Thursday, April 17, 2014

TTTT: Mexican Rodeo

Every year J, T and I attend the National Western Stockshow. This is something J and I have been doing for sixteen or so years and we always start planning our visit weeks in advance. The Stockshow has been going on for over a century, with it's throw back to the days when ranches would gather their cattle and drive them to this dusty little cow town to sell to the buyers from the East Coast. (If you are ever interested in reading an incredible book about the end of the cowboy and open range and cattle drives then find yourself a copy of Monte Walsh, by Jack Schaffer. Great book.) Anyway, the Stockshow has a little bit of everything . . . H/J, Western and English Pleasure, PBR, NPRA, ducks, rabbits, 4-H, some evening shows, draft pulls, and sheep shearing. Although, I would recommend skipping the sheep shearing - it's not for the faint of heart (I think we permanently scarred our little man by taking him to the sheep shearing at the age of two. He has such a big heart when it comes to animals and he was traumatized by the shearing.)

So, one year, several years back, when the event was still exciting and fun, we were at the stock show. We had spent a couple of hours wandering through the Hall of Education, checking out the huge Carhart booth, admiring the alpaca, buying enough fudge to last at least a week, and finally ending up at our favorite place to eat. T and his friend R were running around getting condiments and just being ten year old boys when they were stopped by a man. He asked them if they would like four tickets to the Mexican Rodeo. He was a vendor and had been given the tickets for his employees, but none of them wanted to go, so he was trying to find someone to give them to. J and I went on high alert, and then relaxed when the boys tore over to ask if it was okay. We agreed and they gathered up their tickets. Looking at them, we realized we had ten minutes to cross the Stockshow grounds and find our seats at the coliseum. Grabbing our drinks, we booked.

The Mexican Rodeo is a little different from the PBR or the NPRA. For one, the vaqueros dress in traditional Mexican garb, with big sombreros, tight pants, and fancy dress coats. The events that they host are a bit different as well, with trick roping and riding, a different style of bareback riding, and their bull riding is pretty fun to watch, what with the huge hats. The bulls they use are a bit more rangy and thinner, but still buck pretty good. They skipped some of the events, like calf roping, that I am not particularly fond of. Overall, we were having a blast when it came to the last event of the rodeo.

Bull fighting.

Yes. Bull fighting. Complete with a matador, a bull bred in Mexico for this purpose, cape and all. It's a little different in that the bull they use is young (not seasoned) and the matador is alone in the arena instead of with his outriders. It is also bloodless, which means they do not set the swords in the bull's shoulders to prevent him lifting his head, nor do they kill the bull in the end. Pretty much, it's supposed to be a man in fancy clothes with a huge cape, dancing with the bull.

The bull had other ideas.

When they released him into the arena they announced that he was bred from fighting bulls for 400 years. This was his second bull fight. He was wiry and big, with a glistening black hide and wickedly big horns. They were long and hooked at the end, without caps. He wasn't thick or slow, like the bulls on PBR, but rather like lightning in a cow's body. He was wicked fast. And he was looking for trouble.

The matador was introduced. He had been a matador for a while. He had kills. He had success. He was dressed in the traditional matador costume and was well prepared for the deadly dance with the baby bull. You could feel the weight of hundreds of years of bull fighting resting on his shoulders. This was not going to be a problem.

It started to go wrong from the first pass.

Part of the reason they use the swords in Mexico, is to prevent the bull from swinging his head from side to side, reducing the "hooking" motion they can bring to the dance. When you are talking about a bull with an eight foot span between his horns, that seems only prudent, otherwise men would stop wanting to be matadors. The blood loss also slows the bull down. However, "playing" with a bull in the US means not being able to wound it, slow it down or otherwise tip the scales in your favor. The bull liked that.

The first time the bull charged the matador, the matador swung his cape and turned his body at the last moment, letting the bull slide by, the wind from his passing chuffing the cape. The bull hooked with his horn as he went past, grazing the man's thigh. There was no blood, but the matador staggered just a touch, looking shocked. He straightened and gathered his cape again, preparing for the bull rush. The second time, with a nifty twist of his head, the bull took the cape and part of the matador's jacket with him on the way past.

I think the bull must have indulged in some type of stimulant before the rodeo, because he was on fire.

The matador staggered back, suddenly bereft of cape and no longer fully dressed. The bull was stomping and gouging at the cape. The bull stopped as if he suddenly remembered where he was and turned to look at the matador. The matador's eyes bugged out and he broke for the arena fence.

It's tough when the prey suddenly becomes the predator.

The bull blasted snot from his nostrils in a snort that could be heard throughout the arena, which had become deathly quiet. With his head high, breathing fire and brimstone from his nostrils, the bull gave chase. As he got close, he lowered his head and twisted his neck, so the tip of his right horn led the way. He was about to get revenge on the little matador for 400 years of torture and death of his ancestors.

The matador, stumbling and sliding in his fancy boots on the arena sand, didn't try to jump the fence, which any self-respecting cowboy knows how to do before they start riding the bulls. Instead, he tried diving between the rails to safety. I have no idea why. Perhaps he couldn't jump. Maybe he was afraid his very tight pants were going to split. Perhaps he didn't think he was going to have time. Instead, he dove at the fence, trying to slide between the rails to safety.

The matador met one of the rails square on the top of his head. Knocked himself out and fell to the ground unconscious.

The bull, not really expecting his protagonist to fall limply to the ground, hit the fence right where the matador's wriggling legs would have been if he wasn't lying limply on the ground. Hands from the far side of the fence grabbed the matador's arms and began to drag him under the fence. The bull backed up to assess the situation, wanting man meat to play with.

Enter the bull fighting rodeo clowns.

These guys are insane.

There were three. And a barrel. And they started to play with the bull, which seemed to make the bull even faster, if that were possible. They were all wearing track clothes and running shoes under their clown costumes, and they were pretty fast on their feet. One guy would try to grab the bull's tail to distract him, while the other two tried to confuse the bull. The bull was having none of it. He took off after one clown, who raced for the fence and jumped it, landing in safety on the other side. The bull turned and went for another one, who, out of time, jumped into the safety barrel they had in the arena.

The bull hit that barrel and flipped it into the air a good twenty feet. I have no idea how the clown survived that crash. He didn't come out of the barrel right away. The third clown grabbed the tail and tweaked it, distracting the bull from barrel tossing the other guy a second time. The bull whirled around cat quick and chased the clown down the arena. The clown was running all out and staying ahead of the bull, barely, when he reached the far fence. He leapt that eight foot fence like a champion hurdler.

Now, the arena where they hold this event is a permanent structure and the rails and fences are well-built. However, for this rodeo, they had shortened the arena with temporary fencing made from portable panels, then set up a riser and camera equipment on the riser. We were sitting in the stands right at the spot where the portable fencing was set up, so we had great visibility for what happened next.

The clown jumped the fence and landed on the riser next to the camera man. He turned, triumphant, to face the charging bull. The charging bull hit the portable panels at a dead run, his horns lowered to hook, then lifted the portable fence and kept coming. Watching the clown and the camera man turn tail and bolt for the exit to the stadium was pretty freaking funny. Watching the bull put the smack down on the camera equipment left on the riser with the portable panels was pretty boss, as my son said. Wondering if we were going to have to find an escape route if the bull found his way over the fence was pulsing in the back of my mind. That bull pushed the fence and riser back a good ten feet before he untangled himself and turned back toward the chutes. The very expensive motion picture camera was toast.

During that distraction, the other rodeo clown had helped the barrel tossed clown out of the barrel and then out of the arena. They were exhausted and bruised. The bull raced around the arena, testing fences and trying to find a way into the stands. He was not showing any signs of slowing down. And he was still pretty hungry for man meat.

Some brainiac in the back decided to turn in some of the Mexican longhorns into the arena in an attempt to provide a herd for the bull to connect to. Unfortunately, bull-fighting bulls are kept in isolation to increase their aggression and turning the steers into the arena just gave the bull something to play with. The herd came out and began to mill about. The bull rushed them, lowering his horns to hook the first one he came to, tossing it high enough it almost cleared the fence.

The parents and children on the other side of said fence scrambled for higher ground. Luckily, the steer bounced off the top rail of the fence and fell back into the arena. It was close though.

At that point, vaqueros rode in on their horses, loops flashing. By using the cattle in the arena and working together, three of them managed to get ropes on the bull, pulling and controlling him, until he was safely out of the arena. In the bull's defense, he was starting to tire. It's hard work tossing things around with your horns.

At that point, the matador and the clowns came back in and let the audience see no one was killed, although the matador was still a bit wobbly. And one of the clowns was limping.

Best. Rodeo. Ever.


  1. HOLY. SHIT. As is the norm with your stories, I was on the edge of my seat while reading! Best story ever of the best rodeo ever! I'm glad everyone survived!

    So if the bull can't be wounded and the matador can't defend himself (it's nice to know that this bull preserving version of bullfighting exists though! I can't watch traditional bullfighting) how long is the dance between the matador and the bull supposed to last? Are there any rules? I would assume it would always end the way this rodeo Good for the bull!

    1. I think it's just supposed to be an exhibition for five minutes or so, complete with whirling cape and oooos and aaaaahhhhss from the crowd. The matador gets to show off his mad skills. The bull snorts and paws the ground. Not too much excitement. Bulls, by nature, are usually somewhat placid (although, more people are killed every year by a domestic bull than any other animal) and tire easily. This one, however, was not.

      And as with everything touched by Murphy's law, everything that could have gone wrong, did.

      T thought it was hilarious (he got my sense of humor).

      I can still see the bull just pick up and push the fence. That was the point at which I recognized the humans were not in control.

  2. This is awesome. I've always hated bullfighting the traditional way, I might go for it in a fair fight!

    My parents had a bullfighting poster when I was growing up, they had gotten it on their honeymoon in Mexico. I can still picture it hanging over the office desk, totally traumatized me to see the bloody-shouldered bull and fancy matador. I will now try to replace that memory with your story, a much better outcome!

  3. My eyes got wider. And wider. And wider . And wider. WOW.