I am here on the Garden Island of Kauai…to decompress. To put a little distance between me and doing, doing, doing. To sh-sh-sh the crazed hamster turning wheelies in my head. To tear myself from my cell phone long enough to breathe and not get sucked into another wormhole. I’m here to feel my heart beat. Again. To look up at a watercolor sky. To walk barefoot. Somewhere. Anywhere.
My husband Craig and I are up for a little adventure too. I read about it in the airplane magazine—The Kauai All Girls Rodeo. This week!
We follow the GPS to Poipu then rock n’ roll down a rutted dirt road to CJM Country Stables, park by a horse trailer and slog our pasty pale bodies to the nicely painted stands just as the girls ride the flags—U.S., Hawaii, The Kauai All Girls Rodeo Association–around the arena in the opening ceremony.
The “cowgirls,” as they are called by the announcer, are little ones wearing “kid” helmets to older gals, with wind-tousled gray hair that goes all horizontal on their high speed cowponies. A few wear cowboy hats and those hats go flying as the ladies circle the barrels and race for home. The winner does it in 17 seconds; the little girls take longer. Chivalrous cowboys retrieve the chapeaus for the ladies.
We arrive with the can of sunblock we snagged at Wal-Mart in Lihue and my ubiquitous bottle of Gatorade. Even the announcer warns us about the perils of dehydration…
I think this is my first rodeo.
But when I was a little girl oh I LOVED horses, ever since I learned to “post” on an English saddle in the badlands of Washington D.C. Better known as the bridal trail loop in Rock Creek Park.
But when the family moved to Los Angeles the best news was that Western saddle. Oh God there’s something for my little girl hands to grab onto. In those days an hour horse rental at the local stable cost $2.50. I paid in pennies. I’m also lucky to be alive because I wasn’t a very good rider. Nor very smart around large animals. Twice my horse reared up and I went in the opposite direction, landing hard on my butt. Once my horse fell down, on all fours, and took me with him. I scrambled free before he rolled over me. Then there was the time my rental steed took off down a desert ravine, I lost my balance and slid off but caught my foot in the stirrup. I could have been paid big bucks for that nifty trick if I was a stuntwoman. But no… I just got dragged in the dirt until the horse decided to stop.
Craig and I took a trail ride during our honeymoon in Lake Tahoe and that’s the last time I’ve been on a horse, unless you count the merry-go-round in Santa Monica and Disneyland. It’s been 30 years.
All these memories wash ashore again as I watch the ladies do their thing. The trade winds feel like soft feathers across my face. The lush green hills and sparkly ocean form this spectacular backdrop for a rodeo, Hawaiian style, where the girls and boys speak Pidgin. Where the island tradition of Paniolo is honored and carried forth.
After the opening ceremony the “rodeo Zamboni,” which in this case is a flat bed truck pulling a giant metal grill, drives in neat concentric circles around the arena. I am mesmerized by the whole spectacle. And it’s good to smell horses again.
I cheer on each girl, even if she knocks over a barrel. My stomach drops to my knees as one the young lady is thrown from her horse at the second barrel, right in front of me. She’s laying flat on her back, legs splayed. She can’t get up. The medics rush in, another cowgirl grabs her loose horse. They know the routine. The announcer tells us that “these things happen.”
I remember how I walked away from my horsey mishaps, unscathed and very lucky, and am much relieved when the young rider is finally helped to her feet. Strong arms support her as she limps to the gate.
My life is very busy. Go cowgirl, go! Faster. Faster. And then the barrel gets ya…
We stay for the team calf roping event. There goes a baby cow…or is it a steer…and it’s running, running, taking aim at the opposite end of the arena as two ladies, their ropes spinning in the air, chase after the critter. One cowgirl is supposed to lasso the head and the other is supposed to lasso the hooves. And I’m wondering if the cow is thinking “F**K YOU!”
AND they are being timed how long this all takes, IF they can do it at all. Most of them can’t and one pair of cowgirls actually gets chased by the cow. Really? That got them a free turn. Bad cow!
I am fascinated. This is…so…outside my “bubble.” But my brain is still here, churning butter and trying to figure out HOW things work… And I’m really curious how the cow knows to RUN in the first place AND to the other side of the arena where it trots into a rather compact metal slot.
So we pass a couple cowgirls on our way to the car and I mosey over to have a little chat. “Hey There! I have a city-slicker question for you…” as I confess ignorance when it comes to animal husbandry. Well they are the nicest ladies and one declares “that’s a very good question.” What a relief because I’m feeling kind of “bubble-wrapped.”
So this is what happens: The staff comes early to work with the cows, run them around, show them the exit and all that stuff.
“Will they remember for the next rodeo?” I wonder aloud.
Apparently they kind of do remember UNLESS the rodeo is at another arena in which case they have to be “re-educated.” I immediately flash on my early piano bar days–when I changed gigs a lot and it was a different piano, in a different room, facing a differing direction, with different people… well it took me a while to “find my slot.”
This is one reason why I recommend people play their ukulele in different places in the house, outside, on a park bench, at your doctor’s office. It gets easier to find your slot, no matter where you are.
Just makes good horse sense.
A Little Extra Something: Years ago I wrote a song called “I Wish I Was a Cowgirl.” It’s one of my absolute favorites. I was stuck in freeway traffic one icky, smoggy afternoon and this country-fantasy daydream stole me away and wrote itself into a song. Please click here to watch the video on YouTube.