During last year's Livestock Show and Rodeo, Hair Balls was at the stadium just about every day interviewing different cowboys for stories from a life of rodeo. From what they told us and what we saw, we've put together a list of five things to remember when heading out to the rodeo.
1. Bull riding is boring.
Maybe it's technically the most popular event, but we'd even question that. In Houston, bull riding is the final pro event before the concerts, and the stadium is usually packed with screaming people during bull riding. But those people are usually screaming because the Jonas Brothers or Toby Keith is about to perform. If you take away the rodeo cowboys and the occasional horrific injury, bull riding is usually a cowboy getting thrown off the bull after three seconds, followed by the cowboy running to the fence and the bull running to its pen.
2. Bareback riding is not boring.
Not to be confused with its lame cousin saddle-bronc riding, the bareback event features some of the best action at the rodeo. The cowboy, not using a saddle, basically tries to hang on to a suitcase handle attached to a pissed-off bucking horse. Unlike bull riding, bareback rides usually last the full eight seconds, and there are still some spectacular crashes.
Clint Cannon, who won last year's bareback competition, told Hair Balls a delightful story about getting kicked in the crotch by the bucking horse. Cannon told us, "I felt this big ole' lump down here, and I was like, 'What the hell is that?' So I went to our sports medicine guy and he feels down there and says, 'Holy shit, your fucking nut's hanging out.' He went and got the doctor and they stitched it up right there, and I went on to the next rodeo."
3. Rodeo cowboys aren't as tough as you think.
Okay, getting your scrotum split open then stitched up, all before heading off to the next rodeo, is pretty tough. But Marines might be tougher. According to Joe Shawnego, a team roper at last year's rodeo: "Some of the rodeo cowboys had been to a local pub or tavern, whatever you want to call it, and they ended up getting their fill of too much alcohol, and they ended up fighting some Marines. It was eight or nine of supposedly the toughest cowboys on the circuit, and they were beaten severely."
4. Steer wrestling is hilarious.
Animal rights people generally don't care for rodeo, and steer wrestling, where a cowboy jumps off a horse onto a steer and tries to get it to the ground, is an event they really don't like. PETA, for example, wasn't too happy when, at the 2006 Houston rodeo, "a bull suffered from a broken neck for a full 15 minutes before euthanized following a steer-wrestling competition..."
And the cowboys get hurt, too. Last year, steer wrestler Lee Graves told Hair Balls about being knocked unconscious: "The steer stopped and run a horn through my face."
But sometimes, when things are just right, it can be a real laugh riot. A personal favorite is when the steer wrestler leaps off his moving horse to grab the steer but completely misses, bouncing off the dirt as the steer and horse run off. Always good for a laugh.
5. Team ropers hate each other.
You'd think that in team roping, an event where another guy's performance is the deciding factor in whether you win enough money to get to the next rodeo, or, more importantly, money for the bar that night, you'd want someone you trust or at least know.
But sometimes that's not the case, when ropers have to pair up with some other random roper who's looking for a partner.
Last year, Ty Blasingame told us, "I've had about seven different partners... I didn't get along with a lot of them, and we'd just stop on the side of the road and fight. Fistfight over rodeo stuff, like who missed and why they missed, or somebody cheated someone for a dollar or two."
So if you're watching team roping, be on the look out for black eyes and busted lips; they might not be from the livestock.