Let me be honest: I moved to the USA hoping for cowboys and ranches and little white painted churches with wooden pews and brunches of biscuits and gravy. I came hoping my one experience of Southern life – from the best vacation I ever had way back when I stayed on a ranch and rode miles each day and picnicked by the river and ate dinner under the stars by a chuck wagon – would prove true. So far, I have had my fair share of disappointments to that end. I ended up in a city without many cowboys, did not find the country church with the brunch that I hoped for, and nor did I find that my Southern life allows me endless days of riding the trail. I don’t have time for much of anything other than work and sleep, as it turns out.
But along the way I have had some wonderful moments where the Southern idyll I so longed for and dreamed of actually did prove true, if only for a moment or so. Last weekend, in the mountains. And last night, at the rodeo.
Another honest fact: being a teacher here is knackering. I mean, really: by the time Friday evening comes around I am so exhausted that if anyone asks about my weekend plans, all I can reply with is ‘Sleep’. Yesterday, when 6:00pm rolled by and it was time to leave for the rodeo, I was so tired there was a part of me that could just have easily gone right to bed. But I didn’t. I went to the rodeo. And it was the best night of my American experience so far.
First, the smell. Dirt, sweat, beer, leather: a smell like no other. And the smell was just for starters. I had a front row seat, which as well as giving me a great view of all the action, meant I left covered in horse hair and dirt kicked up by the bulls and bucking broncos and falling cowboys.
The event itself was so authentically American that I was smiling from beginning to end. From the moment the host – what do you call the presenter of a rodeo anyway?! – got down on his knees in the dirt to pray for God’s protection on all the competitors, to the view of an arena full of people standing to attention with hands on hearts in identical poses while ‘…the home of the brave’ was belted out, it was every second the dream of an aspiring cowgirl like me. Then, came the cowboys. Stood in a row with the dirt aflame at their feet, holding onto bucking broncos with a bizarrely graceful movement, or pounding the dirt with their fist while the clock read 3:045 in glaring, mocking red numbers: they were perfect. They could only have been more perfect if one of them had landed on my lap instead of in the dirt 😉
I thought I knew about rodeos before I went, but now I realize that I knew very little. It was an education. Mutton busting anyone? Why not stick a small child on a sheep and let them ride it like a bull until they fall off! Bull jumping? Insane. No really, the man must have a death wish – he waits until the bull is heading straight for him and then somersaults over him. Like I said: insane. And then there’s barrel racing. Who would have though watching a horse run around three barrels could be so amazing. But it is, I promise you.
But that clock… Eight seconds. Eight seconds is nothing, really. But at the rodeo, it’s everything. And it was exactly what I needed: eight seconds to forget everything else and just enjoy the ride. Eight seconds, then eight seconds more, then eight seconds more; a whole night to forget and breathe and enjoy the dream.
I started with honesty and so I’ll end with it. The final moments in the arena last night were all about the horses. Free and absolutely beautiful, they ran around the ring, unsaddled and gleaming in the spotlight. Maybe the rodeo is about the cowboys. Maybe it’s about the horses first. For me, though, the rodeo was about a lot more. Watching those horses run unbridled, I can honest say I had tears in my eyes, because for just eight seconds a little part of my dream actually came true. How many people can say that?