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Bringing the heat
Unlike many others, I have not spoken in any prolonged conversation with my hero. I have not asked them questions, for I do not have to. All I need is 14.04 seconds.
I entered the Compton Arena that night for the Wild Rogue Pro Rodeo, not sure if I would see my favorite barrel racer Brenda Mays and her legend of a horse Judge Buy Cash…More affectionately referred to as Jethro.
Brenda Mays and Jethro are multiple National Finals Rodeo qualifiers, and Jethro is an American Quarter Horse Association horse of the year. That means they are among the top horse and rider teams in the nation, scorching the competition and running their way through rodeo after rodeo, proving time and time again that they are almost unbeatable. And when I saw them that night at the Wild Rogue, they beat everyone in a landslide.
I had been planning to go to the rodeo for months, but about a week before I had been tutoring a friend in my class named Scott. Now, I was tutoring him because he was failing three classes and in danger of repeating sophomore year. I told him if he could pass at least two I would take him on an all-expenses paid trip to the Rodeo. Need I say more? The boy had all his work in and was ready to go before I could say “Eight seconds.”
That night I dressed up nice. I knew if I was going to my favorite event I would need to look nice. A tan and turquoise western pleasure show shirt, dark Cowgirl Tuff brand jeans, Ariat boots and spurs with a Resistol hat atop my head. I was a tried-and-true cowgirl. I fed the horses, let the dogs out, and went to pick up Scott.
We arrived at the rodeo gates not an hour later. We stepped out of the big white Ford F150 and onto the black asphalt in the parking lot. Lights blinded us, the sound of the announcer bellowing and the smell of cotton candy and popcorn overwhelmed us and I couldn’t help but grin; This was my kind of place.
Entering the building after buying our tickets, there was a table with a free copy of the cascade horsemen, and Papa Murphy’s giving free pizza to anyone with a ticket. Stores had set up booths to sell their clothes and horse products. Ropes, bucking straps, hats, shirts, jeans, saddles…Anything I could possibly imagine. After buying what we could, we headed into the main drag to find our seats. Middle-front, high enough to get a full view and close enough to feel all the excitement.
The events flowed by; I cheered for the saddle bronc riders, hollering for the steer wrestlers, jumped out of my seat for the team ropers. But nothing could have possibly compared to the perfection of the barrel racers.
They all ran beautifully. Powerful quarter horses surged into the arena and left ruts from their powerful turning around the three barrels. Soon the beautifully tilled arena became disrupted and torn apart from the hooves. I watched anxiously as barrel racer after barrel racer went. 14.26.…14.58.… the times all blurred together, so I was no longer sure if anyone would get any faster. I was also losing faith that we would get the pleasure of seeing Brenda and Jethro.
But then, just as I turned off my video camera, I saw the massive black horse come dancing strongly up to the arena gates, as I rushed to turn my camera back on. No way was I missing this.
Jethro lunged and took off, Brenda spurring him right into position…A beautiful first turn as he surged for the second. The second was equally as gorgeous, and it was the closest barrel to us. I could almost see every muscle in his body rippling under a perfectly groomed and kept black coat. His mane has braided, and his eyes flashed; He knew his job and he wanted to win just as much as his jockey did. His turn was almost in slow motion for me as I watched both of them, the perfection of it tugging at me…Until all at once it came crashing back and the massive black horse punched on the gas as he left the second barrel, striding for the third.
I held my breath, knowing that they couldn’t knock this barrel over or they would be out of the race. I clung to my seat to keep from jumping up, my eyes glued on the sight before me. Brenda was up in her saddle when they were running, and I inhaled sharply when she sat down. She switched the reins to one hand, grabbed onto her saddle horn, and just as beautifully as the first two turns Jethro practically slid around the barrel.
When he reached the end of the turn he closed it by exploding out of the semicircle and pounding for the gate like it was nothing. He had done this hundreds of times before, he knew what it took to win; and so did Brenda. She rode him perfectly, stride for stride.
They crossed the timer and were gone from my sight. Their time was announced on the big screen…14.04.
“Wow.” I said, my breath catching. That’s all I could say, but that’s all that needed to be said. Anything else would have ruined the moment, making an understatement of the event I had just seen. Brenda Mays was the last barrel racer, and she had won the round by a landslide. On top of this, I had just seen my hero in one of her crowning moments. This was what made her and Jethro a champion team.
I went home that night, and went out to my own horses. My little mare Selena is reining bred, not rodeo bred. She stands 13.3 hands on a good day, with cow sense to put anyone to shame and a stop to kill. I smiled when she came up to me. We had been patterning her for barrels for about a month at that time.
“Will we ever be that good, Selena?” I asked her, patting her neck. She gave me a look that clearly expressed her opinion on the matter: “I’ll run my hardest so long as you give me carrots.”
It has been almost a year since I saw Brenda and Jethro run at that rodeo. I watched them over and over again for every round at the National Finals Rodeo on my little TV in my room, cheering every minute. During that broadcast I even got to see Brenda’s other horse Dora make runs, a privilege I hope to see in person one day as well. In the meantime, Selena and I have been putting together good patterns and nice times, but she still prefers to go out and work a cow. But that’s okay, it doesn’t have to be perfect right now.
All that matters is that this year, I’ll go to that rodeo again. I’ll get my popcorn and my soda, maybe a hat or a shirt for keeps. I’ll cheer for the saddle bronc riders, holler for the steer wrestlers, jump out of my seat for the team ropers. …And when I see that black horse and his jockey exploding out of the gate again, I’ll smile and turn on my camera, knowing that one day I’ll go on the road too. I’ll buy a rodeo caliber horse, keep Selena as a companion, and maybe…just maybe, I’ll get half the recognition my hero does.