I’m not a coward. I’m cautious.
I wasn’t always that way. As a younger man I was brave, bordering on stupid. I enjoyed contact sports, free-climbing buildings and electrical towers, and I once dated a cop’s ex-wife. The aging process seems to have mellowed and enlightened me to the point of paranoia.
That is not to say I won’t occasionally posture with bravado and feign fearlessness. It was just such an occasion when I agreed to compete in a Celebrity Team Penning event at a Front Range rodeo.
This was several years ago and I was working at a Denver radio station. The promoter, Carl, hoped to get a real “celebrity” DJ for his event; none agreed, so he settled for me.
The moment I said the words, “OK, I’ll do it,” I had second thoughts. I did take comfort that the event was almost nine months away. There was no telling what would happen in the interim. Maybe the event would be canceled due to rain, snow or DJ stompings at similar rodeos across the state. I assumed I’d have time to back out.
Where I grew up, only the police had horses, and during riots they would chase you with them. Since those days, I’ve sat on a horse a few times. On each occasion, they ignored my steering suggestions, ran when I wanted them to stop, and after dismounting I felt as if I’d been abused in prison. My bride contends that horses can smell my fear, thus don’t obey my commands. I find that hard to believe. My wife often complains about the smell of my fear, usually when we are in our truck after eating fast food. When I command her to open a window, she always obeys.
As the event drew near, my survival instincts took hold and I attempted to “weasel out” of my cowboy obligations. I confided to the promoter that I was afraid of getting hurt. He assured me that they hadn’t had serious injury since a cable weatherman fell off his mount into a pile of manure. He received minor contusions and major stains. Carl personally guaranteed my safety, but suggested I wear old clothing.
Team penning involves three mounted competitors, cows and a pen where certain cows must be placed. The arena is filled with a bunch of cattle. (I think it’s called a herd.) Every cow has a number on it, and for every number there are three cows sporting that particular number. In other words there are three “1” cows, three “2” cows, etc. As the three riders enter the arena, the announcer calls out a number and the competitors must entice those numbered cows into the pen. The team with the fastest time wins.
Each media type is teamed up with two real cowboys/cowgirls. It sounds easy enough to simply ride out into the arena and let your teammates do all the work, except for the fact that you are sitting on a cutting horse. These are agile, high-strung mounts bred to chase cattle like a terrier after a rat. In other words, you can’t just sit on them and wave to the crowd — you have to hold on and not get thrown into the manure.
Carl secured me a “competitor parking pass.” Mine was the only freshly washed Subaru with an “I brake for hallucinations” bumper sticker in the lot.
IT WAS ALL A BLUR
My team was the last to go, and they were calling my name as I parked. My teammates cantered (cowboy talk) over with a horse in tow. They literally picked me up and placed me on my steed. They told me his name was Nut Buster.
I can honestly say Nut Buster was smarter than I was. When the gate opened and we ran in the arena, he ignored any input from me and went straight at the pack of cattle. A few seconds into the event I realized that the horse’s steering wheel (reins) wasn’t working, so I used both hands to clutch the saddle’s handle (horn). I felt like a mannequin strapped on an electric bull. All I could do was hang on and keep an eye out for soft, clean ground in case I was forced to eject from Nut Buster.
The rest was much a blur. I remember hearing laughter and jeers as the announcer (Carl) regaled the crowd with my Boston background and liberal leanings. I do know that my teammates must have done a great job because, despite my uselessness, we won the event.
I was helped off Nut Buster, who seemed delighted to see me go. Carl presented me with my prize, a rodeo buckle that, if you didn’t notice my earring and Teva sandals, made me look like a real cowboy. He congratulated me and asked if I enjoyed myself. I told him it turned out better than that time I dated that cop’s ex-wife.
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias Biff America, can be seen on TV-8-Summit and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.