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