Monday, May 19, 2008

Bucking Horse Sale

On Saturday, the 58th Miles City Bucking Horse Sale started with a really fun parade on Main Street. There were vintage cars, covered wagons, all manner of tractors and, of course, all sorts of horses, which logically paraded last. (Needless to say, in horse country like this one, it'd be an insult to strap on any kind of "diaper.") Both sides of the street were full to the brim with locals and many many out of towners from every nook and cranny. Officially, this weekend-long event started on Thursday night with a music concert;
on Friday cowboys began to confront broncs at the Eastern Montana Fair Grounds, and later there was bull riding and a street dance where 3 different bands played until very late. We missed all that, so the parade was the beginning for us. The three of us wore our hats; incredibly,mine's ten years old and out of fashion (see how tall it is?).

It's really interesting to see the changes happening in this small town of barely 8,000 people. In the relatively short time I've been visiting I've seen how it's becoming more and more trendy, like Bozeman, which is not necessarily a bad thing. For instance, Cafe Utza sells all the coffee combinations you'd find in any large city, and delicious chai, but you can also go to lunch at Cafe 600, an old fashioned family diner-type place.

And sensibilities and political stances are clearly changing: at the parade I saw several people giving out Hillary and Obama stickers, but I didn't see one person distributing anything in support of McCain. (Yeah, maybe I just missed it, but the point is that however slow, this traditionally staunch Republican community is clearly being recharged by a younger hipper infusion of ideas and commerce.)

At the end, we watched the bagpipers, the Miles City Caledonian Society Band (founded in 1908) go up and down the street as they celebrated spring and the near arrival of summer. This annual parade heralds the main activities for the weekend: the showcasing of horses auctioned to rodeo contractors, individuals and sadly (to me), as a perfectly strange woman explained, to the likes of Alpo. There are also horse races (a profitable part of the weekend, and not necessarily for those who bet), and different kinds of intermission-like shows such as synchronized riding.

To a city-bred woman like me, the Bucking Horse Sale is fascinating. The auction of each horse begins as soon as the gates are flung open and the cowboy begins struggling to stay mounted on the horse. The feistier the horse the more money he's worth.
The cowboy's aim is to show that he can ride an untamed bronc. A cowboy rides bareback or on saddle for a mere 8 seconds (which I'm sure feels like eternity to him) holding on to dear life with just one hand; the other hand must be visibly away from the horse, usually above the cowboy's head. The horse, an untamed fellow who's resistant to having someone on top of him, or to anyone telling him where and when to go, tries to throw the cowboy off his back by flinging his hind legs up and out. Most riders don't last more than 3 seconds; but on Saturday there were quite a few who held on past the requirement and invariably the crowd cheered their lungs out. As the auction rages, three other cowboys ride fast and furiously after the loose bronc. They finally rope and lead him through the corral into the trailer that will take him to a few years on the rodeo circuit or to Alpo heaven.

The races are equally enthralling, but you can't close your eyes for a second, because you miss the entire thing.

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