There was a full brass band behind us, blasting out rousing tunes, and the rodeo riders were drawing their starting numbers. The riders, either dressed in sparkly tussled chaps, or in an outfit strangely like hot pants over white leggings, each bent to the earth in turn and kissed it. The audience went wild. When I surveyed the crowd, everyone was here: plenty of young men, of course, but women and families too. There were even a few babes in arms. I wondered what the equivalent of this event was back in the UK. A music festival? A beer fest? A Morris Dancing display? Only, without the killer bulls and potential for serious injury.
At first glance, the waiting bulls didn’t look too angry or wild in their confined space, only metres to the left of me. Not yet they didn’t, anyway. Raul, the ever patient wrangler who’d come with us, explained that they would go loco once they were released. I waited nervously. The band struck up louder and faster tunes. During a particularly jolly tune, I noticed an old man playing the harmonica to the side of the band. The rest of the band were trying to include him, urging him to dance with them as he played. I indicated if the old man would like to dance with me as well and before I knew it I was being whisked around by a man half my height and with half the number of my teeth in his grinning mouth. I couldn’t stop smiling either. I was in Mexico at a local rodeo dancing to a brass band with a toothless Mexican! In that moment, life couldn’t actually get much better.
The first rider stayed on much longer than I would have ever anticipated. In the end the bull stopped from exhaustion and the man climbed lithely off onto the fence. ‘Me no like,’ was ex-rodeo rider Raul’s opinion. The second rider was more dramatic – when the bull bucked him hard against the fence, he clung to it desperately, swinging his legs over as fast as he could while the bull circled and returned to butt horns against the wire. The third rider too came off on the fence, this one clutching at his knee as his descended. What impressed me most is that these guys were staying on without even holding on, not with their hands at least. Instead, they must have thighs of pure muscle.
Then came one of the sweetest interludes I have ever seen. During ‘half time’, small children were invited into the ring to ‘ride the bull’; the ‘bull’ this time being a man dressed up in horns and tail who bucked the children off, then chased them around the ring on all fours. It was touching and funny, and yet it seemed a real challenge for the kids too. When the tiny winner got asked to ride again, he shook his head furiously – no more, no more! – and hid behind the announcer.
Then, all too soon, the night was over. Driving back to the Rancho in the dark, I watched the lights from San Augustin get closer, then the Christmas lights from the Rancho sparkled into view too. I could have stayed at the Rodeo all night I think, drinking micheladas and dancing with toothless old Mexicans, but there was a hot dinner and smiles waiting for us at the Rancho also.
All in all, this girl’s first rodeo was something she’ll never forget … something that will keep her smiling for many years to come.