My First Rodeo

by wjw on September 7, 2008

It had occurred to me a few years ago that while I had lived in the southwest for many years now, I’d never been to a rodeo. Since rodeo is a backbone of the culture, particularly here in rural New Mexico where I live (I see kids practicing for rodeo events all the time), it was clearly time to remedy this lack.

So off we went off to the Socorro County Fair, along with our friends Michael and Kristy, their young daughter and their newborn infant. Just to take in that family-friendly rodeo vibe.

There were bleachers, but lots of folks just backed their pickup trucks up to the ring in order to watch the activities from the truck bed. I’d guess the crowd never exceeded 200. Our local science fiction convention easily draws twice that many.

We arrived a little early, so we got to see the crownings of the Rodeo Queen, the Rodeo Princess, and the Rodeo Sweetheart (categories divided by age groups). There were also minor awards in each category: Miss Congeniality, Miss Personality, Best Horsewoman, and various other categories that now escape me. Many of the awards went to the same people, who ended up covered with ribbons.

There were only two entrants for Rodeo Queen. One was a young perky slim blonde, and the other wasn’t, being older, tall, less conventionally pretty, and with a substantial girth.

Naturally I was hoping the latter would win. Naturally I was disappointed. (She did get “best horsewoman,” though.)

(I remember watching the parade in the town of Madgalena some years ago, a Frontier Days sort of festival, where the Rodeo Queen was a big old lady in a poke bonnet and mother hubbard, who drove her own buckboard. Someone, in other words, who actually looked as if she’d lived on the frontier.)

After each crowning, the Sweethearts, Princesses, etc., would mount their horses, wait for an introduction, and then ride around the ring at full gallop while firing two-finger salutes at the crowd. (Were they all Boy Scouts? I wondered.)

Then the rodeo began. It began with all the Sweethearts, Princesses, etc., being introduced again, and riding again around the ring, with two-fingered salutes etc.

Then they all lined up facing the bleachers while a couple young men rode the flag around the arena. And we all were told to sit down, because there was going to be a piece of music with a moving message.

I knew we were in trouble when I began to hear a chant about our Evangelical Founding Fathers, who in the Declaration of Independence charged the British with no less than 87 (I think it was 87) violations of the Ten Commandments. We then proceeded to other burning issues of the day, hearing about “the holocaust of 5000 children murdered every day in America,” and how schools needed to pass out “Bibles, not condoms.”

The song just went on and on.

I believe the song was titled “What America Needs is Jesus,” but a Google search has failed to turn up something with that name.

Michael and I stared at each other, appalled. How much public money, I wondered, was going into paying for us to hear this sermon on abortion?

Afterwards the audience was asked to stand up and pray. We remained rooted firmly in our seats. I am not going to pray with these assholes, I believe I said to myself, or perhaps aloud.

We were alone in this protest.

The prayer went on for some time, basically building a spiritual wall around the arena so that Satan might not enter. (Lord knows cowboys can get up to enough mischief on their own.)

After that we got the “Star-Spangled Banner,” for which I did stand, thank you.

The rodeo itself, once it got going, was right good fun. I had the feeling that the real elite cowboys do not attend the Socorro County Fair, which would account for all the steer wrestlers who jumped off their horses only to miss the steers completely, for the bronc and bull riders who got thrown in the first couple seconds, and for the calf and breakaway ropers who missed their targets.

This did not much matter to me. It was fun even when they missed.

The ghastly sermon-song did cast a pall over the evening, though. It was like a message from an alternate America where people like me are stoned to death for denying that George Washington was an Evangelical.

And, from what I can see, the cowboys and girls could have benefitted from less praying, and more roping practice.

mindseas September 7, 2008 at 11:00 am

I don’t recall there beings any sermons at the San Louis Obispo County Fair in CA, which I attended as a teen, but times may well have changed since then.

Thanks to your account, I’m reassured that my description of religiosity in my fictional American Separatist Mars colony isn’t really over the top.


halojones-fan September 7, 2008 at 2:00 pm

How many of the crowd were actually into it, though? “Go along to get along” is no idle phrase.

Every time I’m at an event where the speaker starts ranting about anything–Global Warming, Net Neutrality, God, whatever–I always imagine that most of the crowd is like the dog in that one Far Side comic. The one where the owner is saying “Now listen, Ginger, you can’t be knocking over the trash cans like that, Ginger, it’s a very bad thing to do” and the dog hears “fuh fuh Ginger fuh fuh fuh fuh fuh Ginger fuh fuh”.


“She did get ‘best horsewoman,’ though.”

Perhaps a bit of cruel ironic prize.

Alice September 7, 2008 at 2:04 pm

I think the song may have been ‘America Again’

Brian Borchers September 7, 2008 at 4:05 pm

I was at the rodeo on Friday night. I’ve been living in Socorro for 15 years now, so I remember what the fair used to be like. I was really struck by how the fair (and the whole ranching culture) has declined over the years.

The numbers of people attending the fair and rodeo and the number of contestants in the queen contest are all way down from past years. The level of horsemanship among the queen contestants was poor- ranch kids these days just aren’t learning to ride. The rodeo itself wasn’t any better- there was only one successful bull rider (11 out of 12 got bucked off.)

It’s sad but endlessly fascinating for me to watch the generational change- the kids all want to escape into the mainstream culture, while the adults are desperately trying to keep their old ranching culture alive. It should come as no surprise that relgious extremists thrive under these circumstances.

dubjay September 7, 2008 at 7:20 pm

Alice was right about the song lyrics. And I was wrong about George III’s violations of the Commandments— there were only 27! Hardly worth rebelling at all.

Here are the lovely, sweet-natured lyrics. Bear in mind that they’re a lot more threatening coming out of loudspeakers.

Ralf the Dog September 9, 2008 at 3:35 pm

I think of these kinds of people as comic relief. If you ever need to deal with these people again, here are some hints.

As you are new to rodeo, you have a question. The winner of a rodeo beauty pageant is called a rodeo queen. What do you call the winner of the pageant at a drag race?

You have seen the movie Broke Back Mountain. While you don’t swing that way, you respect their lifestyle choice. (Then run!)

Ask if the beauty pageant winners will be doing table dances after the show. This last one is a bit rude. Only use it if someone tries to shove a republican voter registration in your face.

Ralf the Dog September 9, 2008 at 3:44 pm

Sorry for the double post. I had to say I was quite impressed with the lyrics of the song.

I have never seen anyone pack that many words into one peace of music before. It did seem a little unstructured. I did not see any rhythm to the lyrics. Honestly, I think the song might have come off better if it was one long run on sentence.

micheleleesbooklove September 13, 2008 at 11:09 pm

Jeez, the only praying I’ve seen at rodeos is a quick one before it all asking for the safety of the animals and participants.

Yama September 18, 2008 at 3:50 am

Did they name themselves after someone from Irish mythology?

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