As we enter that season known as autumn, we see more county and district fairs dot the First District landscape. These fairs deliver an assortment of distractions for the entire family, including games, rides, exhibits, booths, sugary and/or deep-fried cuisine, livestock shows, and demolition derbies. While we can certainly debate the merits of too much participation in some of these distractions (notably the food), one fact remains: We love our fairs.
Perhaps my favorite fair activity revolves around the rodeos that often accompany such events. As a long-time rodeo participant, beginning as a saddle bronc rider and later as a rodeo announcer, I soak up the sights, the sounds, and even the smells that rodeos bring.
Without a doubt, our modern-day rodeos have come a long way since a group of cowhands from neighboring ranches near Deer Trail, Colo., first decided to test their bronc-riding skills against each other in 1869. Nearly 150 years later, the sport remains today as it ever has been; a test of talent, desire, and toughness that echoes back through generations of American individuality.
The essence of rodeo is not contestant versus contestant, or even contestant versus animal. Its focus is the cowboys and cowgirls doing their best every time they nod their heads to signal the start of a ride or run.
With its rich history, rodeo is as much about tradition and family as it is about the competition. Kids start learning about riding and roping at a very young age. They work their way through the Little Britches, junior high school, high school, and college rodeo ranks before they turn their attention – if they are perseverant and good enough – to competing on the ProRodeo trail. Parents teach their sons and daughters about horsemanship, livestock care, event technique, and their way of life, just as they were taught by their parents. Consequently, rodeo is a lifelong passion. It is not unheard of for ropers to remain competitive at the top level of the sport well into their 50s, and there are senior competitions for those who want to remain engaged in the sport and keep their competitive spark lit.
As a young man, I had the privilege to fuel that spark in rodeos and now see it as my responsibility to ensure others can, too. My House of Representatives colleague Jim Costa (CA-16) and I recently co-founded the Congressional Rodeo Caucus to serve as an informal group dedicated to issues of the rodeo industry, while helping to facilitate a constructive dialogue about animal welfare matters. Our goal is for the caucus to establish an important voice for a storied American tradition while also recognizing the need for a group of members to work on issues pertaining to animal welfare.
So, when next year’s fair and the fairs after it roll around, we won’t talk about how we once enjoyed rodeos. We’ll be in the seats, cheering on the next group of young men and women who call rodeo their sport.