Gwen Peterson: An in-depth look at bull riding events during the summer
It’s the merry month of May — tra la la — and pretty soon Bullarama will appear at the local fairgrounds here in Big Timber, Mont.
At the event, intrepid cowpokes and snot-snorting resentful bulls will square off — well, not exactly “square” — more like, hold-your-breath-somebody’s-bound-to-get-hurt off.
It’s an annual event that draws a big-ish crowd, including early tourist travelers who often are confused by rodeo in general and bull riding in particular. For those puzzled greenhorns, explanation and clarification of the sport is at hand. Read on.
Bull riding is a rodeo event wherein a cowboy will attempt to ride a two ton beast that wants to kill him. Control of the critter is achieved — so to speak — by hanging on with only one hand to a tightly wound chunk of rope belted around the animal’s midsection. The bull will attempt to rid itself of the pesky human on its back.
Usually, it’s only a matter of two or three seconds until the cowboy is eating dirt. Mr. Bull, flourishing his spear-sharp horns with a bellow booming from the bowels of the earth, attempts to send the cowboy to his heavenly reward. This scenario makes for a really alert cowboy. Will he live? Will he die?
Assistance to balance the life-or-death scales is, however, at hand in the form of a rodeo “clown,” which is to say, an agile fellow dressed in raggedy, mismatched bits of clothing and wearing gaudy face makeup.
He leaps and cavorts in front of a really angry bull in order to draw attention away from the fallen cowpoke. Now, the bull doesn’t care who he kills. So his attention is turned to focus on the human weirdo who is flaunting himself right in the bull’s face.
All is not lost. When the bull turns on him, the clown dives into a barrel – a sturdy cask made of extra strength material. Mr. Bull takes umbrage and furiously gores the barrel time after time while Clown Man remains curled up inside.
Sometimes both the terrified cowboy and the clown, are chased over the nearest fence by a snorting, snot-slinging raging bull. The crowd cheers enthusiastically when no one gets hurt. The crowd cheers even louder if the bull-tossed, dirt-eating cowpoke gets up and staggers off under his own power. If the ambulance takes him out of the arena, he receives a standing ovation.
Question: How fast does a would-be bull rider learn the skill?
Question: What does a successful bull rider win?
Answer: Money, broken bones, rest stops in hospitals and the besotted admirations of teenage girls and women of all ages.
Question: Why do cowboys test themselves by jousting with an enraged creature when even if he survives the encounter he’ll be hurtin’ for weeks?
Answer: Because he’s a cowboy. ❖