About a decade or so ago, I attended a conference where one of the speakers, an ag expert from Idaho, if I recall, made a statement which I found to be profound. It was something along the line of, \”If you don\’t take steps to take the governance of animal treatment into your own (meaning the horse industry) hands, someone will do it for you.\”
I was jarred by this statement and it\’s apocalyptic message. I wondered what the horse world would look like for my children, and by what degree their involvement in the horse industry would be dictated by influences outside of our community.
Well, it appears I didn\’t have to wait for the kids to grow up. There are plenty of outside voices already vying for the opportunity to govern the care of animals involved in the horse industry.
Their latest target is rodeo. And, their latest venue was the Calgary Stampede.
When I posted the $15,000 ad the Vancouver Humane Society took out in the Calgary Herald last week on Western Horse Review\’s Facebook page, there was a flurry of responses to it. (It might bear mentioning that the VHS is not an animal humane society in the traditional meaning. It does not run a shelter, nor does it directly care for any animals. It serves entirely as a fundraising organization, for purposes of animal-rights activism.)
To serve the purposes of groups like the VHS bent on bringing down rodeo, rodeo is often portrayed as a gang of neanderthal males engaged in roping, tying, wrestling and declaring their masculinity in the arms-up gesticulation of a calf roper signaling \”time!\” And, that was more or less, the gist of the ad, with the question of \”that\’s entertainment?\”
The truth is, I\’m not really a rodeo person. I consider myself lucky to get to one, perhaps two a year. It\’s not a big part of my life. Or, so I thought. It occurred to me this week though, that here, in the country, rodeo takes on an entirely different persona; it\’s not one that travels down the mainstream, and it doesn\’t attract the masses. Instead, it generally winds its way down dusty gravel roads, and country paths. The kind that run by the log house.
I want to share with you what \”rodeo\” looked like in my life this past week:
It was the call from my city-born and raised nephew, to inform me of his signing up to steer-ride for the first time in his life, at his friend\’s charity rodeo – an event organized by the family, after the mother died of cancer. Last year they raised $40,000 for cancer research.
It was the young man my daughter spent several years in 4-H with, who now bull-rides, and though I hadn\’t spoken with him in over a year, when I asked him if he\’d help my nephew out with a few tips, responded without hesitation, \”sure!\” with a follow-up of query of where and when could they get started.
It was the pretty girl in the cowboy hat at our small town gas station, pumping her own gas, pulling a 1980\’s-vintage trailer with a horse in it, on her way to a barrel race.
It\’s the slightly arthritic limp of my neighbour, as I watch him walk across the hay field, remnants of his glory days when he was a bareback riding champion, back in \’68 I believe.
It\’s the blue polyester pant suit my good friend, who once wore it, and I shared a few smiles over last week as we strolled by the Calgary Stampede\’s tribute to former CS Queens and Princesses, where it was showcased amongst other nostalgic costumes and photos.
The stunning oil portrait of a bucking horse we stood in awe of at the Western Art Show.
It\’s the George Strait I heard on the radio this morning.
Even the odd sight of a brahma bull I drove by last week, magnificently standing under the shade of what must be a hundred-year-old tree.
My neighbour\’s long-retired bucking horses, spending their golden years in a verdant prairie pasture, liberated of any responsibility, other than offering their rugged beauty to passerby\’s.
It\’s the chuckwagon-bred pony, my daughter now loves and calls Princess.
It\’s the kid down the road who\’s going to a renowned university next fall, something his parents wouldn\’t have been able to afford to give him, on a high-school rodeo scholarship.
It\’s my barrel racer blogger pal, who I chatted with several times over last week, as she reported a hectic week at the Stampede grounds.
Our friend, the veterinarian, who worked tirelessly last week caring for chuckwagon horses, and spoke softly of the tragedy of losing several of them at this year\’s event.
As it turns out, rodeo touches many aspects of my life – from the people I know and love, to the animals we all care deeply for, to our music, to our lifestyle.
And so, Vancouver Humane Society, I\’m really sorry about this, but I have to tell you . . . I thought it over, and the truth is, I like rodeo. I might even love rodeo. And, for all of the reasons above, and many more, I\’d like it to stay in my life, my family\’s life and my community culture.
But, I want to thank you, VHS. Thank you for reminding this non-rodeo girl of how indelibly, deeply and eloquently the fabric of rodeo – it\’s people and it\’s animals – is entwined with her own.
And finally, Vancouver Humane Society, I\’ve been to your beautiful city many times. I have to tell you it rather saddened me to think of how many folks in your East End might have benefited from a sliver of the $15,000 of your member\’s donations you spent on that advertisement.
’Course . . . feeding the homeless doesn\’t garner much publicity kick-back.