I went to the Miles City annual Buckin' Horse Sale. I hadn't seen Montana so green since Noah ran aground!

It takes one back to when the West was not civilized. Today, in a time when athletes and audiences are coddled, one is reminded that many modern sports have evolved from more primitive survival skills, i.e., rock throwing to baseball, sword fighting to pool, spear to javelin, cannibalism to chili cook off, alligator wrestling to bull dogging. Over 200 broncs and bulls were bucked out over two days. After each ride rodeo stock contractors bid on the stock. The riders were young men who were competing for a purse.

Many of us have adjusted to the glamorization of rodeo. Clothing and gear furnished by sponsors. Shirts, chaps, jackets, horse trailers, pickups, boots, hats, vests displaying product logos mimicking NASCAR pilots. Television coverage, glossy magazines with ads glorifying the sport. All for the good of rodeo.

As I look back on the few years that I rode bulls, time has made the memory fuzzy. I had come to envision myself as a dashing, mature buckle bunny magnet, sort of a witty Ty Murray or a tall Larry Mahan. As I watched the 50 or 60 bull and bronc riders behind the chutes at Miles City, the truth came back. Most were 18-22 year old testosterone machines, fueled by each other's machismo.

Few had ever qualified for a pro rodeo card, but they were champs in the making. A gumbo stew boiling, one bubbling to the top every minute to strap himself on a beast, look fear in the eye, and say "Gimme your best shot." After their first, then second, then third rides the glamour was replaced by grit.?

Truth is, most had second-hand equipment, well-worn clothes and not much meat on their bones. Their boots duct taped, jeans patched, vehicles borrowed. As the afternoon wore on, the muddy arena played havoc with any fashion statement they might have intended. Hats were crumpled, shirts torn and bodies pounded. I realized, they were me. When I began I had no chaps, no Crocket spurs, only one hat, baggy jeans and a borrowed bull rope. I could taste the mud and dust, smell the slick brahma hair and feel the adrenaline.

Saturday night at the street dance on Main, interspersed among the 2,500 reeling spectators, I could spot the contestants. They had cleaned up a little, but not much. You knew the slick cowboy with the clean black hat, starched jeans and shiny boots had spent the afternoon in the grandstands.

But our heroes, who had to be sore, were surrounded by admirers (many female), reliving each ride and not looking beyond this night's party. And the longer the evening wore on the more glamorous they became.

That would be the feeling that prevailed and carried them to the next rodeo. I could feel it with them. Made me proud to be a cowboy.

Baxter Black, author, cowboy poet and former large animal veterinarian, lives in Benson, Ariz.

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