Bar Exam

In my ill-spent youth I was a member of the bar. No, not that bar. A bar attended by friends who also happened to be rodeo cowboys.

This was a bar where it was bad idea to have beer and pool cues (we call 'em sticks) in the same room. My friends were good at two things. Drinking beer and falling off horses (or bulls, depending on their disposition). At the time it didn't seem like the two were related, but now I realized that if you get bucked off a big hairy thing you WILL hit the ground pretty hard. Enough beer can make the pain go away. I'm not saying this is a tough sport, but the last time I saw an ex-rodeo guy he was 39 years old, blind in one eye and walking with a cane.

Some who don't know the sport might be tempted to think rodeo is about cowboys being mean to animals. Really, though, it's about animals being mean to cowboys.Chute Roosters

I have to admit that the closest I ever got to being in a rodeo was one afternoon spent as a chute rooster. Those are the guys sitting on the fence near where the real cowboys mount their broncs or bulls. Think of them as back-seat drivers. I didn't have the physique for rodeo because I weighed about 175 pounds and rodeo is a sport where size matters. Too much of it and you are doomed. Most of the rodeo guys I knew topped out at about 140 pounds (some as light as 120). But they were as taunt as bailing wire.

When you think about it, rodeo is actually all about physics. If a 120-pound cowboy gets tossed to the ground from a bucking horse he will land with a thud. If he were to weigh 175 pounds he would land with a bigger thud. If he was much heavier than that he would land with a splat. Trust me. Splat is worse than thud.

These guys were tough, but they didn't actually have the tough-guy image. That's hard to do when your five-foot-five and weigh 120 pounds. On the other hand, they didn't like to be messed with and all of them knew which end of a pool stick hurts. It didn't help that they tended to get a bit rowdy and the places where they entertained themselves tended to be a little rough around the edges.

This became very apparent to me one evening after a rodeo when the guys who weren't in the hospital retired to a bar. (I think it might have been the same one where Jake and Elwood played behind the chicken wire.) For some reason a fight broke out between one of the cowboys and another guy who looked to be about six-foot-two and 240 pounds. Before we could break it up, the big guy was on the floor. This being South Dakota, the guy on the floor was resurrected, given a drink and had some new friends who, on average, were a foot shorter and a hundred pounds lighter. Once a matter was settled, there were no grudges.

I can't say all rodeo guys are like this bunch, but it may be safe to say most are super competitive. For them everything became a contest … no matter what. Whether it was riding a bronc to telling a tall tale, each of them wanted to be the best.

It has been many many years since I've been in a bar where they keep the pool sticks locked up. I'd like to think my old friends don't go to those places anymore either. I'm sure that as age and better judgment prevailed, we all became more responsible. On the other hand, I'd be willing to be that for every one of them, being best still matters. And, I'd be willing to suggest that with age most now believe that being a good human being is more important than being a good rider. That's not a bad thing.

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