For those of you unfamiliar with the Pendleton Round Up (and I was one of you until I moved to Oregon) it is a rodeo unlike any other. While I was there, I tried to take some photos and video to demonstrate exactly why this is the case. Keep in mind, though, I am a roper and so are all my family members, so I hope you aren't expecting to see bucking horses and bulls. Also keep in mind I have an inexpensive digital camera, so the video is pretty crummy. But at least you'll get the idea.
So what's so special about Pendleton? Well, there are a lot of very cool traditions surrounding the Round Up, and they start and end with the arena. Let us begin by looking at a normal rodeo arena. This is Ellensburg, Washington, another of the string of big pro rodeos in the Pacific Northwest. Nice facility, grandstands, well-groomed arena surface. Very much a traditional setup.
And this is Pendleton:
Yes, that is grass. With a dirt track around the outside. And yes, roping and riding on a grass surface is a little on the tricky side. On top of which, Pendleton doesn't have regular roping boxes. Or a chute. The calf or steer isn't standing out there in front of you where you can see it.
In Pendleton, you start with your horse's butt cocked up against the wall on the high side of the banked dirt track and run 'off the hill' onto the grass to rope. When you nod your head, the calf comes trotting out of a lane behind you, under the grandstand, and you have to try to time your start on the move. It's almost impossible to describe, so I took video.
Here's the cowboy's eye view of 'running off the hill' in Pendleton:
The reason timing is so important is at the end of that lane, between the white gates, there is a barrier rope shown in the picture below. About twenty feet out from the barrier is a laser-activated electric eye that releases the barrier rope when the calf breaks the laser beam. If the horse hits the barrier rope before the calf trips the rope out of the way, the piece of cotton string just to the left of the orange flag will break and the cowboy receives a ten second penalty. This is called 'breaking the barrier' or 'breaking out'.
So not only do you have to run off the hill onto a slick grass surface and rope a calf that might go any which way, you have to try to be exactly twenty feet behind the calf when you hit the end of the lane.
Easy peasy, right?
*For those who care, I don't remember who the first roper was, but he caught a hind leg in his loop and wasn't able to tie the calf because it was all tangled up. The second was Tuf Cooper, with his dad Roy helping him with his horse in the roping box. He missed his calf.