Unfortunately, this was before we had sound home movies, or my father would have also captured the chatter of the rodeo announcer, who spared no hyperbole in fueling the crowd's enthusiasm. According to him, this rodeo attracted the top cowhands from top spots throughout the country, including Pendleton, Oklahoma City and Cheyenne. In fact, shortly before my ride, I was introduced as a "promising young hand from Calgary, Canada," which I'm sure amused my parents, with whom I lived in Denver. We top hands, of course, were there to match skills with "some of the finest killer stock in the nation."
"Killer stock," scoffed Randy, pointing to a brand on one of the bulls in the pen. "This is old Beutler Brothers stock that's been unloaded long ago." As a serious rodeo competitor, Randy was, I think, somewhat embarrassed to be associated with this carnival-like enterprise. He was there strictly to win a few bucks.
Despite the ballyhoo, for me the occasion had an aura of authenticity. Cradled in the mountains at the edge of Pike National Forest, the outdoor arena had a rough-hewn integrity, even if it did slope badly. The judging may have been suspect and the stock mediocre, but nearly all the animals bucked, and rerides were awarded when appropriate—that is, when there was a problem with the horse or the equipment and the ride didn't come off true to form. The Paradise Ranch rodeo wasn't a competition among polished athletes, but a rodeo of the folks, and, in some respects, truer to the origins of the sport than its more sophisticated counterparts. I thought it was dandy.
The rodeo began with a choppy "grand entry"—a pair of chuck wagons and a few people on horses who chased around the arena behind a rider with an American flag. They pulled into formation at the center of the arena, and the announcer played a recording of The Star-Spangled Banner that popped like bacon grease over the P.A.
Bareback riding is the traditional opening event, and I had already rigged my horse in the chute. This time I used my rigging and my spurs, items recently purchased with an eye to a glorious future. Randy loaned me his chaps. The horse I had drawn was named Sorrel Top, and I was impressed with his size. I figured he was at least 16 hands high, but I was confident and eager to feel the explosion of power beneath me once more. Unfortunately, on this occasion I was blown right off the horse's back.
The film shows that I didn't even mark out—or get out of the chute in the prescribed manner. As Sorrel Top lunges from the chute, I am jolted away from the rigging and I am obviously off balance. But as he rises into his first jump outside the chute, we meet again in a single, glorious frame. Sorrel Top is arched like a rainbow with me at the crest of his back, and I appear so much in control that I once considered blowing up that single frame as a memento. However, as the film progresses and the horse lands on his front hoofs, I continue to rise along his flank. By the end of the jump much of my body is above his extended hind legs, a good eight feet off the ground. I am also spinning around backward, my grasp on the rigging long gone. I hit the turf like a runaway rolling pin and finally, reluctantly, work to my feet before the sequence abruptly ends.
"Let's hear it for him, folks," the announcer urges. "Your applause is the only pay he's gonna get today." It's a customary rodeo condolence, but the smattering of applause it elicited as I walked back to the chutes was strangely soothing. My exploit had been acknowledged.
I went back to Paradise Ranch one more time. Oddly enough, I drew Sorrel Top again and again was bucked off, though not quite as rapidly. After a few more jackpots at other places in Colorado—with no success—it became apparent that to become even modestly proficient would require more time, money, energy and practice than I was willing to devote. Rather than sell my spurs and rigging, I retired them as reminders of my experiences and the insights I had gained into the sport. To blow up that single frame of movie film as a souvenir somehow seemed dishonest. I'm content to enlarge it in my mind.