We sat at the border between New Mexico and Texas as a huge, 150 carriage-long train whizzed past us. We had been racing these long cargo trains the whole journey, each one very long and travelling around the same speed as the cars. We travelled through a few empty towns on our four hour journey – even once, where we had stopped at a crossroads, a large piece of tumbleweed blew across the road in front of us.
William wanted a John Deere green baseball cap so we stopped at a store along the highway. A customer at the check out started talking to us and it turns out that he had lived in Newbury, about seven miles away from us at home, and gone to the Cheam school for five years, before being sent to the Isle of Man. He was so excited to hear our accent that he convinced the guy behind the till to give us William’s $15 cap for free, along with a couple of keyrings. He joked that since we’d driven all these miles to get a John Deere hat, the least they could do was give it to us for free.
When we arrived in Post, we dropped our bags off at the Best Western where we staying and found that the evening’s Post Stampede Rodeo was directly across the road. We went down to the town centre, which was little more than a few wooden fronted shops, all of which seemed to be closed (probably in preparation for the rodeo). There was, however, three young children selling lemonade on the pavement by holding up a big yellow sign. We strolled over and bought some Hawaiian Punch for $1, which was served to us in a classic American red plastic cup. The boy addressed us as Ma’am and the girl told us a little about the history of the town in her lovely Southern accent. We bought some dinner supplies from the supermarket and took them back to the hotel.
The rodeo started at 8pm, but by the time we arrived at 7.45pm, the bleachers were already filled with hundreds of nodding cowboy hats. We found some good seats and settled right in amongst all the Texan voices. It is the 75th year for the rodeo this year, so it was apparently more popular than usual. The event begun with a thirteen year old girl singing the national anthem and was then followed by a prayer from the commentator, both of which the whole crowd fell silent for and held their hats to their chests.
The commentator begun speaking to his fellow Texans and thanked them all coming to the annual event. He then announced: “Do we have a Richard, Teresa, Rebecca and William here in the house tonight?” We all looked at each other in horror and confusion, as he continued: “They have come all the way from England. Will you four please stand up? There’s something all newcomers must do before the show starts…We must ask that all four of you give us your best Texan yahoo!” Well, that we were able to do! Dad led the way with a massive whoop, as we all cheered and I waved my hand weirdly in the air as if I was doing some crazy kind of lassoo-ing (cringey looking back). We got a big clap from the crowd and a lady in front of us turned around and said “Well we’re glad to have ya’ll here!”. Turns out that Mum had been speaking to someone called Sonia on TripAdvisor about things to do in Texas, and Sonia had secretly sent our names in.
Then it was time for the rodeo to begin! The next two hours were filled with the most exciting rodeo performances, including (as copied from the programme): bareback bucking horses, ranch bronc, steer wrestling, calf roping, muttin bustin, breakaway roping, calf scramble, saddle bronc, team roping, junior donkey riding, barrel navigation, junior barrels and bull riding. The riders braved these activities without a saddle of any sort – just a rope to hang onto. The aim of the game was to stay on for eight seconds, whereupon a loud horn would be sounded. In some categories, children as young as six and seven were riding, on horses which seemed about three times the size of them (as I watched some of the young girls with the cowboy hats on, I became very jealous that I hadn’t grown up as young child in Texas!). The muttin bustin was where the very young kids clung onto the backs of sheep as they raced around the pen, while the calf scramble was were all the children from the crowd were called down to race and see who could pull the ribbon off the calf first.
The bull riding was obviously the highlight of the evening for the more serious rodeo-goers: I heard two Cowboys behind me (who sat and barely said a word to one another the entire evening), say early on that they just wanted to see the bull riding instead of the sissy horsey bucking. When that particular event came on, the commentator got everyone cheering and clapping and a clown had to stand in the middle of the pen to encourage the bull to come out, before ducking into a barrel for safety. There were two professional cowboys in the ring, who would ride alongside the bucking horse and (if he had managed to stay on), would rescue the rider by pulling him onto their horse. We only saw one really nasty accident, where the rider literally flipped over the rescue cowboy’s horse and onto the other side, landing on his arm. Apart from that, just a few people got trampled, but these ones stood back up again skipping off and twirling their hats!
When the event had finished, everyone left the bleachers to watch a country band in the barn below. It was $10 to get in though so, as much as I wanted to go in and meet my future cowboy husband, we decided to just stand around and watch everything. As I went to get a drink from the bar, a boy came up and tapped me on the shoulder, saying in his Southern drawl: ‘You’re real pretty. I just wanted to tell you that you have a beautiful smile!’. From that moment, I was besotted with Texas and I know I’ll be coming back one day to ride horses and find my wild, bull riding, square dancing love of my life(..)!