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Spokane

Bull riding not saddled with blahs

Sat., Jan. 22, 2011

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about attending a highbrow literary play-reading. Today, in the interest of balance, I want to tell you about attending an equally enlightening Spokane event: The Wrangler Professional Bull Riding Classic.

It was like going to the opposite end of the cultural spectrum – from a beret to a Stetson. Yet I enjoyed myself every bit as much.

I won’t go into all of the reasons why my wife, Carol, and I are rodeo fans except to say: We met and got married in Cody, Wyo., which bills itself as the “Rodeo Capital of the World.”

So, yes, the Pro Bull Riding Classic was our idea of a perfect date. Some wives might have found it slightly – unromantic – but Carol understood, and that’s all that matters.

Make no mistake, the PBR is a cultural event. It’s cowboy culture, and the Spokane Arena was jammed last Saturday with men and boys wearing big black hats and pointy-toed boots. The young women were more partial to stylishly creased straw cowboy hats. The unifying article of apparel: Wrangler denims. I still retain the belief that nothing flatters a person like a well-fitting pair of Wranglers.

Wandering the halls before the event, I found myself coveting some of the other fashions on display. Who wouldn’t love a letterman-style jacket emblazoned with the slogan “Wellpinit Ropers”?

Then, in the arena, the big show got under way in a blaze of fire. Kerosene-soaked letters spelling “PBR” were ignited in the dirt. The cowboys were introduced as if they were rock stars. (They later proceeded to get rocked, and hard.)

Then, the announcer asked everybody to stand for a prayer. Now, public prayers at giant sports-and-entertainment events may be awkward for some attendees. Yet however you feel about that issue, you have to admit that bull riders need all of the heavenly protection they can get. So I removed my hat, put it over my heart, and prayed that no cowboys would end up paralyzed that night.

And then the action began. If you have experienced bull-riding only on TV, you have a merely theoretical grasp of how much beef is on those hooves. When that chute flies open, it’s as if a medium-size rail car has exploded onto the floor and started pogo-jumping. It’s as if a Hummer has catapulted in from another county, landed on a trampoline and started bouncing. It’s as if a Romanian gymnast, weighing 1 ton and named Detonator, has started flipping her way through the world’s wildest floor exercise routine.

The action is so fast and so overwhelming, I found myself involuntarily grabbing my seatmate in alarm. Sometimes, fortunately, this was Carol.

Some people fret about the way the bulls are treated, but as far as I could tell, the bulls are the only creatures totally in control of the situation. The riders, bullfighters and gate men spent most of the event trying, desperately, not to get stomped on.

When a cowboy did survive the 8-second ride – Super Glue on the britches being the only plausible explanation – we all thrust our fists in the air and cheered. These guys are exceptional athletes, and I think a lot of people will join me in saying that, yes, the helmets and Kevlar vests are a welcome addition to the sport. Not one cowboy was seriously injured on Saturday night.

Those of us in the crowd were relieved. The bulls, however, seemed a little peeved.

Reach Jim Kershner at jimk@spokesman.com or (509) 459-5493.


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