Pendleton Roundup: Horses and Bulls

An exciting day today as we got to attend some of the Roundup events. The Pendleton Roundup began in 1910 as a celebration of horsemanship and cowboy skills. From the beginning, a key feature of the Round-Up, and crucial to its continuing success, was the inclusion of Native Americans. Round-Up promoters invited people from the nearby Umatilla Indian Reservation for the Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla tribes (now the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation) and tribal members from throughout the Northwest to participate in the event. They set up a teepee encampment next to the arena grounds and gave demonstrations of traditional dancing, horsemanship, and skills in beadwork, leatherwork, weaving, and basket making.

Each September, as many as 50,000 spectators crowd into Pendleton to watch the four-day, community-owned and staged event. The Pendleton Round-Up was performed during the tough economic times of the Depression, overcame a disastrous stadium fire in August 1940, and came back after a two-year suspension during World War II to thrive as one of the top rodeos in the world. It includes not only the main arena events, but a pro bull riding event, a pageant parade, country music concert, nightly Native American show, competitions and all sorts of side events.

We started the day with a haircut for Bob in one of the town barbers. I tried and failed to get my hair cut too. No one was open…. We enjoyed a wander around the town centre which is very charming with lots of antique buildings, saddle and western wear shops and some nice boutiques. There is a new little hotel housed in the old brothel and various other speakeasys. Under the town centre are a series of tunnels dating back to prohibition days and earlier that linked the brothel with dive bars, opium dens and gambling hells…. Its a fun place!!!!

After lunch in our room, we headed down to the Round Up arena. First we had a walk through the teepee village whick is a massive traditional campsite for the collected tribes. Each tribe has a defined area with flags above each teepee denoting their affiliation. It was really amazing to see so many teepees set up in one place, some of them beautifully decorated and furnished inside with carpets and cushions.

The main rodeo events do not start till Wednesday but today and tomorrow there are what they call the “slack” events. Slack events are the eliminators for the rounds later in the week. It is necessary to limit the official number of rounds in the roundup proper otherwise it would take too long, hence the slack rounds. We watched the team roping and some of the barrel racing.

Team roping is when a team of 2, have to chase and rope a cow. One of the horseman lassos the cow around the neck, then the second has to get a rope around at least one leg. It’s against the clock and the fastest rounds win. If they only get a rope around one leg, it’s a 5 second penalty, if they miss both legs it’s a 10 second penalty. Failure to get even the first rope on is a no-score. The cows come barrelling down the shoot and run really, really fast. Quite a few of them completely evaded the chasing cowboys. The fastest time to get a double rope on was 4.8 seconds. It was most entertaining to watch and much harder than they made it look.

warming up

The barrel racing was mainly for women riders. Each rider is against the clock and has to ride their horse tightly around 3 barrels and then charge down the centre to cross the finish line. Again, very exciting to watch and very fast.

All the horses were very beautiful and immaculately turned out and appeared superbly well trained. We really enjoyed it and at $5 each, it was terrific value.

We left at about 430 and came back to the motel to freshen up for the evening bull riding competition.

Well….. enjoyable as the afternoon was, it was nothing compared to the Extreme Bull Riding Finale we went to tonight. This is the last event on the bull riding rodeo tour and the deciding qualifier for the world championships in Las Vegas coming up soon. Wow. It was a total sell out event and I can see why.

The opening light show gave a taste of what was to come followed by a stirring rendition of the Star Spangled Banner by a local school girl. It was a moving thing to see: the whole audience standing and singing along.

And then the bull riding….. it just beggars belief…. the bulls are huge, enormous, great hunks of pure muscle, bred to buck and kick and give the riders the worst few seconds of their lives. In order to score, the rider must stay on for at least 8 seconds, using only one hand with a scant handhold at that. The other hand must be held above the head. There is no saddle or stirrups obviously. As soon as the gate to the pen opens, the bull charges out, bucking madly, kicking out, doing it’s utmost to dislodge the rider on its back. Most of them don’t last 8 seconds. There were 26 riders, all top competitors, including the top 15 in the world. There were 3 rounds where they all ride a bull, picked by random lot for them – there were 26 bulls too. Only 3 riders made the 8 seconds in all 3 rounds.

some not so lucky
this was a ferocious bull
very lucky to walk away and watch the rustlers!

In some ways, the bravest men of all were the bull rustlers and the clown whose job it is to step in as soon as the rider is off – whether voluntarily off or thrown off – and distract the bull from kicking and goring the rider, and tempt it to run off back down the chute and out of the arena. Mostly that’s what the bull wants to do…. but not always…. not always….

It was thoroughly thrilling and amazing to see and well worth the $45 each we spent. I’d go again tomorrow night if we were here. The event was sponsored by Coors and I must say a lot of beer was drunk. It wasn’t quite on a par with a British soccer match, but they were getting there….. All I can say is that if you ever get the chance to go and see this sport, do take it. It’s amazing. It really is something to see.

Amazing harvest moon developing tonight. Took a couple of shots on our walk back to the hotel.

Pendleton… It’s a cowboy town…. and proud of it.