Up until last weekend I always assumed that cowboys were confined to the US Wild West and hadn’t made it past the days of black and white TV. A visit to the Methven Rodeo soon proved me wrong, and the lasso action of a plethora of men in sparkly tasselled pants meant it was an experience I won’t be forgetting in a hurry.
We entered the Rodeo to the announcer likening the bronco riding to ‘trying to sit on top of a washing machine while it’s on full load’, but the white ware similes soon gave way to more immediate concerns. As one young man scaled the interior arena fence, charging bull hot on his heels, the announcer made the astute observation that the bull’s horns were fatter than the fleeing man’s legs. As it turned out, the fence scaler was a clown, an integral part of the rodeo team. I had always associated clowns with children’s birthday parties, but the rodeo version of a man who encourages a bull to chase him was somewhat removed from the red nosed, frizzy haired childhood stalwart. As cowboy protectors and decoys for the bulls following the rider’s dismount, their job is no laughing matter.
I was also struck by how young many of the cowboys and cowgirls actually were. Open sheep riding aside, the number of teenagers who could wield a rope whilst galloping at speed was impressive. Perhaps when you have been immersed in rodeo since you were a youn ‘un (or even conceived in a horse float, as the announcer helpfully introduced one young lass) it seems like second nature, but in central Auckland piano lessons and jazz dancing are more likely to be on a child’s weekly agenda than learning techniques for dealing with errant stock, so it was certainly an eye opener.
Our eyes were kept busy in other ways too, particularly when it came to taking the range of checked shirts available in the fashion department. Big checks, little checks, checks with rhinestones, checks to match the horse’s colouring and even one brave man who sported a checked shirt without any checks at all, his bold block colour choice standing out against the dust of the arena. My thin cotton effort with roll-up sleeves was well and truly put to shame.
It may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but the Rodeo provided an excuse to pull out that cowboy hat that has been collecting dust ever since it was purchased on a whim at the $2 shop some years back. The barrel racing and bucking broncos were perfectly suited to the Mumford and Sons soundtrack, and all the proceeds go to local causes. Sure, it’s a far cry from the corner appeals on Queen Street, but the tassled outfits and muscled steeds beat the gimmicky dress-up fundraisers on the streets of Auckland any day. Hi Ho, Methven!
Originally Published in The Ashburton Guardian