We arrived in San Antonio to find our campground nearly full, and it was not until Dad spotted a poster that we figured out why. The rodeo was in town. In fact, it was being held at the fairgrounds just down the street. We had lucked into a campground within walking distance of the largest indoor rodeo in the country.
The main event didn’t start until 7, so we had some time to kill. I had no idea what team penning was, and it took me a while to figure it out. As far as I can tell, there are a bunch of calves or heifers or some small and agile kind of cow at one end of this big corral, and cowboys on horses begin at the other. All the cows have numbers plastered to their sides, and once the man in charge calls it out, it’s the cowboys’ job to separate out three bovids with that number and herd them into a smaller pen. The team who does it fastest wins. It was quite entertaining to watch, and I was amazed by how young some of the people doing it were. There was a girl who couldn’t have been older than eleven, wearing a sweatshirt that said, “Jesus, take the reins.”
We missed the pig races, and the petting zoo had a line out the door, but the Texan wildlife exhibit was open. A lot of the animals there actually made their main residence in Mexico or even South America, like the ocelot and coati mundi, who we got to watch eat the zookeepers hair. Even cuter than the prairie dogs was the racoon snuggling with an armadillo.
This rodeo didn’t only have bucking broncos, but bmx biking as well. A bike, without a mad mind of it’s own, is much easier to control than a horse, and the level of maneuverability was spectacular. An aerial trickster flew high into the air over a rather scared-looking volunteer, while another performer spun around like a ballerina with a bicycle.
Walking into the stock show was one of the oddest experiences of my life. I’d seen 4-H shows before, but only bunnies and some goats. Never had I walked into a room filled with hundreds of cows. The variety of breeds and the variations inside that category was nearly as impressive as the sheer quantity of biomass in that building. At a show pen, little kids showed off animals they could barely reach the shoulders of. Everybody watching in the stands seemed very enthusiastic about how their kids placed, but I was more interested in climbing to the top of the bleachers to look out over the rows upon rows of cattle.
Inside the swine barn I learned how you move a pig. It doesn’t go on a leash or a lead. It is simply guided by a switch. Presumably it has to be trained first, but even so, it was amazing how calm and controlled they were. Almost tripping over a pig was added to the list of odd experiences I was having that day.
By the time we’d found the least disgusting option (a corn dog) in a food court of donut burgers and deep fried oreos, it was time for the actual rodeo to start. We came in during the middle of the prayer, which was a truly odd experience. It was followed by a rendition of the National Anthem which was surpassed in awfulness only by the one from the Donald Trump rally in Eugene.
Bronco busting, both with a protective backboard so you won’t snap your spine and without, is insane. Watching it, I couldn’t help thinking about Spirit: Stallion of the Cimmaron, which was, and still is, one of my favorite movies. I simply don’t understand how we didn’t come to see anyone killed that night.
More hilarious and adorable, was mutton busting. Small children riding sheep. That pretty much says it all. They didn’t have a saddle or anything, and we’re just expected to grab the sheep by the wool, and hold onto it with their legs as it ran panicked across the arena. The finale, where all the kids were put on a sheep and let loose at the same time, was absolute mayhem.
I don’t understand bull riding at all. Unlike bronco busting, which serves to break a horse to make it tame enough to ride, it doesn’t seem to serve any purpose. No reward, then, unless you’re completely insane or an adrenaline junkie, and a very high risk. Bull riding has been called “the eight most dangerous seconds of sports” and I’m inclined to agree with that assessment, and add “the most insane.”
However, it is kind of fun and horrifying to watch. Roping and bull wrestling at least serves some purpose, and know I understand the expression “to take a bull by the horns.”
If you ever stumble into a rodeo like we did, don’t hesitate to go. Kids will love it, although you’ll probably end up waiting in the ridiculously long petting zoo line, and they might be upset if they aren’t signed up for mutton busting. Oh, and look out back of the cattle barn for the cow showers.