Rodeo skills a mixed bag

When news of the rodeo first came to Nakusp, several different reactions cropped up from bewilderment to mild excitement to abhorrence.

Rodeos are new to Nakusp, but are a longstanding tradition at the Interior Provincial Exhibition (I.P.E.) in Armstrong, B.C. where I grew up. We would go to the rodeo and watch the cowboys wrangle horses, cows, and bulls as a matter of course.

When news of the rodeo first came into town, several different reactions cropped up from bewilderment to mild excitement to abhorrence. Not a few of these reactions came from my friends.

Now, I spent some time as a little kid on a cattle ranch where the two largest challenges I faced outside of learning how to spell were crossing the cattle guard to and from school and learning how to face down a stray cow.

Not having the skills or the physical stature of your average cowboy, my seven-year-old self quickly found out that cows are quickly cowed, even by a small human girl. It wasn’t an instantaneous discovery.

The very first time I found myself staring into the face of a large bovine roadblock between me and my step dad on the tractor, I froze with no idea what to do. We both, the cow and I, were transfixed and couldn’t move a muscle. Very quietly, I said “boo,” and the cow twitched sideways slightly, taking my puny form in with her giant eye. Emboldened, I said it louder: “boo!” This time, she took a step back, keeping her eye on me all the time.

I’d figured it out. Like a magic word, I was released, and shouted “BOO!” stepping toward the not-so-intimidating creature and waved my arms. That was enough for the poor beast, and she was off, turning and running toward the safety of the pen.

Not quite the same as roping or wrestling, but it served me well as a kid.

Watching the cowboys rope and wrestle at rodeos, I’m always impressed with the athleticism, timing and skill required of both riders and horses. The cows get their kicks in, too, so it’s not a safe or easy activity.

Roping, tying, wrestling: these are all abilities a good cowboy who works with livestock wants to be able to master. It can mean the difference between a few seconds chasing down an errant cow, or much much longer. When you’ve got a ranch full of livestock, spending 20 minutes running after each one can eat up all of your day. Better to learn how to do it quickly and efficiently.

I’ve also seen serious injuries and deaths at rodeos. I can’t watch the bronc or bull riding for too long. It’s brutal, for both the cowboys and their animals.

Like other rodeo skills, it does have its roots in ranch and farming needs, breaking domesticated animals to ride and pull a plough, but I can’t watch it. I’ll stick to team roping.