Facing Discomfort at the Ellensburg Rodeo

The end of August finds us on a short road trip to Ellensburg to see the rodeo, lightly sweating in the unusual heat. The foothills gradually lose their evergreen covering and the jagged edges of rock smooth out onto rolling hills until they finally settled like the outermost rings of a ripple.  After we drive the short span through the foothills the land comes to rest on either side of highway 90. In Mary’s van, Nikki, Amanda, Ellen and I munch on a Flamin’ Hot snack with hummus and carrots.

I’m nervous. Images of calves being lassoed and angry bulls ridden mercilessly in a noisy arena leave me more than a little disturbed. But I eat meat raised by cowboys and I think, maybe a little snobbishly, that if you eat meat, you should know where it comes from. I know that cowboys are different from the workers that slaughter our meat, and that not every lassoed cow becomes an eaten cow. But I’m hoping that a glimpse into this dusty rough-and-tumble world where sentient creatures are man-handled for public entertainment will alleviate some personal stress I have around being an eater of meat produced for mass-consumption. Who was I kidding?

Just outside the gates and to the left, a separate area of large tents sits unassumingly to the side. Vibrant and colorful headdresses adorn the heads of members of the Yakama Indian Nation. They have a table with brochures just inside their own gate. I notice the waves of people passing by and the tangible separateness that they, or perhaps the world, have created at that place where the two separate entrances meet. I want to go to the left but we walk on and once inside Ellen pulls me to side to take a picture with her behind one of those painted frames. You know, one of these…

We were here

I buy a cowboy hat with a marbled turquoise stone after we find our seats. Ellen digs her hand into the bag of chips in my lap. Amanda and Mary drape their arms over each other’s shoulders. Nikki voraciously sucks water down from her bottle. Before the rodeo starts, a local girl sings the national anthem passionately out of tune. Until the announcer stands to give a fervent prayer, I forget how different our country can be from one city to the next. Then the rodeo begins…

…And it is as I thought it would be. While feelings of discomfort get swept up in a whirlpool of crowd-driven adrenaline and excitement, I notice the obvious lack of women participating in the more dangerous parts of the show. I am both perturbed and impressed. Disturbed and astonished. Calves take off across a tan arena with rope-wielding cowboys in full pursuit until the twine is around the calves’ neck and they are jerked back so violently that the their hooves come out from underneath them. The cowboy dismounts, and then, as if reading the cowboy’s mind, his horse takes several steps back to keep the rope around the calf’s neck taught. I wince as the calf cries and then raise my brows in awe at the skill, communication and amount of sync that the cowboy shares with his mare.

Afterwards we walk around the fairgrounds just outside the arena and buy blue and red snow cones. Inside a large barn, groups of animals are on display – chickens with mohawks and longhaired rabbits, ducks, geese, and hamsters. We wait in the bleachers at one end of the barn as groups of small children assemble near a pen. Inside it: several piglets, greased and ready for capture. Yep…

The piglets...

The piglets…The kids...The kids…

A part of me wants to let loose and enjoy the rodeo just like everyone else. To laugh as a group of children with arms dripping in lard clumsily attempt to capture a scattered group of frightened piglets. But I can’t. The rodeo rubs up against some personal convictions the wrong way. I don’t like the separateness of the Yakama Nation from the rest of the crowd. I don’t like a sport that relegates women to only a handful of activities that are also exclusively female. And I don’t like seeing animals frightened for entertainment.

Going to the Ellensburg Rodeo was an experiment. I wanted to see if I could do it. If I could not care long enough to have a good time, and the answer is still the same: Nope. And while I’ll continue to eat meat because I am a proud carnivorous being, the hunt for meat procured humanely clearly continues. Maybe one day the results will lead me down a different path.

One response to “Facing Discomfort at the Ellensburg Rodeo

  1. i liked the rodeo piece… I’d like to hear your trip back home from the rodeo and what you girls discussed on the way back 🙂

    Thanks for sharing

    will i get updates through my e.mail about posts?

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