Leah Vann: Rainy rodeo a humbling experience for a Texan
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Standing out on the fence line, I pulled the hood of my ski jacket over my drenched hair.
It was the summer solstice in Steamboat Springs, but the day started with snow and as the temperatures slowly rose to a mere 40 degrees, that snow turned into a torrential downpour.
I called Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo Series announcer John Shipley earlier that day, asking if the rodeo was still on for tonight.
“Yes, ma’am,” Shipley said. “We rodeo rain or shine.”
See, the thing is, in Texas, we rodeo outside in the 100-degree weather. The metal bleachers jingle as we take our seats in our studded jean shorts. And part of the rodeo’s appeal is seeing all the cowboys dressed in their finest pair of Lucchese’s while we sport our Corrals.
Just as the sweat dampens our blouses or tank tops, the sun sets over the horizon and the lights turn on. The 90-degree breeze will brush our bare skin, bringing goosebumps.
Or maybe, if you’re at the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo or the Houston Rodeo, you’ll have a roof over your head and no concern about weather at all.
Now, I’m standing in the pouring rain in Steamboat with a ski jacket, turtleneck, scarf and pair of hiking boots and wool socks on. My hair isn’t done, nor is my makeup, and you’d be stupid to wear a pair of fine cowboy boots out here.
Nevertheless, Shipley promised that this frigid, rainy weather would make a good night for pictures. Steer wrestling would be especially interesting, since the cowboys would leap off their horses into the mud, swimming and slipping as they try to wrestle a clumsy steer.
I stood with my camera out in the rain, hoping to snap the perfect photo of local steer wrestler Jace Logan. The problem was, as I took my practice shots, the lens fogged up or water droplets made it hard to focus.
So much for the good photos.
It appears some of my fellow Texans were smarter than me. I’d hear their names called three times before Shipley wrote them off as contestants who didn’t make the trip. Then there was the kid from Weatherford, Texas, a town down the road from where I’m from, who dared to calf rope in this weather. The poor soul traveled all this way only to see the calf break through his slippery knot for a no score.
None of the saddle bronc riders managed to stay on long enough for a score, making a splash on impact with the ground, like they were bellyflopping into a swimming pool.
But no one got more down and dirty than the steer wrestlers.
“In theory you’re supposed to drop to the ground [on your feet], slow the steer’s momentum and throw him to the ground, but rain and mud changes the whole scenario,” 1996 steer wrestling world champion Chad Bedell said. “Now, your feet don’t slide, now they just stick. Go in on your butt and slide in the mud or run alongside the animal and slow him down.”
Bedell said that, while some rodeo cowboys avoid the muddy rodeos, he embraced them. Not only was it an adversity, but the narrowed field allowed for the toughest to bring home the big check.
“I was a little bit on the lighter end of the steer wrestlers,” Bedell said. “I was able to move my feet faster. But some of the bigger guys they have a little harder time with the stickier ground, and I always won a lot of money in these type of conditions.”
As Logan came out of the gate, he took to his feet to tackle the steer. The mud was no challenge to the agile former starting running back of the Soroco High School football team and state champion wrestler.
I snapped a couple of pictures before the raindrops got in the way. I thought of what Bedell told me earlier that day about adversity.
“Everybody is running in the same mud,” Bedell said. “It’s whoever wants to try the hardest will have a better chance.”
And I got the photo.
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