"Well it's bulls and blood
It's dust and mud
It's the roar of a Sunday crowd
It's the white in his knuckles
The gold in the buckle
He'll win the next go 'round
It's boots and chaps
It's cowboy hats
It's spurs and latigo
It's the ropes and the reins
And the joy and the pain
And they call the thing rodeo."
-Garth Brooks, "Rodeo"
For a span of about two years, starting when I was 10 years old, I loved country music. Its lyrics and twang spoke to me on a level I had not yet experienced as a music listener. Although I loved many country music artists, Garth Brooks was my ultimate favorite. I remember when his concert special aired. I was in 5th grade, and this was long before texting or home internet. I ran to the landline phone in the kitchen and called my best friend during each commercial break. We squealed with delight over Garth Brooks and his incredible, steely blue eyes. His song "Rodeo" was one of my favorites. I would belt it out while emoting the passion of a bull rider or his understanding, devoted wife.
I had long forgotten about my past love of Garth Brooks and compassion for the rodeo crowd until I attended a bull riding event this evening. I didn't know what to expect, as I haven't been to anything rodeo related since I was a child in Texas. When I arrived, the first thing I noticed was how much smaller my Volvo station wagon is than the quad cab trucks littering the parking lot. Upon entry into the arena, I was struck by the musty smell of the earth, hay, cattle, and manure. I quickly realized there is an understood dress code at these sorts of events, and I had not followed it. The men were in ten gallon hats, worn boots, jeans, and various patterns of plaid while the ladies offered a juxtaposition of rhinestones, scuff-free boots, and thick-thread jeans. It was a family event, with infants, children, parents, and grandparents present. I was excited and thought it would be an enjoyable experience.
I initially cheered with the crowd and was charmed by the handsome rodeo clown. However, it didn't take long for my mood to change. The distasteful political jokes, the bigoted remarks about some minority groups, and the treatment of animals made it very clear to me that this was a cultural event I would never again be a part of. I tried very hard to make sense of the "sport" but could not understand the purpose of it. I saw no skill, no strategy. Instead I was struck by the overwhelming cruelty. I am not an animal person. I don't ever protest animal rights. I eat meat. I wear leather. But still, there was something incredibly unsettling about watching grown men stomp on the heads of bulls that were being forcefully held in a small steel cage. When the bulls didn't seem terrified enough, the men would swat them in their faces with hats or a clipboard. Sometimes the bulls would try to climb out of the cage, and this seemed to excite the cowboys and the crowd. It had the opposite effect on me. By the end of the evening, I was fighting back tears and felt an overwhelming sense of helplessness.
I'm not suggesting the cowboys or fans are bad people. I assume they are hard working, family oriented people who have been raised in a subculture where these behaviors are not questioned. I assume they would insist that bulls don't have feelings or emotions and I'm mistaking instinct for fear. That may be true, but I'm fairly certain it goes against a bull's instinct to be teased and ridden for the roar of a crowd, a golden buckle, or some cowboy's joy and pain. You may call it rodeo, but I call it something else: animal cruelty. I'm not calling for an end to this practice. I'm not asking for the bulls to be freed. I know I'll never take part in an event like this again, and I am using this experience to consider if some of the things I eat or wear may also contribute to the discomfort of animals. Will my future be meat and leather free? Probably not. If you read my entry yesterday, you already know that I love meat. However, part of the human experience is reflecting upon your own decisions and actions when you find yourself disagreeing with the choices of others. I'll be spending some time thinking about the treatment of animals, and I won't be experiencing the passion of my youth the next time I hear Garth Brooks' "Rodeo".