Our local rodeo grounds are small, built as part of the local VFW hall, and the bleachers on the east side of the arena are smaller than those at the high school football field. On the west side are the box seats, mostly with people from Houston who pay $2000 a year to have their box for the three rodeos each summer. Nice, I guess, but they miss the fun. We sat up in the bleachers and I talked to Ernesto who was sitting beside me with his friend and their cooler. As he offered me a beer, I learned that he was a former bull-rider (a career that ended when his last bull fell on top of him). He was also a former firefighter in town and friends with our neighbors Angelique and Gene who live up the hill. If I’d been sitting in the box seats, who would have told me the rules and timing of the calf-roping event?
There are definite dress codes that apparently no one violates. High-school girls all wear (from top down) a cowgirl hat, a tight tank top, cut off jean shorts, and cowboy boots. The boys mostly wear boots with jeans and a t-shirt. The adults? Locals wear whatever they were wearing that day, out-of-towners try out their new gear from the shops on the square in town. I wear what I usually wear around town, jeans and boots.
The crowd is Texas diverse, which means Anglo and Hispanic in relative proportion and a good sprinkling of Asian and Black couples and families, often in mixed groups. I didn’t see any partisan statements on anyone’s hats or shirts. Of course, it was 4th of July, so we all sang The Star Spangled Banner and watched the flyover of old vintage World War II planes.
But what struck me most was a sense I had never noticed before: that this country rodeo was less of a spectacle and more of a village celebration, one that might have been as familiar in 14th Century France or England as it was in Texas in any era. It was a country fair that centered around the animals, the sheep and cattle and horses, that celebrated the animals we humans lived with in so many cultures.
It was the horses that pulled my strings. The first riders on the field were the Lone Star Cowgirls, a precision riding group on paint horses that galloped as if dancing, reminiscent of dances in indigenous villages from the Navajo Nation to Nigeria.
I read once that there are only three mammals that can run to exhaustion without dying from being overheated: horses, dogs and humans. Our earliest domesticated dogs taught us to hunt simply by keeping a deer moving until it was exhausted. And how long did that take? About the time it takes an average jogger to complete a marathon. We jogged with our dogs, we talked with our friends and when we brought the game down and thanked it for the gift of its food, we carried it home on the backs of our horses.
We evolved together over millennia. No amount of Teslas or over-sized pickup trucks can change our connection to these animals. At the end of the night, the last players on the field were a herd of riderless horses who cantered around in slow loops to end the evening on the grounds. It took me back to something primitive and wild in my heart, something that is part of almost all of us.
As we watched the full moon rise and the fireworks fill the sky to the south of the field, I had a watershed moment, a sense that no matter how we try to fill our sense of self with Tik Tok videos and AI bots, you can’t take away our connection to what brought us here, the village community and the animals our ancestors raised, animals that also that raised us.