Rawhide! No Bull

OK, Dallas, let's get past this right up front. Most of y'all aren't really from these parts—the chamber of commerce says more than a half-million new residents have moved here since 2000—and most likely have never seen livestock on the hoof up close, let alone a real rodeo. This is the summer to change all that.

Rodeo is fun, entertaining and family-friendly, and it's been kicking up dust for more than a century. In the metroplex, the ridin' and ropin' season runs from early April through late September, with events weekly at the Cowtown Coliseum in the Stockyards in Fort Worth and the 50-year-old Mesquite Championship Rodeo in "The Rodeo Capital of Texas." Parades, cattle drives, Wild West shows and special events including the annual Texas Black Invitational Rodeo for black cowboys and cowgirls and a stop on the professional bull riding circuit offer more than enough opportunities to take in the experience.

More than an event or even a sport, many consider rodeo a lifestyle, evolving from the skills early cowboys used in their home-on-the-range work life.

In the 1800s, the land we now consider the American West was actually owned by Spain. Along with converting Indians and saying daily prayers, one of the main activities of the padres was raising cows. Many mission founders were actually sons of Spanish nobility and had been trained in the horsemanship practiced in Spain for centuries. They passed these skills on to regular workers, who became known as vaqueros, or cowboys. Eventually, riding and roping evolved from work to entertainment to competition, and rodeo developed its own identity, around 1864. The word "rodeo" itself comes from the Spanish rodear (to surround).

The competition is divided into two categories: Roughstock events that include bull, bareback and saddle bronc riding; and timed events such as roping, steer wrestling and, for the cowgirls, barrel racing.

The cowboys and girls, professionals and amateurs alike, make it look easy, but roping and riding are definitely learned skills. It's the amateurs who can testify that "raw hide" isn't just an old TV show. The level and ability of the competitors, the livestock used and, most important, the amount of prize money is what separates the rookies from the veterans. Competition awards can range from polite applause to a million bucks, depending on the venue.

With more than 170,000 fans attending the annual National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas and more than 13 million viewers watching events on ESPN, rodeo is now big business, attracting major advertising sponsors such as Coca-Cola, Southwest Airlines and even FedEx. Today, a rodeo can also include events that didn't start on the ranch—"cowboy poker," anyone?

You can't talk about the rodeo without mentioning the rodeo clowns. Those of yesteryear were primarily entertainers, but today, although they still wear the goofy makeup and clothes, they've got skills. Rodeo clowns put their own lives in jeopardy to help protect competing riders from injury and even death and are constantly developing new and improved methods of distracting the animals. There's more to those brightly painted barrels than meets the eye too—they're padded.

Now, even if you just got here from New Jersey, you should be ready to head 'em up and move 'em out to some of these upcoming rodeo and related events in and around the metroplex. Yee-haw!

Stockyards Memorial Day Parade

Saturday, May 26, 9 a.m., Fort Worth. For parade route and parking information, 817-625-9715, cowtowncoliseum.com.

22nd Texas Black Invitational Rodeo

Saturday, May 26, 7 p.m., Fair Park Coliseum, 214-565-9026, ext. 305, aamdallas.org/rodeo.htm. Black cowboys and cowgirls compete for prizes in roughstock and timed events.

Professional Bull Riders Dallas Classic

Saturday and Sunday, June 23-24, American Airlines Center, 214-373-8000 or any Ticketmaster outlet. Stop No. 20 on the Professional Bull Riders 2007 Tour.

Mesquite Championship Rodeo

Fridays and Saturdays, April 6-September 29, 8 p.m., gates open 6:30 p.m., Resistol Arena, Mesquite, 972-222-BULL, mesquiterodeo.com. Now in its 50th year, Mesquite has been the official Rodeo Capital of Texas for more than a decade. In addition to competition in traditional events, see chuck wagon races and little buckaroos get their six seconds of fame in the mutton bustin' and calf scramble. Pony rides, petting zoo and gift, craft and souvenir shops too.

Stockyards Championship Rodeo

Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m., Historic Cowtown Coliseum, 121 E. Exchange Ave., Fort Worth, 817-654-1148, cowtowncoliseum.com. The ultimate rodeo theme complex. Cowboys and girls compete every weekend in the evening, and Pawnee Bill's Wild West Show recreates original shows from 90 years ago complete with trick roping, shooting and riding as well as cowboy songs and history in the afternoon, 2:30 p.m.-4:30 p.m. Then, twice daily, The Fort Worth Herd of real live longhorn cattle put on a real live cattle drive, 11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.; on Saturdays, li'l cowboys and girls get into the act and participate in the Cowkid Roundup at 1:30 p.m. Stockyards Station—25 shops, walking tours, vintage railroad depot, the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame and four indoor-outdoor banquet facilities—rounds out the offerings.

National Cowgirl Museum & Hall of Fame

Open daily, Monday-Saturday at 9 a.m., Sundays at 11:30 a.m., 1720 Gendy St., Fort Worth, 817-336-4475, cowgirl.net. Since 1975, the only museum in the world dedicated to honoring women of the American West, nationally known for its exhibits, research library, rare photography collection and the honorees in its Hall of Fame.

Here's a little trivia for you wild, wild (new) Westerners:

  • Sticks and stones. Calling a horse "baldface" is a compliment. It means the animal has an entirely white face, which is an excellent selling point in the horse game.

  • Not Brigitte. The French name "Bardot," so often associated with Hollywood beauty and glamour, is used in the rodeo trade to denote the offspring of a male horse and a female ass.

  • What's up with the red cape? Bulls are actually colorblind. They live in a world of blacks and grays. The familiar red cape could be sunshine yellow as far as the bull knows—it's the waving around that gets his attention.

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Cherrie Mackey

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