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I got to spend part of my weekend at the Miss Rodeo Utah contest.

The day offered fascinating insights into the performance of gender, gender roles, patriotism and American identity.  Claiming direct descent from the the Old West, rodeo asserts that it is a genuine, unbroken tradition from the Old West.  Cowboys and cowgirls role play specific gender roles within the subculture, roles built around a shared set of values - passion for horses, the myth of the open prairie and wide open spaces, hard work, and a particular form of patriotism.

Rodeo is a constructed subculture, self-aware that it is a creation while asserting its identity as the carrier of an American tradition, proclaiming that it embodies and represents a form of American-ness that is unique to rodeo, uniquely American and essential to our national history.  Rodeo's stylized dress and language is intended to evoke the past.  Every aspect of rodeo is a deliberate creation of the people involved.  Like the suburb in John Dorst's The Written Suburb, it is the creation of people who are self aware and self-consciously creating their subculture.  Rodeo - starting with acceptable clothing all the way through its choice of words to describe itself - is an intentional creation of the people involved.  Rodeo is reminiscent of Disney in that aspect - it is not authentic in the sense that it doesn't occur naturally and yet it is authentic in the sense that it is the authentic expression of the ideals and values of the people involved.  A psychologist might see it as a form of projection in which participants project their personal, idealized values and morals onto the canvas of rodeo.

Throughout the contest - which is similar to any other beauty pageant - we were told about the girls' hard work - rising early to buck bales of hay, shovel out stalls, lug water, train and groom horses, then turning to their day job - for most contestants that is school.  Tough work as a theme recurs repeatedly in rodeo's public awareness as does the notion of toughness itself.

The queens embody a stylized femininity - long lustrous perfect hair, perfect smiles that never slip, elaborate brightly colored leather dresses covered with glittering rhinestones, boots equally brightly colored, and perfectly shaped hats - that portrays female beauty in a very specific way but which is discussed as only one aspect of their identity.  Rodeo queens are tough; these are big strapping American girls who get thrown off horses, who buck bales of hay and rope cows, who are physically tough.  In some events, the queen contestants are expected to actually feed and care for their horses to demonstrate the can do it.

In contrast, rodeo cowboys masculinity is equally stylized but rigorously spare, even spartan in its simplicity.  Standard attire is a long sleeved shirt, jeans, wide leather belt with prominent belt buckle (a standard prize for winning events) boots and hat.  The long sleeved shirt is regarded as a practical piece of clothing for back country riding - the long sleeves protect against thorns, brambles and other environmental hazards. This standard attire is worn by both males and females.  For the boys and men, it emphasizes the broad shoulders and narrow hips of the idealized masculine body shape - very different than the padded, helmeted body created for football (I see parallels between rodeo and rugby in many ways).  Girls and women in rodeo - aside from the queens - seem to downplay or minimize displays of femininity preferring to present themselves as highly capable horsewomen who, like the boys, get shit on their boots, dirt on their face and hands and sweat on their brow.  The queens though equally capable on horseback stand out in the crowd - their sequins and rhinestones on boots, jeans and hats gleam in the arena in contrast to the simpler attire of other competitors.  Yet, there are constant reminders of the differences between the genders.

The world of rodeo keeps strict and separate gender roles - men don't do women's events and women aren't welcomed in men's events.  Rodeo is rigidly heterosexual.  These two aspects are mutually reinforcing.  Yet, I saw more than a few gay cowboys.  Like most Americans, rodeo people are casually accepting of gay men (one of the key people involved in Miss Rodeo Utah is an openly gay man with a partner and adopted child), but that acceptance doesn't fully extend to the contest or event.  Cowboys are straight (gay rodeo is unmentioned).  Heterosexuality is enacted in many places - starting with little boys in oversized cowboy hats escorting the queen contestants - after which the audience was reminded that these little boys would now know there is a Santa Claus (one can hear Adrienne Rich archly intoning "compulsory heterosexuality").  Toughness is generally a masculine quality - and certainly the men's events require it - bronc and bull riding are physically hard.  At multi-day events, it's not uncommon to see the contestants walking gingerly the day after their rides.

I grew up around horses I've been bucked off, stepped on, kicked - I've trained a horse that wanted to buck and rear to read my body language and do what I wanted.  I've also put a bridle on my horse and taken off for an afternoon of riding bareback in the hills, returning covered in sweat and dirt.  Hard work in the world of rodeo is literal physical work - caring for and training a horse is physically demanding.  The hard work that rodeo announcers cite for audiences is sweaty and dirty.  Rodeo queens are expected to be able to do that work; they may be gorgeous, beautiful women but their beauty isn't all they are.  These aren't the pampered hissy fit throwing beauty queens of the pageant circuit.

The usual rodeo outfit is boots, jeans, a long sleeved, collared shirt and hat are strictly functional clothing for people who are doing a job.  The rodeo queens contestants are a tiny minority of the number of people who participate in rodeo.  They are not exempt from the standards of rodeo - the matter of fact we're here to do a job attitude that matter of factly celebrates shit on your boots, dirt on your fact and sweat on your brow.  More than a few people at yesterday's events were former queens and contestants.

Toughness that stands out as a quality of rodeo.  The cowboy is tough - he gets bucked off a horse or a bull, lands in the dirt in the arena, jumps up, brushes himself off and heads for the exit.  Or, if he's even tougher, he stays on the bronc or the bull, tougher still and he wins the event.  The animals are dangerous simply because they're so big.  They land even one hoof on you while you're on the ground and you'll have shattered ribs and a crescent shaped bruise that lasts days.  Break something, dislocate it, you wait till it heals and you head back to the arena.  The toughness required for rodeo is real but it is also a projection, a deliberate creation and invocation of the cowboy myth of the lone, tough cowboy out in the back country herding the cattle, roping the runaways and so on.

Tough men need tough women.  Rodeo queens must be tough.  They are judged are horse riding - they have demonstrate they can control a horse and make it do what they want.  Horses are beautiful creatures but not the smartest of domesticated animals.  Despite their size, they scare easily and a frightened horse can move with lightning speed away from whatever is scaring it.  It's not uncommon around horses to watch as a horse suddenly heads right while their rider seems cartoonishly to linger in the air where just a moment ago, the horse was standing.  Training a horse takes patience and determination and no small skill.  A rodeo queen showing her horse will do what she wants it to is demonstrating far more than what you see - if your horse runs the pattern correctly, it means you've ridden it enough that you've been bucked off, stepped on, kicked.

As an example of American womanhood, rodeo women are not Marilyn Monroe with her soft face and voice and voluptuous curves, nor are they Britney Spears with her naughty school girl vulnerability and emotional imbalances.  Rodeo queens are more like Rosie the Riveter or Pink - determined, smart, capable, their femininity married to a physical and emotional toughness that shrugs off pain and defeat.  During the fashion show portion of the event, the rodeo queens showed themselves as beautiful young women - but they weren't erotically beautiful.  Everything in the fashion show demonstrated physicality - these are women who can walk, stride, keep their balance.  It may sound absurd, but what was on display was their athleticism not their fashion sense.

Very few people are actual cowboys any more.  Most herding is done with four wheel ATVs or pickup trucks and semis and trains carry livestock across the country.  You don't need a squad of cowboys to drive the herd to the stockyards in Kansas City .  The world of the cowboy lasted a few short decades and has long since vanished into history.  Much of country music celebrates what it means to be a cowboy in a set of memes and metaphors that are readily familiar to most Americans - trucks, horses, suffering, dogs, and women doing men wrong or been done wrong by bad men.  One of the songs blaring from the speakers yesterday proclaimed cowboys love smoky bar rooms and the open range and beautiful women.  Cowgirls, we were told repeatedly yesterday, are living a fairy tale dream come true of being a rodeo queen and a cowgirl riding her horse in the clean country air.  But rodeo cowboy or cowgirl is a persona that the contestants put and take off.  It's a mask - perhaps masque is a better term.  Elaborately theatrical, rodeo creates and invents an image of the old west, of the working cowboy/girl rather than being a realization of the working cowboy/girl world.

Country singer Chris Ledoux wrote and recorded extensively about the rodeo lifestyle based on his own experiences as a professional on the rodeo circuit.  His career followed an odd trajectory - he was essentially the subculture artist of rodeo, nearly disappeared from the scene entirely, had his career revived in the late 90s and had a series of hits.  Ledoux's songs capture the experience of being a rodeo cowboy - of working the circuit, the physical abuse rodeo visits upon contestants, the loneliness and isolation, the long hours of travel.  Rodeo has recreated the experience of the Old West.  Physical hardship, loneliness, travel.  These are all hallmarks of the cattle drive.

There are no cattle drives anymore.  Rodeo is performance, it is a form of professional theatre.  Frequent proclamations by rodeo announcers of "working cowboy" and cowboy/girl toughness are ritualistic invocations of value rather than statements of fact.  Those invocations betray the awareness among rodeo contestants and organizers the awareness that this is a constructed subculture, that for all their straight-faced seriousness, they aren't real working cowboys and cowgirls.  A few might actually live on working ranches or farms, but most do not.  Rodeo rhetoric romanticizes the Old West while ritually re-enacting its tropes.  Like other American subcultures, it looks backwards, yearning for an earlier time while its members live comfortably in the diverse, urban world that most Americans inhabit.

Rodeo is inseparable from a very particular form of patriotism.  The flag, the pledge are part of rodeo life.  It is perhaps unfair but rodeo's patriotic displays and proclamations strike me as comforting myths, as attempts to create something not naturally experienced.  If we must constantly tell ourselves how patriotic we are, perhaps we aren't so very patriotic after all.

Invoking the myth of the old west, rodeo self-consciously holds itself out as a reminder to the rest of us - that we should recapture lost values and behaviors of the Old West.  Myths of self-reliance , individualism, rugged manliness, a matter of fact get to it get it done attitude.  Most of all, it invokes a myth of America - as a frontier nation testing itself against nature.  The rodeo queen in her stylized glory, invoking her toughness, is a reminder that the frontier has vanished and that the rancher long ago lost out to the farmer.  It's complex and complicated and a reflection of deep anxiety about the loss of something that is uniquely American.  The rodeo queen encapsulates the often paradoxical place rodeo plays in contemporary society - she serves no literal purpose but she serves a profound psychological purpose, symbolizing the transformations of our culture and offering a role model for tough femininity.

Originally posted to glendenb on Sun Jul 24, 2011 at 08:21 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Not much (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    OHdog, socalmonk

    It just tells us that a lot of Americans still view themselves as rugged individualists riding alone on their proud mustangs SUV through the desolate plains of Suburbia, and that they love their made-up delusion with a good added splash of really poor taste if it involves ladies, just as if the gentlemen was not already tacky enough.

    What's new ?

    On a side note, I have a hard time seeing a parallel between rodeo and rugby where it comes to gender roles. Woman's rugby is not played in sequins or anything. Same garb as the guys and about as brutal, muddy and unforgiving. Only difference is that female players are probably more inclined at wearing padded helmets, something in which the gentlemen on the field should imitate the ladies, by the way. Rugby is a really cool sport but, boy, head trauma is not like a broken leg or a torn ligament. It's really dangerous and it doesn't mend.

    •  I think it's more nuanced (8+ / 0-)

      Listening to the announcers at rodeos, you hear the rugged individualism praised, but it never praised by itself - it is always connected to ideas of hard work, sacrifice and loneliness; the rhetoric they employ is consciously and self-consciously created to communicate a message about a system of values.  Rugged individualism apart from the set of values rodeo proclaims is empty.

      Very few of the women involved in rodeo are queens - Miss Rodeo Utah is part of a larger event at which there is a five night PRCA rodeo which a quick count indicates has about 50 contestants per night, both male and female.  Most of the women involved wear the same outfit as the men, get dusty and dirty and sweaty.  Most rodeo doesn't happen in rhinestones and sequins.

    •  What's superficial is your dismissal of a group (9+ / 0-)

      of people you know nothing about.  I'm not into rodeos - in fact, find them horrid, distasteful things I can't stomach attending, because I consider them cruel to animals.  However, I do know the people who participate in them are not SUV owning suburbia living people.  They mostly live on farms and ranches and work their butts off.  Their lives generally revolve around horses.  In fact, their lives often depend upon horses.  

      Being a bigot and making generalizations is no better because you're a Democrat than it is when Republicans do it.  And I see your dismissal of this group of people as bigotry just as much as anything the rethugs do.  You're making generalizations and assumptions about people you know virtually nothing about.

      "If you trust you are not critical; if you are critical you do not trust" by our own Dauphin

      by gustynpip on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 08:35:20 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I'm really struggling with this analysis, mostly (21+ / 0-)

    because I have lived all - by which I mean ALL - of my nearly six decades in the upper left hand corner of the continental US map in small logger and cowboy towns, and most of what I'm reading here seems somewhat superficial and patronizing...

    While I don't actually buy into the political beliefs of the folks I've been living around for all these years, and while I understand that they can certainly be turned into caricatures in the minds of those who don't understand their lives (I mean, who really needs to wear a belt buckle big enough to hide behind in a shootout?), many of these people are still living a real lifestyle.  They live on ranches, they raise cattle for a living, and they have horses because they need horses (the use of ATV''s for herding cattle is profoundly terrain-dependent and not all that useful in a lot of the west).  I can only assume that I've spent too much time at the wrong kind of rodeos, because most of the folks out there in the arena at the rodeos I've attended really are working cowboys and cowgirls...

    I won't waste much more of your or my time on this subject.  I will note the misstatement that "there are no more cattle drives"; there hasn't been a Chisolm trail for a long time and there aren't any chuck wagons anymore, but - trust me - there are still cattle drives.  They aren't, and aren't intended to be, anything like "Lonesome Dove" or - for those of us of a certain age - "Rawhide", but there are still men and women on horseback moving cattle from point A to point B out there for a few days at a time...

    "In a nation ruled by swine, all pigs are upward mobile..." - Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

    by Jack K on Sun Jul 24, 2011 at 09:17:51 PM PDT

    •  I'm most familiar with high school and college (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ProfessorWho, ER Doc, bnasley

      I'm most familiar with high school and collegiate rodeo.  I grew up in a rural area that hosts two PRCA events every summers and have for years.  I've been around rodeo my entire life, listening to what the announcers have to say.  Their not so dulcet tones ring in my ears.  

      There are 700 or so professional rodeos in the North America each year, on a circuit like vaudeville.  Contestants work the circuit, traveling to the various rodeos, the stock contractors move around the country to the rodeos, communities that host them treat them as entertainment, as ways to bring in tourist dollars.  Professional rodeo events are a form of theatre and entertainment no less than football or basketball or the Broadway touring companies.  Contestants working the circuit don't have time to be working cowboys and cowgirls.  They're working the circuit full time.  Are there exceptions?  Yes, I have no doubt.  Don't they say the exception proves the rule?  

      •  Then again, perhaps your "exceptions" are the (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        CA ridebalanced, Shesk, Wood Dragon

        rule.  Have you checked out how many "unprofessional" rodeos are done each year?   I haven't, but I'm willing to bet, it's many, many more than 700.  You seem to be making a lot of assumptions and generalizations based upon your own experience.  That's how bigotry and prejudices are developed.

        "If you trust you are not critical; if you are critical you do not trust" by our own Dauphin

        by gustynpip on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 08:39:53 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  working cowboys (0+ / 0-)

        While it is true that the elite rodeo cowboys, i.e. the ones who are good enough to earn money enough to complete the circuit, I can assure you that most cowboys are local and compete at nearby rodeos before loading up their horses and going home to the ranch.

        I grew up in a ranching/rodeo family in Colorado, my great-grandfather a rodeo champ before I was born. My grandfather, mother, uncle and aunt rodeoed locally, sometimes even on the "big stages" such as Cheyenne Frontier Days. At the end of the day, they returned to the family ranch where my grandmother rode horses until she broke her hip when she was in her late 70's, my uncle still ranches, and where the "practice arena" still stands.

        My dad who never was a part of the rodeo life, but is an honest-to-goodness cowboy, at 72, can still swing onto horseback every spring, to move the cattle, and every fall, to move them back, much more easily than I can, at 40 (just turned, still painful).

        I hated the ranch growing up--too damn much work--and I loathe the idyllic myth that it is to many who have not experienced it, yet, at 40, I am so proud of the courageous, hard-working, proud, crazy people who were my forebearers.

    •  Yes, there are real cattle drives. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I used to live pretty much in the path of one in Menan, ID. It was only about a mile or so, from a summer pasture area to a corral or feedlot for the winter, but the extended family who owned the farms around our house would all get together and get the cattle (mostly!) moving along the right path. Only a few or a few dozen of them swung wide through the mature potato field instead of heading down the correct path by our house. A big ditch (excuse me, "barrow pit", I looked it up and it's not "borrow pit" out here) kept them out of our front yard, mostly.

      I never really figured out if those farms grew corn to feed the cows, or the other way around, lol.

      Moderation in most things.

      by billmosby on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 06:22:14 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  My friend, a real cowboy, now disabled, (0+ / 0-)

      whose family has a ranch in Idaho, has told me that the line shacks they used to stay in when they were doing roundups have been getting dismantled by outsiders who have taken the doors off to sell as coffee tables to rich people in the cities.  The area around the ranch has been made into a recreation area, and drawn more people, and so these things happen.

      Some locations are more than two gas tanks away from civilization, so even dual-tank pickups won't work.  

    •  In our area (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      They drive cattle all the time from one range to another... there's a great picture of my next door neighbor standing with a school-like "STOP" sign held up while traffic waits for his cattle to cross the road.

      Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

      by elfling on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 12:35:42 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Cowboys and Indians. (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    marina, ER Doc, CA ridebalanced, revsue, moiv

    A few weeks ago the boy and I were going up to the where they have the the local pow-wow. He to get in some drum practice and me to help dig some post holes for the new bleachers. As it happens they was a rodeo that evening, not too far away; and I couldn't resist that juxtaposition.

    Now this is back east so neither the rodeos or the pow-wows are the size they are out west. There are a lot of similarities between the two. I know the pow-wows took Grand Entry from the rodeos. But the main thing we noticed is that people get hurt at rodeos. We have a first aid tent at the pow-wows, they have ambulances at the rodeo. And they use them. One girl fell off her horse during the barrel race, two bull riders got trampled. Yeah they're tough all right.

  •  For femininity and toughness (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    billmosby, Debby, pitbullgirl65

    it's all about Derby.

    "Tu vida es ahora" ~graffiti in Madrid's Puerta del Sol, May, 2011.

    by ActivistGuy on Sun Jul 24, 2011 at 09:30:21 PM PDT

  •  i watch the young girls at the barn (6+ / 0-)

    work tirelessly to ride, groom, train and play with their horses - and then they get to play "dress up" (like other girls but with more dirt) for the rodeo.  i think it's a great chance to show that while they can control 1500 lbs of willful "disobedience" - they are still complete "women" - they are feminine in their strength and represent the best of being female!  

    go girls!  enjoy and have fun with the make-up and rhinestones - most of their time is spent in down and dirty and dusty reality!

    It's the Supreme Court, Stoopid!

    by edrie on Sun Jul 24, 2011 at 09:54:40 PM PDT

    •  "Completeness" as a woman (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Oaktown Girl, Clio2

      does not come from make-up and rhinestones.  I say this as a horse rider and "complete woman" who has never seen a rhinestone I didn't laugh at.

      •  heh - i don't wear makeup except on rare (5+ / 0-)

        occasions - and i was a makeup artist in nyc as well as costume designer, too!

        but, for young girls who enjoy "dressing up", i don't see it as a problem.

        there are many ways to be "complete" as a person - and playing with fancy things is okay, too.

        and as for rhinestones, i spent years putting swarovski crystals on tutus and watching the magic when the lights hit - absolutely magical!  so, i'm cool with sparkly stuff - actually, i like the real ones better - there is nothing more gorgeous than a perfect flawless diamond - mesmerizing.

        It's the Supreme Court, Stoopid!

        by edrie on Sun Jul 24, 2011 at 11:24:26 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Actually, the Rural West - (5+ / 0-)

          Is filled with alcohol and meth.
          Kids die on rural highways at many times the national average.
          Even in the most rural Western states,
          ranching only amounts to a few percentage points of the state economy.
          Yet, every county big and small celebrates the Western myth -
          with a rodeo. (Funded by local taxpayers)
          With Cheyenne's "Frontier Days" coming this week.

          Mining is what paid the way a hundred years ago -
          And still does so today - with royalties and severance taxes.
          But do you have mining culture celebrated?
          In any place but Butte, Montana?
          (Which may be dying but is the greatest city in the West)


          May I suggest an award-winning book on the modern West -
          Ruth McLaughlin's Bound like Grass

          •  Sad reality, heartbreaking (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            kareylou, johnnygunn

            We just had extreme cowboy races yesterday at the Dillingham Ranch on Oahu. Yahoo I guess ...Dillingham is owned by investors, it is managed by an asset company, it has changed hands a few times, it is not a resort despite any internet googling that will result in giving you that impression. ...I don't keep my two horses there for good reasons. The sad reality is meth is a problem here too.

            A good horse is never a bad color.

            by CcVenussPromise on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 04:35:15 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  Hey, I just discovered I'm distantly related (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            to her.  I think my grandmother was one of her grandparents siblings.  My aunt knows exactly.  She communicated with her parents years ago.  I don't keep up with the family ties that much.

            "If you trust you are not critical; if you are critical you do not trust" by our own Dauphin

            by gustynpip on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 08:46:10 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  But if others like the rhinestones - why not? (0+ / 0-)

        I don't know of many little girls that don't go through a period of like the tasteless, shiny stuff.  Most get over it.  But let those that do have their fun.

        "If you trust you are not critical; if you are critical you do not trust" by our own Dauphin

        by gustynpip on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 08:43:07 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Willful disobedience? (6+ / 0-)

      Quite the opposite. Horses choose to be obedient and helpful. There's no way you could make one do what it doesn't want to do. They serve willingly and almost to the last one, happily.

      Ponies are another matter.

      •  The diffeence in personality between a horse (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        CA ridebalanced

        that has been "broken" and one that has been brought into compliance with human demands in a less violent way may just be in my head (not a cowboy, just a former Texican with some equine experience) but the ones that are gentled instead of broken seem to show their innate intelligence and are certainly more trusting.
        It's too bad that the US has lost the descriptive word Vaquero and replaced it with the diminutive term  Cowboy.

        Bipartisan analogy: Both musicians and fishermen want more bass.

        by OHdog on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 08:59:29 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  and also, those who have been treated with (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          much love will show their personalities more readily.

          my nimbus... couldn't have been more surrounded by love ... was quite the character - he would decide that he wasn't in the mood or he was mad at me for not being there for a couple of days and he would say "no!" like the best of two years!

          i learned not to "argue" with him - instead, if he wanted to bend the wrong angle on a circle, we just continued to do that well after he wanted to stop - same with running through my hands - we kept it up after he was finished.  he quickly realized that he had to work a bit harder at what he wasn't wanting to do that way.

          my trainer once said that the only way to "show" him in dressage was with a bag over his head because, although he could do everything, submission was NOT in his vocabulary!

          he would buck if he was mad at me, all the time being sure to buck me back into place if i were off balance - and he never never EVER let me fall (after i accidently "threw" myself off of him early in our realtionship.  he wanted to go left - i wanted to go right - and we both went in the respective directions we chose!)

          so, our relationship was fun.  one day, we would do trails, another - jump.  another day - dressage and some days he'd look like the worst hack horse you've ever seen!  the dressage training paid off, though, cuz when he went blind later in life, he listened to every request i made of him and we were like one being.  dressage? training?  more for me to learn how to balance and carry myself and not get in HIS way more than training him.

          we did trails, walked through the obstacle courses for the western riders, walked, trotted, cantered, galloped and even low crossrail jumps!  and, god forbid my shoulders were tight, he took away the reins and made me ride him without.  try cantering a blind horse with no reins!  (actually, it's amazing and fun!)

          i love that my horses were and sani still is comfortable enough to let me know when he really doesn't want to do something.  never when it's dangerous - that's not allowed - but when he really doesn't feel like being ridden or turned out - i respect that he isn't a machine and we do something else.

          ours is a partnership, not an "owner/owned" one (except in extreme circumstances where safety is concerned).

          and, in return, i've had the joy of being "hugged" by both my boys as they wrapped their necks around me and just cuddled.

          though nimbus has crossed the rainbow - he is still with me forever and sani - while he scared me to no end with a very serious colic last weekend (spent two days at the emergency vet on 50 liters of iv), he is my big, gentle "alpha" boy who holds my heart in his.

          It's the Supreme Court, Stoopid!

          by edrie on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 03:30:58 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  OR they choose to be mischieveous, (0+ / 0-)

        obstinate, or just plain funny, sometimes!  the real key is to understand why they are doing what they do... to see through the eyes of "horse".

        and, you're right - there is absolutely NO way you can "make" a horse do anything!  

        the one thing people sometimes forget is that they are not machines - they, too, can have "headaches" - be tired or just not "in the mood" because of a variety of influences (weather, feed, gas, etc.).

        i once asked sani if he wanted to go for a ride right before dinner and he said, so clearly, "...but i only get to eat TWICE a DAY!".  he was right.  he was willing to go but why would i take him away from his dinner.  the next day, i came out earlier.

        now i make sure i don't make my schedule conflict with when he is fed.  it's not fair to him.

        It's the Supreme Court, Stoopid!

        by edrie on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 03:35:23 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  There are still cattle drives, (7+ / 0-)

    not in the east, but there are real cowboys still out there.

    As a female former professional horseman, I find the whole rodeo deal silly. I never liked the western style because there is no reason for it. The money is in Thoroughbred racing and Polo. Racing is important to the economy both through the parimutuals and the agriculture of particular states. It is also important to veterinary and ultimately, human medicine and science.

    I've worked all ends of it from mucking stalls to breeding and foaling to breaking 2 year olds to saddle and starting gates to making polo ponies to be safe mounts for high level international play. It's all about safety. Rodeos make light of safety. Wearing fake ten gallons and big belt buckles to create some sort of aura about the fantasy of modern day wild west shows is irresponsible. If you ride a bicycle you are required to wear a helmet. You never see any person sitting on an English saddle or a racing saddle without a helmet. It just isn't done. Nor should it be.

    I don't think rodeos are patriotic anymore than beauty contests and circuses are patriotic. Being a competent horseman is to be a professional athlete, it requires years and years of training and careful observation. The people that work in the barns in Kentucky, the jockeys and riders and caretakers at the tracks and the people that manage strings of polo ponies in the posher parts of this country are skilled and they are usually paid very little and they work their asses off.

    I am pleased to report that largely, in the world of horsemanship that I outlined above, it is a meritocracy. There's some sexism as in the rest of the world, but results are what matter.

  •  One of the essential elements of (6+ / 0-)

    femininity for me has always been toughness and endurance.

    Women work longer and harder, we do the second shift, and the overnights, and do more. I am from a long line of European peasant women who did just that.  To a large degree, my rejection of conventional ideas of feminine presentation has been that pretty isn't too damn practical.

    Adapting to a chronic illness and resultant partial disability has been very difficult due to that.

    It is what it is. It will be what I make it.

    by Alexandra Lynch on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 03:40:39 AM PDT

  •  Please don't blame the farmer (8+ / 0-)

    the rancher lost out to corporate ranches. Weren't the independent beef producers shut out in the get-big-or-get-out-Earl-Butz-70s? Didn't the McDonald's "inventing" the feedlot lead to the beef industry's feedlot monopolies?

    Processing plants, slaughterhouses were legislated out of the local communties. Ag land went to housing. I'm surprised at you blaming the farmer.

    The largest beef producer millionaire in Oklahoma blames vegetarians when his beef doesn't go for the price he prefers but then he digs holes to water his cattle during  droughts, he's had several decades to remedy this but his youngest son built a million dollar lodge on the property, his wife was praised and featured in Southern Living as a example of a regular Oklahoman rancher's wife? He dumps cattle on the market when he can't properly water them hurting the little guy price-wise.

    The largest ranch in the U.S was owned by a conglomerate of investors foreign and domestic who decided that when it was a money loser they'd bring in German immigrants fleeing Russia and give them free land to farm (the land they stole from the Commanches but that's another story) and lo and behold there was a dust bowl which land has never recovered from- despite the warnings from the cowboys to all involved... It was that the farmer's fault? No, it was the corporate investors' doing what corporations do.

    It's probably just an oversight on your part you didn't mention the Spanish started the rodeos here.

    Forgive me if you know this, Cubans have rodeos - in Cuba.

    A good horse is never a bad color.

    by CcVenussPromise on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 04:11:39 AM PDT

  •  Fantastic! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Shesk, elfling

    The focus on independence and hard work is the rural culture.  If you understand the culture, you can begin to understand some of the driving principles of the tea party, right or wrong.   The rodeo is one form of entertainment that illustrates the culture well, and therefore is a great vehicle for informing us.  Thank you for describing it here!

    The focus on independence may be one factor at the heart of the budget battle.  If you focus on independence, you don't understand how we are all tied to our economy and the role government plays in the economy.  

    On the coast, and in large cities, the higher population density supports access to experts who can do a job more efficiently.  If you rely on others to have your house cleaned, your lawn mowed, your house fixed, and for contract jobs, then you intrinsically understand how interconnected we are.  In the rural areas, with the focus on independence, one might never consider hiring a house cleaner, one might repair their own car, house, appliances.
    From that perspective, it may seem harmless to shut down one's government.

  •  I'm not sure where you've been exposed to horses (7+ / 0-)

    I know a lot of women enjoy riding and caring for horses especially as school children.

    And I'm sure many more people live in cities than out on ranches, but I can assure you that there are many ranches with cowboys who use horses not ATVs to round up cattle. Most terrain doesn't allow ATVs, they are more suited to farms. There are so many ranches most places I go that they own all of the bottom lands coming off the mountains.

    The people who live and work on these ranches have kids, and the kids like to rodeo, it's been going on for a while. They compete using the skills they use on the ranch, riding, roping, etc. I believe loggers do similar with log cutting contests.

    The tone of this diary seems, well, not so nice towards rural westerners.

    Myths of self-reliance , individualism, rugged manliness, a matter of fact get to it get it done attitude.
    Since when are those attributes myths?
     I might not be a cowboy but I've been living with them for some 35 years, you should get to know some, then write about them.

    "Don't fall or we both go." Derek Hersey 1957-1993

    by ban nock on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 05:40:20 AM PDT

    •  The rural west (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      CA ridebalanced, pitbullgirl65

      I grew up in the rural west.  One set of neighbors were sheep ranchers - worked hard, no doubt about it.  But without government land to graze their sheep, they were out of business.  One year, the grazing contracts changed and they had to use different land to graze - they were furious at the loss of "their" grazing land; other folks around us were equally outraged and complained that the government was doing them wrong.  At the same time, they talked constantly about their self-reliance.  There's an inherent contradiction there - it's not hypocrisy exactly but the failure to see how the connections, the government, the culture at large, support the "western lifestyle" is a major blind spot.

      How many ranches could function without use of government land for grazing at absurdly low rates?  How many ranches could survive without federal subsidies of one sort or another?  

  •  Having wanted to be a real cowgirl all my life (5+ / 0-)

    I appreciated this story immensely. My early childhood was spent in the Black Hills, in South Dakota where the history was recent and rodeos were common. Every Sunday, my whole family would go to the fairgrounds for the rodeo and I would fantasize about riding in one someday. Instead of Barbies, I had toy horses.  Summer days were spent climbing hills, going to Hangman's Cave and eating lunch looking down at the valley below. Either alone or with a friend,  I would pack a lunch early in the morning and not come home till dark, tired, sunburnt and dusty after a day of pretending.

    My mother's family from there, were Norwegian immigrants who tried their hand at ranching, butchers, fiddle players.
    My favorite picture of all time was of my grandma riding down  Main St. racing in the local rodeo and that was in 1922. She had to be in her thirties and at least a mother of 3 kids then.  I wasn't born until she was in her late 60's I am sure and I really didn't get to know her or ask her about that particular picture because we moved to Ohio when I was almost 11 but I think about her life and what it must have been like a lot.

    I still go to rodeos when they come around here, usually alone because there aren't a whole lot of people I know who appreciate them but it is the only sporting event that I truly love. Man vs.animal, will against will. Being able to stay on the back of a bucking bronc takes some serious luck and strength.  

    As for the pageantry of the event, it's part and parcel
    of it. I wish that it was of days gone by when women and men could compete in the same events and sometimes they do, but rare. And I really wish they would bring back trick riding.

    I will never ride in a rodeo, off my bucket list. Too old and broken, but I hope they live on.  They are part of our history.

    •  Man vs.animal, will against will (0+ / 0-)
      I will never ride in a rodeo, off my bucket list. Too old and broken, but I hope they live on.  They are part of our history.

      A part of our history that needs to disappear. Man vs.Animal? This  is exactly why I hate rodeo. I work in the dairy industry in Northern New York and I'll tell you:  ask any dairy farmer how entertaining calf roping is. Ask a farmer if he'd ever treat his calves like that. The calf bolts terrified I'm sure, is lifted off it's feet and sent flying by a rope around its' neck? Wtf. They're babies. Don't give me that crap how it doesn't hurt them. Bullshit. It takes a bigger man to be kind and gentle then to use brute force against a helpless person or animal.  Yeah, man vs. animals. What a fair contest and typical America Fuck Yay!Let's conquer the earth!!!11 mindset there. angry

      I'm so sorry if I'm alienating some of you/ YOUR WHOLE FUCKING CULTURE ALIENATES ME. Bikini Kill

      by pitbullgirl65 on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 03:15:47 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  wow,must have hit a nerve (0+ / 0-)

        sorry, but there is plenty of room to see it from both sides. Calves and bulls that are used in rodeos are usually put out to pasture after their time in the rodeo. I get why this bothers you, I really do but I have had livestock myself and they can be pretty brutal to humans too. Ever been kicked in the head while milking? I have. They heal a whole lot faster than we do.  I have had to rope my goats before and they actually get into the game.

        Rodeos have been accused of being animal abusers but seriously, they are extremely well taken care of and usually live on this earth a whole lot longer than their relatives.

        If you don't like rodeos, don't go to them.

  •  I hope you are an American Studies major (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ER Doc, NearlyNormal

    Because this could be turned into a journal article and published in one of many academic journals in that field. Nice job.

    Painting the ivory tower beige.

    by ProfessorWho on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 06:18:58 AM PDT

  •  I wish someone would write about (0+ / 0-)

    the differences between eastern and western "girl cultures." As someone who grew up in the East but went to college in the West, I remember having complete culture shock when I learned that western girls employ a facade of childlike helplessness while stabbing you behind the back. In the East, girls don't really learn that type of behavior. You open your own doors, you stand up to men, and you confront conflicts openly (at least, during the 1970s). I often wonder if that was Hillary Clinton's problem all along.

    Painting the ivory tower beige.

    by ProfessorWho on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 06:26:31 AM PDT

  •  I think the voice most missing (8+ / 0-)

    is the voice for those horses, bulls, steers etc.    I have horses, been to the rodeo, ropings, etc.

    Animals treated as machines, performance over their well being,  there is another whole line of horsemanship and animal husbandry that rejects the mythos of the tough cowboy, cowgirl.   If you want to celebrate cowboys, let's talk Tom and Bill Dorrance, Ray Hunt or Buck Branaman.  People who worked working ranches and learned to reject everything that modern rodeo stands for.   They weren't PETA types or sentimentalists, but they understood horses aren't undisciplined or out to get people, but that people were incompetent.  

    •  Buck (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jfromga, CA ridebalanced, elfling

      Have you seen the movie Buck?

      It's a fascinating documentary on Brannaman.

      For those who don't know the name, he's a very well respected horse trainer. He was an adviser to Robert Redford when he made The Horse Whisperer, and some have said that the character in the movie is partially based on Brannaman.

      Anyway, this is a great movie that does not gloss over some of the horrors of Buck's life, especially his abusive father. I was amazed that Buck allowed himself to be so open in front of the cameras.

      •  Read his book but haven't seen (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Senor Unoball, CA ridebalanced

        the movie.   I understand it is a good movie.

        Brannaman, more than the other well marketed wannabees out there, is the heir to the Dorrances and Hunt.  Maybe one reason for that is the abuse he suffered.  There are a few others out there but they,  like Chris LeDoux's cowboys, just can't be seen from the road.

  •  Speaking of Utah, (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ER Doc, nio, NearlyNormal

    we'll be off to see the Days of 47 parade in a couple of hours. Plenty of horses and a few handcarts to be seen, I'm sure. The most important holiday in July here. I think there was another day earlier in the month we used to celebrate when I lived elsewhere, can't think what just now...

    Moderation in most things.

    by billmosby on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 06:34:34 AM PDT

  •  Respectfully disagree (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    pitbullgirl65, WheninRome
    she serves no literal purpose but she serves a profound psychological purpose, symbolizing the transformations of our culture and offering a role model for tough femininity.

    The profound psychological purpose is to reinforce to young women that whatever you do, be sure to do it with makeup and a "keen fashion sense" so you will be acceptable to the narrow, oppressive patriarchal standard of what constitutes femininity and beauty.

    •  Bingo! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Oaktown Girl

      You said it perfectly. And make sure it looks effortless on your part.

      I'm so sorry if I'm alienating some of you/ YOUR WHOLE FUCKING CULTURE ALIENATES ME. Bikini Kill

      by pitbullgirl65 on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 03:02:42 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Lots of levels (0+ / 0-)

      I think there's lots of levels to be explored in the whole rodeo queen experience.

      I think rodeo in general and queening in particular allows women from traditional backgrounds an arena in which they are rewarded for their competence - they need to be actual, skilled equestrians and there's value in that.  The queens in particular are often accomplish public speakers, they have self-confidence, are at ease in many social settings.  

      Those are all positive.

      That said, I have seen first hand the experience of young women who experience queening as nothing more than a fashion show in which their appearance is all that matters.  It's not an unmixed experience.

  •  enjoyed! (0+ / 0-)

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, as I am a product of a rodeo family, although I never partook myself.  You can find my family's story above.

    The only rodeo queen that I know personally is an awesome young woman from rural Wyoming who wrote about her experiences to get into Stanford where she is currently studying, hoping to become a diplomat. She may have worn the rhinestones, I know she wore the boots and hat, and she would never be considered a shrinking violet by ANYONE who meets her.

    •  I read you story above (0+ / 0-)

      Thank you for sharing.  

      That gap between the idyllic myth and reality trips up a lot of people.  I know a family who purchased a sizable acreage built a house and after a few realized they hated every minute of it.  They hated the fact that there was no down time, no vacation, no snow days.  They were caught up in a dream of rural life - reality was a bit of a shock.

  •  So in my area (0+ / 0-)

    I understand that the way you win queen is to sell the most tickets to the rodeo. :-)

    The girls get to keep some percentage for their college fund.

    Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

    by elfling on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 04:29:12 PM PDT

  •  Not being a rodeo gal, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Oaktown Girl

    I can't really contribute anything on that particular front. But besides being interesting in itself, this discussion resonates with something else I've been mulling over lately in kind of an existential way (?)

    Namely, that female DOES NOT EQUAL feminine. There are so many aspects to this.

    To start with, female is the basic name of a natural, biological condition. Feminine, on the other hand, is a social construct.

    Feminine is not just a term for how females are. Feminine may have some roots in biology (less tetosterone, less aggression, for instance). But hey, I am as female as the next woman, yet in terms of social behavior, there are tons of gay guys more "feminine" than I, and more "feminine" than a quite a few other females! (Maybe even some straight guys, who seem to occasionally enjoy "dressing up," have more natural "femininity")

    A person can be female and feminine, female and not feminine, male and feminine, male and not feminine. Moreover, what is considered feminine in one culture may not be essential to "femininity" in another.

    The rodeo queens are feminine. The cowgirls are just female -- a fact they pretty much disguise, blending in with male attire. The cowgirls evidently get respect for many excellent qualities, but not particularly for their femaleness. And who gets to be the cynosure of all eyes?

    Born female, young girls by and large have to study and practice to be feminine. (In fact, there used to be "charm schools" for that.) We may enjoy playing the role a lot or or not so much. But it's a socially constructed, conditioned role. and even in this day and age, we'd better have the skill under our belt when we need it, or watch out!

    Beauty queens have done it even one better, taking femininity from a common role to a specialist profession where they are the certified experts.

    Another aspect, women don't get a lot of social approval just for being female. If anything, just the opposite. What we tend to get social approval for is being feminine. Approving comments like, "She can be tough/brilliant/have her professional career yet still stay feminine! Isn't that great?" confess that the art of appearing "feminine" on top of being whatever else you are are in this life is really a piece of hard work and a notable achievement. (Sometime pointedly said in the presence of lesser female beings who have acquired a few extra avoirdupois, an itrritable temper, and/or bags under their eyes from lack of sleep.)

    Some of us enjoy "feminine" activities, some don't, or not all of them, or not always. (E.g., I like to knit and entertain babies, but don't like to wear high heels or sit politely when an overbearing guy tells me how women in general feel or ought to feel about some issue or other.)

    However we feel at the moment, an essential part of our culturally conditioned "femininity" still is not to show any tensions or strains in the "feminine" role. If we're not so happy with it at one moment, it's generally necessary to pretend to enjoy it all the same. Otherwise, watch out! I suspect this is still not so different even with beauty queens.

    A lot of this is true for male and masculine in reverse. But there is some assymetry. For instance, males may not get total approval for just being male, but it still helps.  

    A man who complains to women about having to act the in the masculine role all the time will definitely get at least some interested, positive reactions. Try that as a woman, complaining to a man about having to appear feminine. Ninety-nine point nine percent of all men will look at you with a frozen stare like you just turned into a toad.

    What is this highly approved feminine? These days, truly it is no longer about being weak. Toughness is in, and not only in rodeo. But it is all about looking and acting like a whole different species from our image of the ideal, typical heterosexual male. Exaggerating the signals. In our present culture it tends to be about phsyical appearances and always coming across upbeat. Like a Disney princess -- the new style ones, who are always "spunky."

    I was born female, I've always been sort of glad to have been born female (there were some drawbacks, but I didn't get drafted). I always was attracted to men --which, to be clear, is another characteristic that may or may not accompany female and/or feminine. At the same time I've also been chronically bored and repelled by some aspects of the de rigeur feminine schtick. ("Why can't more men be attracted to me for who I AM?")

    Lately though, I no longer feel guilty, thinking that there must be something wrong with me because that's just not my favorite form of performance art. Keeping the two concepts, female and feminine, separate in my head I guess is just my particular half-ounce of 21st century liberation.

    I don't necessarily recommend abandoning the social and aesthetic construct of femininity. Even just as a practical matter, the vast majority of hetero men still want feminine, and the youngest ones may even be a bit nervous about plain old female. (Is it catching?)

    Falling in love or even in lust is a powerful thing. Girls and women who want to get their man for the most part will gladly undertake the required social performances with more of less enjoyment and not be surprised when the maquillage is almost as hard work as the dressage in the great big horse show of life. ;-)

    Oops, practically a diary. Not to mention a tad misanthropic, perhaps. Sorry, I seem to be developing this new middle-aged habit of speaking personal truth to whoever.

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