We sorted two bunches of sheep, starting at sunrise. It was a cold morning, but beautiful.
Riding Rough Stock
The rough stock waits in the chute.
Riders tug, straighten their chaps,
screw down their hats, squint and gauge
the critters they aim to ride.
“Now, folks” chants the announcer,
“The third go-round, Mutton Busting.
The riders are six and under,
weighing less that fifty pounds.”
Tears flow as a young rider
hugs tight to his father’s leg,
snuffles into the dusty denim.
“Cowboy up!” A brave nod.
A brother and sister–busters both–
adjust the numbers pinned to
their shirts, tug at the safety vests,
exchange cowboy hats for helmets.
This is serious business.
The rider drops onto the back
of the ewe with the wary look.
This isn’t her first rodeo.
Some grab the bucking strap
snugged behind her front legs—
a handhold on the shorn sheep.
Some wrap their arms around her neck.
“Let me tell you about this critter,”
Blares from speakers overhead,
“She’s known as Baaaaad Bessie—
and she’s never been ridden!”
The rider swallows, and nods,
and the chute gate flies open!
The ewe bolts like lightening
spies the white line dusted in the dirt,
And jumps! The youngster tilts
and turns, seeking mom, or dad,
and grips harder on every wooly bit.
The ground looks hard.
Then boom, the dirt rises up,
grit fills teeth, nose and eyes,
suddenly flooded with tears.
The crowd cheers, and claps.
Angelic, the Rodeo Queen appears,
smelling sweet—with hugs and smiles,
and a salute to bravery,
with a dollar bill, a shiny ribbon.
The mutton buster remembers
how the bronc riders do it,
brushes off the dirt and the tears,
and waves to the crowd.