UNION BRIDGE, MD – When I first stepped foot on the J. Bar W. Ranch the smell of manure baking in the hot sun was overwhelming. There was an empty metal fenced-in ring being prepared by some of the shabbiest, dirty cowboy redneck types which gave me visions of Mad Max Beyond Thunder dome. I expected by the end of the night I would hear people chanting “two men enter, one man leave.” The opponent in this ring, however, was not Master Blaster, but a 2,000-pound raging bull.
I stopped and asked myself: “What do people come here to see?” I had an even brighter idea. I would ask the people attending what they came to see.
“I come to the rodeo because it’s a family event and we bring our three kids to watch the bulls,” said Patricia Moore, a rodeo-goer.
Moore went on to discuss the family atmosphere at the rodeo. Everyone is there to enjoy each other’s company and the events taking place. There are few places where, no matter where you are from, you can show up and be welcomed immediately. The cowboy culture is a helpful and honest one.
I quickly learned the multiple events held at the rodeo, apart from the well-known bull riding competition. Patrons come for all sorts of events such as barrel racing, an event which I assumed was a cowboy version of the Most Extreme Elimination Challenge. I imagined a dopey crowd member attempting to run on a barrel, racing his bud light-sodden friend.
Another event was Mutton Busting, which I cannot tastefully explain what I thought that consisted of, and another still was Bull Hockey, which entails a few young half-drunk cowboys taunting a deadly bull to run at them beyond two-goal markers. This was almost more idiotic to me than being strapped to a bucking, pissed-off bull for 8 seconds, only to be violently hurled to the ground with a possibility, if winning first place, to grab a $3,000 purse and maybe a few broken or bruised bones.
My initial thoughts may have been common for a city boy, but throughout the day and well into the night I watched the events and bonded with the people. I realized it was its own lifestyle and not one to be made fun of.
“We love it because it’s so all American, fun, and country,” said Debbie Pearson, a local Girl Scout leader chaperoning her group at the rodeo.
Debbie had it right. You almost start hearing the lyrics to Proud to be an American ringing in your head looking at the football field-sized American flag extended out over the rodeo via crane.
The people certainly got a show, witnessing barrel racing, in which a cowgirl on horseback performs time trials speeding around barrels, Mutton Busting, in which a child practices to be a little bull rider by holding onto a sheep, and Bull Hockey, which is exactly how I explained it before.
With the quest for understanding all there is to see at the rodeo, I look to the future and the possibilities of future rodeos, seeing interesting events, and meeting with light-hearted, friendly cowboys and cowgirls.