The last weekend I went to photograph the oldest consecutive rodeo in Kansas. Unexpectedly, it was one of those events where I smiled all the way through.
I grew up in Europe, and my first contact with the so-called cowboys was when I went to a college in the US' Midwest. Many guys wore big leather boots, blue jeans with huge, shiny belt buckles, unbuttoned shirts, and hats, just to be cool. Add tobacco chewing and a big truck, and apparently, you get the ultimate coolness. I saw it as utter nonsense. I couldn't really relate to them, nor to rodeos.
But then I moved to a different part of the country, where the real cowboys live: ranchers who ride horses to herd cattle, move around the pastures, or chase steers, as a part of their everyday life. And each of those I met was a friendly, polite, and hard-working individual. Great people to spend some time with.
While rodeos started to make more sense to me, the ones that I photographed before were small and not-too-exciting events. Yet, I'd say they were more fun to watch than some of America's most popular sports (sorry, baseball fans.) So, when I got assigned the 78th annual Flint Hills Rodeo in Strong City, KS, last weekend, I looked forward to capturing it.
When I arrived, I walked around, took pictures, and talked with people; business as usual. But somehow, it was enough to make me smile. It was interesting to compare rodeos to mainstream sports matches. Say, during a football match, one can see an enormous variety of visitors regarding their beliefs, clothing, behavior, etc. On the other hand, people at the rodeo seem to be united in these ways. Yet, everybody has a different story to tell.
The event started with recognizing military members, talking about the importance of fighting cancer (that's the reason behind those pink shirts), and sponsors' announcements. Then, the singer started to perform the National Anthem, and the whole stadium joined in singing along, and everybody acted as if it matters. Regardless of my stand towards nationalistic thinking, it was an intense moment.
Then, the event kicked off with bareback riding, followed by bulldogging, calf roping, barrel racing, and bull riding. Spectators cheered on all of them, creating a friendly atmosphere.
They also had a few children's competitions, such as riding a sheep. A number of the involved got a taste of the dirt.
Meanwhile, the speakers aired one redneck joke after another, and the crowd laughed. They also included a performance of a rodeo clown, who danced with a horse.
I met some old friends there but also created a few new ones. Everyone I talked to had a positive attitude. Many people shared some basic thing that brings them joy, like good coworkers at work, a book they are reading, their family, friends, the current weather, and so on. It was refreshing, as at another event I covered earlier that day, I run into a person who started the conversation with something like: "So, I purchased iPhone 5, and just two weeks later, these bastards announced iPhone 6. I feel cheated!"
After the rodeo, there were dances with live music.
After taking a few pics for the paper, I joined and danced a bit — something I haven't done for years. I attended many concerts in that time; however, they were within metal or electronic genres, where dance equals moshing all over the place like mad. The country dance is a tad more serious, so I tried to quickly recall some long-time forgotten waltz or foxtrot moves while attempting to adapt them to the "two-step" or whatever it's called, and I had a good time. Not sure if the girls I danced with felt the same, though. I bet it looked hilarious to the onlookers. Anyway, the community aspect of the event was more exciting than the actual rodeo. It was a good evening.