My first rodeo

In the past week I have uttered the words ‘this isn’t my first rodeo’ a disproportionate number of times. I have also adopted the phrase ‘grab some fence’, but more on that later.

You see, last weekend I attended my first rodeo. The Braidwood Rodeo, to be precise. Sitting halfway between Canberra and the Australian coast, Braidwood is a little gem of a town. Most of Australia’s country towns have either vanished with the gold rushes or gone the way of the suburban quarter-acre-block-toy-town spread. Braidwood is different. It has (somehow) kept its high street alive while corralling the rampant sprawling urges of the populace.

The main drag of Braidwood is a long and hilly street dotted with pubs (though some have been converted into quinoa-and-chickpea-centric cafes), bakeries (including the best bakery outside of Berry, the hidden Dojo), horrendously overpriced antiques shops (small town essential) and specialist alpaca garment retailers (…this one is Braidwood-specific).

My rodeo companion and I high-tailed it into town to grab some grub before heading to the rodeo. As it happened, we’d missed Dojo’s opening hours by 15 minutes (warning, they are only open 8am-1pm) and had to high-tail it back empty-handed to where the rodeo was set up in the town showground. We were assured by the heavy-set heavily-bearded man on the gate that there was food inside the rodeo, though his silent response to the query “and it’s not all deep fried is it?” was less than reassuring.

In retrospect he probably just thought we were being city-slicker-wankers, since the food inside was perfectly acceptable (and cooked exclusively by men in awesome akubras). Armed with baked potatoes & pulled pork rolls we hit the stands and endeavoured to feed ourselves even as our mouths hung open in front of the spectacle of men and women wrestling calves, tackling broncos and being (repeatedly) bucked off seriously angry thick-necked bulls.

Probably predictable in light of my undying childhood horse-obsession (let’s be honest, I can still name way too many breeds) my favourite event was the barrel racing. Partly because quarter horses are just the best use of muscle and partly because it’s the only event where no animal seems distressed by its participation. (Calf-roping is also excellent for the human-horse connection but the calves generally seemed less enthused about their role as rop-ees.)  

The definite low-light was the ‘Under 8 Bull Ride’. Most bull riding events impose a requirement that the rider stay on the bull for at least 8 seconds. Stay astride the wildly bucking monolith of masculinity for any less and your ride won’t count. A lot of competitors fail to meet this requirement (machismo dismissed), which led one of our party to posit that perhaps ‘Under 8 Bull Ride’ referred to the same event, sans time requirements.

This hypothesis was floated with cautious optimism because the alternative was, as we feared, that the name – ‘Under 8’ - referred to the age of the riders.

It did. And the result was faintly horrific. I can’t recount a lot of this event in detail as after the first couple of riders we decided it was the perfect time to get ice-cream (note: this was also a mistake, fairground ice-cream is pure chemical and no cream) but I can tell you that there were seriously little kids, some barely of walking age, being put on poddy calves that had been roped up to buck them off. This involved an adult placing the child precariously in the path of imminent danger, then trying to position themselves to catch the child when it was (inevitably) bucked off.

A deeply strange practice if you consider that none of the riders in the event would have passed the height minimum on the fairground big dipper… or even been allowed on the dodgems without adult company.

Still, there were many wondrous facets of the Rodeo, including that when a bull, having promptly dispensed with its unwelcome human burden, declined to go back to the shoots (presumably to be resaddled with yet another) the practice was to release a bunch of poddy calves into the ring in the hopes that they would calm the bull and that the newly unified herd would together exit the ring.

At one point, having already deployed the calves (without effect on the snorting stamping lump of Brahman-neck muscle in the ring) the rodeo gods decided to unleash into the ring the entire gamut of cloistered bulls.

This was after the main bull had charged the rodeo clowns numerous times. (Rodeo clowns, for those rodeo virgins reading this, are young men in checked pants and neon-gumboots, who display their death-wish and mendacity by distracting the bull from its fallen prey while also coaxing it back into the darkened confines of the rodeo back-lot. They generally seem to be in their late teens / early twenties, are exclusively male and demonstrably insane.)

These two rodeo clowns had been bravely facing off with the hunk of Brahman aggression only to be forced repeatedly to “grab some fence” which is a very literal expression meaning “to hoist oneself out of the path of a stampeding multi-tonne animal by using one’s body as a counterweight to balance on top of a precariously thin mental barrier”. Essentially the rodeo clown will grab the fence and swing his legs up, in counterbalance on the other side, often hanging, upside down, for a couple of moments… perhaps from a desire to experience yet more blood rushing to the head.

Generally, rodeo clowns are very successful (whether due to their bizarre attire or dogged determination to tango with large angry animals is unclear). This time, though, the Brahman was having none of it. And so the other bulls joined the ring-side party, pawing and snorting in a wave of low-hung bollocks and 100-proof testosterone. Strangely enough, the presence of these other massive beasts, though they stamped and snorted and kicked their way around the ring, did eventually calm the most thick-necked of them. Perhaps recognising his horned friends as kin or perhaps just exhausted by all the grandstanding, they all eventually meandered from the ring and back down the shoots.

Presumably to buck another day.

The day’s other standout was not the rodeo itself but the dedication of one of its patrons, who’d had the R M William’s longhorn logo from her belt-buckle tattooed onto her lower back. Tramp stamp. Lifetime customer (Hopefully it gets her a discount?)

All said though, I had a spectacularly fun day and will definitely be seeking out similar events in the future (apparently there’s a carthorse competition in Yass? Any takers?)

….though I don’t think I’ll ever join the R M William’s branding club. 

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