The expression “This ain’t my first rodeo” is thrown around a lot, but what do you do if it actually is your first rodeo?
First, I should explain myself. I have never watched a rodeo in my life and have only been on a horse once, when I was five. I’m a suburban boy.
I knew nothing about what makes a rodeo great, but I took my pen and my notebook and attended opening night of this year’s Eugene Pro Rodeo in order to document the perfect rodeo spectator experience.
Don’t be afraid if you have no clue how the events work, it’s all right. I didn’t know how to spell “barrel” before I arrived. The announcers explain all the events in great detail to ensure maximum enjoyment. Although I was terrified the entire time, my favorites were barrel racing, when female riders race around three barrels, and bull riding, when a cowboy tries to make it eight seconds on a bucking bull.
Before you set out on your journey, you need to get dressed. Flannels, jeans and a hat will do. If you are tough enough, wear pink. The Eugene Rodeo has a motto of “Tough Enough to Wear Pink” for its breast cancer night.
It would also be wise to pack a bag of things to make your time more enjoyable.
“You should bring a sealed water bottle because they are $3 here,” said Larry Jensen, a rodeo spectator who has gone to every Eugene rodeo. Bug spray and a blanket were other helpful suggestions. I arrived with none of those things.
The events started at 7:30 p.m., but Jensen recommends arriving before the gates open at 5 to avoid crowded lines.
Which brings me to a very important line. First thing you do once you get through the gate is get your “CHITS,” which are used to buy alcohol. That line gets really long once events start, so it’s best to stock up early.
Next, you should get in the food line where people bond over their favorite rodeo memories and what food looks good.
Apparently it’s weird to have never eaten an “Elephant Ear” before, so get one of those and find a seat up close — you won’t be sorry.
“If you can’t taste the dust, you should stay home,” said Ron Bowker. “And you can quote me on that.”
Ron and his wife Laraine love rodeos. Laraine Bowker has been to around eight while Ron has been to more than 30, including ones in Montana and Reno. In fact, Ron used to help groom the animals for his local rodeo when he was growing up in Wisconsin.
“Been to a lot of rodeos, this one is top-notch,” Ron Bowker said. “All events are great, but the top is bull riding.”
There is naturally a debate on what’s best, however. Eugene native Opal Burdge, 23, worked the rodeo for five years and is now a spectator.
“Team roping is the best, but barrel racing is a close second,” Burdge said.
After the events, stick around for fireworks and the 21-and-over dance. After the festivities, go home and come back tomorrow.
“Come with other people you can have fun with,” Laraine Bowker said.
Overall, there is so much going on that it’s incredibly hard to find a dull moment.
“Have fun and watch and learn about the events,” Burdge said. “These are sports, too. Just kind of depends on if you want to see blood or you want to see speed.”
Follow Maverick Pallack on Twitter @mavpallack