We went to the Ellensburg Rodeo and Fair this weekend, mostly to see friends and family. This year, since everyone else but Vic and I had seen Extreme Bull Riding the night before, we just did the Fair. We saw the draft horses, the pigs, sheep shearing, some fine chickens, canned goods, quilts and prize winning cakes, flowers and vegetables. The Yakima Nation was representing, and it was fun to watch the fancy dancing and the shawl dances, to hear the blessings and see very young children dancing alongside elders and young men and women.
After we had our corn dogs and lemonade we walked over to see the Pee Wee Rodeo. The site was set up under some shade trees with a small hay bale maze to one side and the rodeo ring set up in the shade, bulls and horses waiting in their paddocks. The master of ceremonies was eloquent, using his mike to count down the minutes and encourage signups of participants age 6 and under. There would be bucking broncos, barrel racing and calf roping. And everyone would be a champion because at the Pee Wee Rodeo that’s just how it is. He wore a cardboard belt buckle, won during his own days at the Pee Wee Rodeo many years before, and a spangly Western shirt. His assistants signed up boys and girls and demonstrated the events.
Before the action began, the audience practiced clapping for the champions, because it’s mighty disheartening to put your best effort out there and receive little applause. Finally the events began. Each round of contestants was sent behind the chute to get gussied up and choose their mounts. Each contestant was interviewed, asked about their strategy in the upcoming challenge, and introduced by name. Then the countdown, the opening of the chute and the wild rumpus began.
We knew none of the children but clapped and cheered for them, and laughed at the the commentary. I was struck by the safety of that child space, the permission each child felt to be the rider, rope the bull, put their own style to the action. It was a warm, encouraging enclosure of imagination and empowerment, where even the shyest felt free to spin and skedaddle and ride out from under their hat as they gave it their best. Sure enough, they were all champions. I wanted to bottle the magic of the afternoon, and give that straw hatted, good hearted, goldarned cowpoke a great big hug for giving us all that experience. But of course that would not have been fittin’.