Animals know nothing of Freud, Jesus, Buddha, Wall Street, the Pentagon, or the Vatican. They live outside the politics of human intention. Somehow they already inhabit the eternal. John O'DonohueI was there when he burst from the chute. A bucking, heaving, rippling mass of energy bound flesh. I was there when he projected his body across the corral, writhing, twisting, heaving. His entire being one massive muscle intent on ridding itself of the agony of the flank strap tight around its girth and the weight of the rider on its back.
I was there when novice bronco rider, Steed Cline, was dismounted in a flurry of swinging arms and legs to right himself in the dirt.
I was there when he dusted himself off and turned to watch the beast who out rode him to the eight second bell leap away.
And I was there when his look of frustration and disappointment turned to disbelief. Later he would tell a reporter, "I kind of feel bad... but that's the rodeo and life goes on. You can't have it perfect every day."
It was not a perfect day for Sinder Mountain, an eight year old bucking bronco from the Calgary Stampede Ranch stock. The torrential rains hadn't fallen yet. The hail hadn't come. The wind hadn't howled. All of that would come soon after the drama that was to ensue unfolded.
But first, man leapt safely to the ground. The mighty beast he'd ridden continued to buck across the corral. 20,000 spectators held their collective breath. The PA system went silent for one pregnant moment and the next ten minutes would drag like hours. A hush would fall over the stadium, the skies would darken but not yet fall. The heavens glowered. Dark clouds loomed. The wind picked up as all hell broke loose on Monday, July 12th in the second heat of the rodeo at the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, The Calgary Stampede as Sinder Mountain, rodeo bucking bronco went down.
I was there when he went down.
There was nothing majestic or beautiful in his fall. He stumbled, tripped, fell and couldn't get back up. His hind legs splayed behind him, he struggled to raise his body and collapsed again to the dirt. A pick-up man leaped from his horse, ran to Sinder's head and grabbed the harness. He tugged. The horse writhed. He tugged again. Tried to drag him across the corral to the gate. The mighty beast looked up. His mouth gaped wide, teeth bared. He shuddered. And the pick-up man hauled. It was as if the thought of 20,000 spectators looking on compelled him to fulfill on the unspoken Cardinal Rodeo Rule. 'Never let the audience see an animal down'. It was if the agony of the horse didn't matter. Getting him out of sight did.
Another pick-up man raced to the aid of Sinder. He beckoned to a volunteer at the edge of the corral. Frantically. Cowboy hats in place, 'dusters' flapping against their flanks, more men ran into the fray. Some carried a giant black tarp. Quickly, they closed ranks around the fallen beast. A curtain of black appeared and all sight of the mighty bucking bronco disappeared.
I was there when the ambulance arrived. I was there as the black tarp moved like a giant undulating caterpillar towards the open doors at the rear of the 'bus'. I was there when the tarp fell back to expose nothing but corral dirt tracked with a whirl of messy footprints and drag marks leading towards tire tracks where the ambulance had once stood waiting.
And I was there when back doors shut, the ambulance disappeared out the gate to some unknown destination behind the Infield at the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth. The Calgary Stampede.
The gates closed. The corral returned to life and the show went on.
I was there.
I wish I wasn't.
I wish I knew nothing of Freud, Jesus, Buddha, Wall Street, the Pentagon, or the Vatican. I wish I knew nothing of the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth. The Calgary Stampede.
I wish we knew better. I wish we, these two legged creatures of limitless possibility, whose minds can create cures for smallpox and rabies and put men on the moon and fly rings around Mars, I wish we knew better.
"We treat them [the animals] like family," said Stampede spokesman, Dough Fraser.
I've never stuck my children in a pen and tied a strap around their middles, tight, real tight, just so they would explode out into space in a frenzy of defying gravity in their efforts to release the tautness around their girth. I've never stuck 200 pound sacks on their backs and forced them to buck and shake and do whatever it takes to get the weight off.
I'd never do that to my children.
Why do I accept it being done to these magnificent beasts?
"It was a very, very difficult day for the Stampede," said Doug Fraser.
Yeah? Well it was even more difficult for Sinder Mountain.
It's been difficult for my conscience too.
But, that's rodeo and life goes on.
And my life will go on better without rodeo.
Fare-thee-well Sinder Mountain. Be of bold spirit. May you run free in the great range in the sky.