As another stock show fades into history, some reflections on the rodeo ...

The sun was setting outside Dickies Arena, the rodeo over on an almost spring-like night and a family lingered on the patio near the parking garage.

I engaged in some banter with a young father while his son stood close by, soaking in the laughter. The black-haired boy had a brisk crew cut and some nice cowboy boots. A blue starched shirt clung tight to his little frame.

I asked him how old he was.

“Nine years old, sir,” he said.

“You going to be a rodeo cowboy?” I asked.

“No sir,” he said, standing ramrod straight. “I plan to serve in the U.S. military.”

Stunned for a moment, I looked down and said, “You just made my day.”

“Well, sir, you made my day when you slapped my hand in the Grand Entry,” he replied.

And at that point he had made my day tenfold and over. You never expect a stranger to remember one of the many riders circling the arena during the opening of each performance.

Sure, I also had a lump in my throat and warmth in my heart.

Say what you will, rodeo is for the young in age and at heart. The sport is somewhat of an anachronism, but its roots are in the West and its traditions still linger. The new Dickies arena is making memories for the young. Those of us who are older cherish our memories of rodeos at Will Rogers Coliseum, and we can hang on to them but they are in the past.

***

Shortly after a Sunday rodeo performance two young, raw-boned cowboys walked into a CVS not far from the arena. Well, that’s not the best description of their entry. One walked and the other hopped with his one good leg and limped with the other. His face cringed with each step.

He picked up a box with a pair of crutches in it and made his way to the counter where he was forced to rest on the counter – lie on it, actually, while waiting for the check-out clerk. His black hat was dusty and old and had a number of rodeo emblems on it.

An hour or so earlier he had been in the heat of competition. The purse this year at the rodeo was $1 million spread across various events but now with one bad fall he had gone from contender to severely hobbled.

He turned forlornly to his friend.

“You’ll have to drive the truck,” he said. “All the way, through the night.”

The friend nodded.

“I’m just praying we have enough money to make it home,” said the cowboy.

Rodeo is an eight-seconds-of-glory sport. If you patch together enough of those eight-second successes, you have money in your pocket. If you don’t, many a cowboy is just hoping they have enough gas money to make it to the next stop.

***

When the ropers throw a loop around the neck of a fast-running steer and the cowboy’s horse immediately puts on the brakes it’s no surprise that the steer is suddenly halted and violently jerked back. Many of those in a rodeo crowd turn the other way when this occurs, fearing for the steer’s safety. Few are hurt but let’s face it; there is no way this is a pleasant experience for them.

The cowgirls have figured out how to avoid this problem. Women’s breakaway roping was introduced to the rodeo in Fort Worth this year and it’s the best addition since, well, since it added another women’s event here – professional women’s barrel racing.

The cowgirl breakaway ropers are superb athletes, lightning fast and accurate. After they rope the steer they release the rope and the steer keeps on trucking. The best of these women catch one in two seconds – two seconds.

It’s thrilling to watch.

***

As the rodeo rolled out in every performance in the new Dickies Arena there were folks sitting or walking around the venue, taking notes. They were looking for examples of what seemed to work but especially what didn’t. Next year we can expect the experience at Dickies will only improve.

This is a new day in the annals of Fort Worth rodeo history. We all need to embrace it.

Richard Connor is president and publisher of the Fort Worth Business Press. Contact him at rconnor@bizpress.net

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