This past weekend I went to a rodeo featuring the top professional cowboys in the nation. It brought back a lot of childhood memories, but I was also struck by the changes. Like so much anymore, it had turned into a Vegas-style spectacle complete with a laser light show, fireworks and overly loud rock and roll music playing as the cowboys performed. I wondered how our horses would have reacted. I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy it, because I did, but I was a little stunned – this was definitely not my daddy’s rodeo.
Growing up, my family spent nearly every weekend during the summer months at team roping and barrel racing events. The prize money was a division of all the participants’ entry fees, not the tens of thousands up for grabs at last weekend’s rodeo, and the stands were filled with families. The participants were dressed the same way they would be to bring in their own cattle from the range, without a sponsor logo in sight. The competition was tough, but it was also a family outing and community event held in rural towns with limited businesses, so picnic lunches or “tailgating” was the norm.
During the week we watched my dad at the local nightly rodeo, which was geared more toward entertaining the tourists than the low-key weekend events. At the time I thought it was full of pageantry and excitement, but compared to the big rodeo production I recently witnessed, it was still pretty traditional. I can’t help but miss the simplicity of the rodeos of my youth, where all that really mattered was the skill of the cowboy and the quality of his horse and the time spent with family and friends.