Early Sunday morning I got a call from Faron, a friend of mine. He was a little worried because he could not contact his son Mark for a ride. Faron’s truck limped into town Saturday night from Rocky Mountain House. Apparently some bearings went on the truck. Anyway, Faron needed a ride to get to Caroline, Alberta because he was riding in the rodeo.
I picked Faron up. He was wearing his jeans, boots, shirt, jean jacket and a cowboy hat. It was overcast and chilly in Edmonton when we left. Faron told me that there are a lot of young teens living on the reserve near Rocky Mountain House who were getting into trouble, so Faron began to teach them about rodeo riding. A few of those teens were also riding in the rodeo.
It took about two hours to drive from Edmonton to a dirt road, in the middle of open fields and trees, trees, everywhere. We were in wild west country. A large field held rickety looking stands with a large fenced corral in the middle. There were trucks and cars around the stands. A small concession stand sent out smells of hot dogs, hamburgers and French fries. A beer tent with a fenced off area at the end of the stands was filled with men and women wearing cowboy hats, talking, smoking and drinking beer. They could still watch all the activities.
I settled myself in the stands while Faron headed over to where all the riders were. More fences near the grandstand held the announcers and penned bulls, horses and sheep. Small children between the ages of 3-5 years of age came out wearing hockey helmets riding large woolly sheep. The tot’s small fingers clutched the wool on the big sheep. A man ran beside each child as the child came out of the gate. As soon as the child began to slide off (because the sheep ran as soon as the pen released them), the man would grab the child and help him or her back to a safe area. Everyone was laughing.
There was barrel racing, women and then young girls hanging on to the horses and racing around barrels, attempting to clear the barrels without knocking them down. Meanwhile, in the stands, people are talking, laughing and eating. The sun came out for a short time and my layered clothing felt too hot. Once the clouds took over and the sun was only peaking through, it was cool.
I watched calf roping. Two riders came out racing after a large calf. One rider would rope the calf’s head, while the other rider attempted to rope the two back feet of the poor calf. The first competing pair was a husband and wife team. The wife missed roping the calf’s back feet and the announcer said that’s why couples don’t usually compete in this because the ride home is too long. Each successive pair either missed the back feet completely or only caught one. This was hard, I could see that.
Another calf event which seemed crazy as well was this: A rider bolted out of the gate chasing down a large calf. The rider threw himself from his horse at the right time and grabbed the calf’s head and attempted to flip the calf on his back in record time.
Bareback riding began. Each rider came out with a glove. The gloved hand gripped the reins while the other one found itself flailing in the air. The horses bucked and jumped to throw each rider. Eight seconds is a long time when the ride is rough. It was Faron’s turn. He gave his glove to one of the other riders and came out on his wild bucking horse. Faron was thrown and hit the ground motionless. The other cowboys came racing over. A medic ran over to the still body. A few minutes later, the crowd cleared, as Faron was lifted on to a stretcher, he raised his arms. The crowd cheered and Faron was carried away.
I made my way from the stands to where all the cowboys were milling around. The fenced in area kept me out, so I waited and watched the rest of the bucking horse rides. A woman, Flora came shooting out of the pen, hanging on with one hand. Flora was thrown and rolled in a summersault, then jumped to her feet. She was much older than I thought. I turned to someone standing near and said that Flora must be about 40 years of age. The woman looked at me and said, ”She’s closer to fifty. You know, her brothers were all riders too.”
I walked over to the office where all the trophies were displayed and asked about Faron. The women there all told me that Faron was an old rodeo rider and these riders were tough. These riders are the last of the daredevils. Who made up this game?
I watched some of the bull riders. Again they could only use one hand and needed to ride for eight seconds. The two guardians on horses would ride close to the bull, the bull rider grabbed onto a horseman and slide himself down on the other side of the horse. The bull rider had to put distance between him self and the bull. The bull often would go after the rider even after the rider had left his back. I saw a successful, young bull rider throw himself over the corral fence as the bull raced toward him.
These guys are really athletic. They make everything look smooth.
There were little chuck wagon races. Teams of small Shetland ponies pulled a wagon and driver round and round the corral. Then I spotted Faron, he looked sheepish. The teenagers that he mentored had won money and placed well. I met a bunch of riders. They all said that the horses had really been wild and difficult. Usually after the second buck (if you can stay on) the ride is easier. Faron admitted that the horse had seemed quite docile and he never talked to it which he always does. He said that it was the rankest horse he had ever ridden. Faron had done a rodeo a few weeks ago and won prize money. He has a few more rodeos to go and said he will never make the same mistake again of underestimating a horse.
I told Faron to call me with his new dates. Sunday, after Faron was knocked out, I went back to my car to check my ephemeris. I saw that Sunday was one of the worst dates for Faron for success. I did tell him after about it. If I had looked before he rode, I would not have told Faron not to go, his money had been paid, I would have urged caution.
We drove back to Edmonton with a full car and lots of rodeo talk from the other occupants. At the end of the day, my face was red, I guess I did get some sun.