12th December 2014

Last night Deirdre and I attended the NFR (National Finals Rodeo) in Las Vegas for the second time. Having been last year and been so taken by it, we just had to come again.

It is something that everyone who works with horses, in any capacity, should see. Even more so, anyone who works in what is now trendily called ‘Human Resources’ should see this too.

At one point a bull rider is tossed forward onto the head of the bull and thrown back and forward several times like a rag doll before being dumped and trampled by this huge animal. He is immediately attended by the ‘clowns’ – the brave men who draw the bulls attention away from fallen riders must have an official title but they behave like clowns – and others who are working around the chutes but no stretcher appears and nobody that would be recognisable in other sports as a paramedic. He is eventually helped to his feet and supported on either side as he shuffles, unceremoniously, with the legs torn out of his jeans, out of the arena. I never heard how badly he was injured – it looked serious – but, from what I saw last year, it is not inconceivable that he might be back there tonight and about to do it again. It is noticeable that the majority of bull and bronc riders walk with a limp.

I don’t actually know how dangerous this sport is and I would hesitate to suggest that these cowboys are any braver than our own National Hunt jockeys but their apparent disregard for their own safety – few bull riders and no bronc riders wear helmets – and the lack of obvious safety precautions is unusual, to say the least, in modern day sport.

I’m not saying that it is right and I’m certainly not saying that the safety precautions in other sports are wrong but I have to admit that the rawness and primitive nature of rodeo is a large part of the attraction. Other sports all seem very sanitised when compared to this. It is so easy to imagine how each discipline evolved from unregulated ‘games’ between working cowboys.

All the rodeo disciplines are tough, contact, sports and they are tough for the people and the animals that take part. I know that many will object to the fact that calves are roped, head and ‘tail’ (both hind legs), or roped and then wrestled to the ground and bound by a cord round three legs, with no other purpose than to test the skill of the cowboys but the risks to the animals are minimal indeed. For me it is a joy to see the skills of the working cowboy honed to this level and to watch man and horse working together as they have done for centuries. I’ll be back again.

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