible. Whatever audacious, ridiculous, bold ideas are, if you are willing to do the work, if you are willing to inch out further and further onto the ledge of possibility, they can be yours. I really, truly was not sure I could carry the flag, not because I was physically incapable, but because I was unsure if I could manage my emotions and my stress around carrying the flag. But I did, and I feel empowered by the experience. What is your big, audacious, ridiculous dream?

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Why I Saw A Hypnotherapist