A tip of the hat to the rodeo | VailDaily.com

A tip of the hat to the rodeo

Shane Macomber/Vail DailyWes Burns looks to get picked up by the rodeo cowboy and get off his mount Renegade after an eight-second ride in the Saddle Bronc riding competition Friday night at the Eagle County Fair and Rodeo.

Being from The Peoples Republic of Boulder, I wasn’t supposed to like the rodeo.There, in my home town, they passed an ordinance stating that pet owners should be referred to as animal guardians because the term “owner” implies that animals are property, instead of individuals.Mentioning you like the rodeo in Boulder is kind of like going to the Republican National Convention draped in a French flag and passing out John Kerry buttons.Precious little calves get jerked off their feet at the rodeo when they get roped around the neck and then thrown to the ground. At the rodeo they zap bulls too, with high-voltage cattle prods, then throw a rope underneath their hind quarters and squeeze their privates real tight. This is done so that the 2000-pound bulls will be good and ornery when it comes time for the cowboys to get on their backs and ride them in the arena. They also wrestle steers at the rodeo, which consists of grabbing the animal around the neck and twisting with all of one’s strength until it falls to the turf. The steers, with their hooved feet, don’t really have an opportunity to wrestle back. They just get dropped like a 38-year-old Mike Tyson. Needless to say, I liked the rodeo.I liked the intensity of it. I liked the tradition and the pomp. I liked the light moments too, which came courtesy of the mutton busting and the rodeo clown. I especially liked hanging out with the cowboys back in the chutes. The pro cowboys that I met on Thursday and Friday night at the Eagle County Fair and Rodeo were all true gentlemen.

They answered my questions starting with “Yes sir” and “No sir,” and were more than willing to help me understand the finer points of their respective rodeo events, even though I was wearing flip flops and a baseball cap. This is, of course, after they had just risked life and limb by putting themselves on an animal whose sole intent is to buck them off. The horses and the bulls don’t care if the cowboys land on their feet or their heads, either. They just do their jobs like the cowboys do theirs. All the cowboys I met were dead-on honest, too – something you don’t find with a lot of pro athletes. “What’s it feel like to ride a bull,” I asked cowboy Tony Rossi Friday night after he shot out into the arena with Queen’s “We Will Rock You” blaring in the background. “I don’t know,” Rossi said. “It’s all a blur really. You’ve just got to have faith in God that you’ll make it.”The thing I respected most about the rodeo was the passion the cowboys had for their sport and upholding their way of life.They sure as hell weren’t just doing it for the money. Kelly Timberman, the current No. 1 Bareback rider in the world, estimated that he made about $36,000 dollars last year riding the pro circuit.

The best respective athlete in another professional sport like, say, Kevin Garnett, makes that much just tying his shoe.And the money’s not guaranteed, either. You’ve got keep making money to stay on the circuit or else you aren’t going to have enough to pay for gas and your next hotel room.”That’s the difference between our profession and other professional sports,” Timberman said. “If we don’t do good, we don’t get paid.”Try telling that to Barry Bonds.It was obvious these athletes were doing what they loved and that they couldn’t imagine being any other place than in the arena on a crisp summer evening with the crowd roaring and the loud speakers screaming.And, when the rodeo comes next year, I can’t imagine myself being anywhere else, either.Last Friday as I sat above the chutes watching the cowboys get set in their mounts, the hairs on my arms were standing up from the adrenaline.I’ve never felt that before, not even while standing on the sidelines of a Broncos-Raiders game or in the corral at the bottom of the Birds of Prey downhill.There may be those out there who have no respect for the world of rodeo, those who can’t get past the cattle prods and the calf roping and see the sport for what it truly is.

Those people are entitled to their opinion, too. Never again, however, will I stand by and let people bag on professional cowboys without really knowing the character of the men and women of the rodeo.Some people may say that these cowboys are spineless for how they treat innocent animals. In my opinion, I don’t think I’ve ever been around a group of athletes with more backbone.”Everybody is really great to be around,” said Timberman Friday night, when I asked him what he liked most about his sport. “They’re great guys. If more of the public could meet us, they’d be really surprised about the caliber of people that are back here.”Take it from me, he knows what he’s talking about.Contact Nate Peterson at 949-0555, ext. 608, or via e-mail at npeterson@vaildaily.com. Peterson writes for the Vail Daily, based in Vail, Colorado.

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