My First and Last Rodeo
By Lauren Wong
For this year’s Fourth of July, I did something I’d never done before, attend a rodeo. Not just any rodeo, but the World’s Oldest Rodeo that’s been running since 1888. This year marked the 135th annual show thrown by Prescott Frontier Days, Inc.
I honestly had no idea what to expect, all I think of in terms of rodeos and the wild west is bull riding. From the second we arrived, I already felt out of place. You’d think we just walked into a crowded room during the outset of covid, the only ones without a mask. I don’t know if it was because none of us were sporting cowboy boots or a cowboy hat, but immediately it was like everyone decided we didn’t belong.
I kid you not, we were standing among all the other “standing room” ticket holders and would be told to move an inch to one side or the other.
The first event I saw was steer-wrestling. This is when someone on a horse has to jump off, and wrestle the steer to the ground. It’s a race against time.
Seconds into the first event, one of my friends is already tearing up. A steer is a young, neutered, male cattle, and we’re watching as these men jump off their horses to grab their horns and yank their neck to the ground. The second the animal is pinned down the crowd goes wild, and on the off chance it escapes and outruns the attack, the crowd is ‘awwing’ in disappointment.
I know, as an outsider, I can’t fully comprehend the tradition and history of what makes rodeos special to these people, but for me, it was hard to watch. To me it was just helpless, abused animals, not knowing what to do besides run for their lives in order for these competitors to show their strength and ‘grit.’
I only stayed for the first three events. After the steer-wrestling came the bareback riding. The rider must stay on the horse for at least eight seconds without a saddle. The second the horse is let out of the gate it’s continually trying to buck the rider off.
I’ve never seen a horse run in such a way that it was practically leaping and throwing its legs every which way to knock off the rider. Were they trained to do this? I googled it. The answer is no. In an article shared by PETA, the reason the horses are desperately trying to buck the rider off of them is because a flank/bucking strap or rope is tightly secured around their abdomens. Basically they’re in pain, and trying to escape it.
The last event I saw was the tie-down roping. I only watched the first rider before knowing I had hit my limit and had to leave. I’ll leave it to Prescott’s, World’s Oldest Rodeo, website to describe the event. “The goal of this timed event is for the rider to catch the calf by throwing a loop from a rope around its neck, dismount from the horse, run to the calf, and restrain it by tying three legs together, in as short a time as possible.”
On this day of our celebration of freedom, I left the rodeo with a heavy heart. We’re free, but these animals are trapped and used solely for our entertainment. Again, I know I don’t understand the significance rodeos have on these people, but I’ll never be back to one again.
Traditions are so important to our society and should be a reason for celebration, but I wish there was a way that could happen without harming helpless animals. As I started doing more research I wasn’t surprised to read that many animals in these rodeos suffer fatal injuries. These range from broken backs, ribs, and necks, to heart attacks, aneurysms, etc.
I recognize the toughness and courage these riders illustrate, but there’s so many different ways of showing that that doesn’t need to involve using animals as props. California, Rhode Island, and Nevada are a few of the states that have begun passing laws to ban or regulate what goes on during these events. For example, forbidding the use of some tools, such as electric prods, that scare the animal into ‘performing.’
Prescott’s Fourth of July Rodeo celebration includes more than just the rider’s events. There’s a parade, live music, games, food trucks, etc.
Everyone has their own passions and interests, but this experience was my first and only time I will ever be in the stands at a rodeo.