Until about the age of ten, the rodeos I attended included a gap in the action where mom would take little bro and I out to the midway for an hour while dad stayed behind to watch the Bull riding. Observing bucking Brahma bulls and the attached mayhem was deemed “too intense” for those still young and innocent.
This week, despite a natural disaster of epic proportions, the world’s greatest outdoor show, Canada’s Calgary Stampede, launched it’s 101st edition – subtitled “Come Hell or High Water”. Get your T-shirt and free song download here.
This year’s Stampede features all the essential thrills of rodeo: bucking broncos, calf-roping, bull-dogging, barrel riding and the chaotic excitement that is Chuckwagon racing.
But at its heart is the single most dangerous event ever devised to test both man and beast, one requiring not only a powerful, unpredictable animal and a courageous Bull Rider but a small coterie of men willing to risk their own lives to save his.
Back when I was being parked on kiddie rides to protect my youthful sensibilities, the men protecting the cowboys were called Rodeo Clowns. Today the term is more accurate –- Bull Fighters.
When a Rider is bucked off or gets into trouble (in Rodeo parlance “wrecks”) his opponent (the Bull) doesn’t accept that he’s won. His instinct tells him to continue to destroy everything around him that’s still moving.
The bizarre reality of Bull Riding is that a cowboy is far safer on the back of that half ton of angry hamburger than he is on the ground. And thus, going against every sane human emotion and instinct, when a rider goes airborne, Rodeo Bull Fighters run toward impending disaster instead of getting out of its way.
There may be some whose personal sensibilities will be tried by this week’s video selection. But it exemplifies some of the best of what we are, a tradition of courage and self-sacrifice that, like the Calgary Stampede, needs to be carried on.
It’s the same human instinct that put Calgary enough back on its feet to allow this year’s Stampede to proceed.
For those for whom this small taste isn’t enough, the Stampede streams live daily here.
Come Hell, high water, or whatever life suddenly throws at you, it’s comforting to know that there are still people out there willing to step up when it all goes sideways.
The guys in the white hats. Cowboys.
Enjoy Your Sunday.