Thoughts On Life And The Houston Rodeo


Every year at this time, the biggest event in town is the Houston Rodeo.  We recently won four tickets.  This was my first time to attend the rodeo and I came away with a few surprising revelations.

I am a city girl, born and bred. Historically speaking, you would be more likely to find me attending the opera, ballet, or symphony than a rodeo, but I found I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I have tremendous respect for all the participants and the amount of time, planning, and hard work that goes into preparing for an event of this magnitude. The old adage: “Everything’s bigger in Texas” is certainly true, especially where this rodeo is concerned.

The rodeo was opened in prayer by a young man who was competing that evening. He prayed a “no foolin’ around” prayer. This was a man of obvious faith. As he prayed for the safety of all the participants in the rodeo, it was clear this was not the first time this young man had spent some time in prayer. It could be said that if you are riding on the back of a bucking broncho or steer, you should probably make sure your prayer life is active and your salvation is secure!

The rodeo had all the traditional events like barrel-racing, chuckwagon races, broncho riding, calf roping, steer riding, etc. The most fun events of the evening were the “mutton busters” and the “calf pull.”  “Mutton busters” is an event where five and six-year olds are put on the back of a sheep and told to hang on for as long as they can, while the sheep makes a run for it.  It would be difficult to find a greater crowd pleaser than these small kids. The “calf pull” is for older kids. My guess is the average age was somewhere between fourteen and sixteen years old–both boys and girls. The object of this event was to catch one of the calves and “encourage” it back into the large square in the center of the arena.

Obviously, both of these events were meant to be a lot of good old-fashioned fun. What I saw though quite surprised me. During the “mutton busters” these young children fell off the backs of the sheep without any grace whatsoever. They held tightly to the wads of wool in their hands for as long as they could, trying to maintain their balance on the back of that bolting animal. As each of the children fell off, there was an adult to help them up, telling them they had done a good job. Not one of these children cried; not one of them even appeared to whine. They picked themselves up and kept on going. The adult men in the ring didn’t fuss over them and ask if they were hurt. They just helped them up and brushed them off.

For the calf pull, what struck me most was the tenacity these kids had. They didn’t give up after the first, second, or even third failed attempt at catching a calf. They just kept going. They ran the length and breadth of that rather sizeable arena repeatedly trying to catch one of those reluctant calves. I saw a couple of girls who had caught calves by the tail and were attempting to “persuade” them to make their way into that center square. These girls never let go, even when the calf took off running, dragging them in the dirt behind them. Others grabbed calves by the horn or a leg or two, wrestling them to the ground, until they could pull a piece of rope from their pockets and fashion a halter to put over the calf’s head.

As the calves were caught and brought into the center ring, an official with a microphone would talk to these kids about their success. Each one of them was polite and respectful, saying “Yes, sir” or “No, sir.”  There was no “attitude” anywhere in evidence.

These children at the rodeo had clearly spent a lot of time with their parents, family members, or other adults in order to learn these character traits of tenacity, perseverance, patience, respect, and hard work. From what little I could see, these kids are well on their way to becoming mature, productive, and disciplined adults.

To me, the rodeo was much more than an entertainment event (although it was that), it was more than a display of wrangler skills (although it was that as well). The Houston Rodeo is a good example of all that made America strong.

It would be easy to look at the surface of the rodeo and see, what to most of us, would appear to be a rather outdated skill-set. Most of us these days are city-dwellers; not much use for riding a bucking broncho or driving a herd of cows.  To me, however, the rodeo embodied those things we should value: good character, faith in God, close-knit families, hard work, excellence, respect, and persistence. Not much place in the rodeo or in life on a ranch (which the skills in a rodeo represent), for anything less than that.

I believe that the cowboy is actually a good example of the dominion mandate. He knows his role and what he must do to be a good steward of the land and animals that he is responsible for. He has respect for his horse and for the other animals. He understands that dominion is not the same as domination, even if he never thought of it that way.

Not exactly what I thought I would learn at the rodeo.

“Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.'”  Genesis 1:28 (NKJV)

Copyright © 2011 by Susan E. Johnson
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