As I stood up, pulled my hat on tight, and brushed the dirt off my pants and shirt, the cheering crowd seemed to wash away my bruised ego and the throbbing pain in my leg.
Growing up in Smallville, USA, we had to make our own fun. Chasing grasshoppers and pulling their legs off (hey, I was 10!…get over it!). Laying on top of train bridges as the train roared underneath us, shaking us half to death. Making forts in trees. Tubing down the river. And locking friends we really didn’t care for in our horse stalls. We were bored most of the time, and looking back, we loved every minute of it all. Life was bliss.
In the community of “good ol’ boys” where everything was, “good enough for me, so it’s good enough for my kids,” one of the fun summer activities was signing sons and daughters up for the Junior Buckaroo Rodeo.
Now let me see if I can paint the picture for you readers. A Junior Bucakroo Rodeo might sound harmless, but I’m here to attest, those eight-, nine- and ten-year old’s brave enough to participate, do in fact, ride wild bucking ponies and cow calves. All this while our parents and community members sit in the fairground stands loving every second of their children being hurled in the air or slammed into the ground, while we desperately tried holding on for dear life for the required eight seconds.
The big event’s promotion poster hung in the local feed store and I was mesmerized looking at the super-hero boy, riding a fierce bucking steed. Needless to say, Lane Frost, I am not. But as a 10 year old, this didn’t matter, and I begged my Dad to let me sign up for the year’s contest. So, my Dad signed me up and I eagerly looked forward to the rodeo.
As the big day arrived, I don’t recall much of anything other than climbing into the shoot and gently settling on the back of an old gray pony with a snarly ragged mane. I had ridden plenty of horses for years leading up to the rodeo, but little did I know what I was in for.
As I grasped the riggin,’—a handhold where the rider grasps a molded piece of leather that is cinched around the horse’s girth—I felt the rush of adrenaline wash over my body, and I called out, “I’m ready!”
With that declaration, the chute gates flew open and old gray wasted no time doing everything possible to get me off his back. Bucking left and right! Jumping! Running! Bounding forward and back! But I held on tight!
When you are on the back of a bucking animal, eight seconds really isn’t eight seconds. I’m pretty sure it is actually eight minutes. Or at least that’s what it felt like as old gray and I made the rounds around the arena.
One, o n e t h o u s a n d,
t w o ……… o n e, t h o u s a n d………….
t h r e e…
Finally, the buzzer sounded, letting me know I had ridden long enough and I could get off any time of my liking.
It was at that moment that I realized, old gray didn’t realize the buzzer had sounded and that pony was still doing everything it could to kill me. He wasn’t going to just stop and let me dismount because the buzzer sounded. I also realized that if I was bucked off—whether by my own efforts or old gray’s—I was going to take a fairly nasty tumble down to the dirt arena floor. And all of a sudden, the adrenaline that had pumped through my body vanished and fear took its place.
I was sure it would hurt…and hurt badly. So, I remained on the pony’s back. We circled the arena again and again…and again, and again. On my second pass around, I could hear the announcer holler, “You can get off now son.” And I thought, “yeah right, easy for you to say!”
Knowing I couldn’t ride all night, I had a brilliant idea. As the pony rounded the arena, there was part of the fence that the wild beast would run closely by with every passing lap. My 10-year-old wisdom told me that the next time around the arena, I should jump off the horse onto the fence. There I would hold to the panel with one hand and tip my hat to the crowd with the other…pure cowboy style! I could see in my mind’s eye how the crowd would cheer and I would win the contest. Girls would love me. Boys would want to be me. The plan was fool-proof.
By this time, old gray had stopped bucking for the most part and was satisfied to simply run as fast as he could…around and around and around the arena. As the mounted steed approached the fence line, I leapt into the air!
Old gray’s back and my butt separated from one another, like a rocket leaving the ground. I reached for the fence.
CRASH! BOOM! UGH! (You get the picture!)
As my body hit the fence, I bounced. I bounced off the fence and it shot me out into the arena 20 to 25 feet, like a racquetball hitting a wall with great velocity. I landed face first into the dirt, spilling my hat onto the ground, and filling my mouth, nose and eyes full of dirt and manure. The wild ride was finished. I was exhausted.
At first I just lay there. Almost numb from what I had just endured. Slowly, I stood up, pulled my hat on tight, and brushed the dirt off my pants and shirt. I spit dirt out of my mouth and found it hard to see through the clumps of crud on my face. But, the cheering crowd seemed to wash away the throbbing pain in my leg and softened my bruised ego a bit.
I didn’t win. I don’t think I even placed in the top five. You’d think the judges would give a guy a break!
As I limped off, I looked up and saw my Dad cheering me on. Suddenly, the tough exterior I had exhibited gave way, and the tears welled up in my eyes as the emotions of the event all came to a head. He grabbed me in an embrace as he told me how proud he was of me.
Then he asked, “Are you ready to ride a calf?”