by Guest Blogger Millie Theis Martin

Rodeo time in Houston and the string of trail riders wreak havoc with the traffic and frustrate other drivers, but, for me, they stir up fond memories.

images8QAPQEQTWhile I never participated in a trail ride, my younger sister and I always rode in the parade marking the opening of the county fair and rodeo. We had a two-wheeled cart pulled by our Shetland pony, Tony, black with a white streak on his shoulder.

Most years, my younger sister and I were decked out in our boots, cowboy hats and pearl-snap shirts, but one year, we were George and Martha Washington for some theme long forgotten. The cart was converted to a surrey with a fringed top. Since I was two years older, I was George. Taller seemed to be the key to my selection.

My long blonde hair was tied in back and dusted with baby power until appropriately white. I wore a black cutaway jacket, vest and knee-length breeches with long socks. The teeth were permanent and my own.

My sister, as Martha, had the feminine outfit, with ruffles everywhere. Her white cap was gathered with a ruffled edge, her long sleeves ended in ruffles, and, yes, more ruffles rippled down the front of her dress.

Where was my fairy godmother when I needed her?

Our small town parade was the spark that ignited the fun. The ensuing days were filled with a rodeo, carnival rides, and contests. The exhibit building displaying quilts and canned goods demanded a quick survey, though women lingered to “ooh” and “aw” over the blue ribbon winners.

The rodeo competition was real, no fluff there. The spectator seats were hard and splintered, and the pungent smell of the rodeo stock’s revenge made my eyes tear. Only first-timers sat on the first row. Those in the know moved at least to the second row to avoid a face full of dirt kicked by an angry bull or bucking bronco.

Barrel racing was the only event for women, but my favorites were steer dogging and the cutting horse contests. For those of you unfamiliar with the rodeo–steer dogging is man against beast. Two riders parallel a steer, and one jumps from a perfectly good horse onto the steer. With his arms around the horns, the cowboy plants his boot heels in the dirt and proceeds to pull the animal to the ground.

rodeoThe cutting horse event is a contest between a well-trained horse and a calf singled out from a small herd. The horse’s job is to keep the calf separated from the other cattle. The horse and rider dance as one. A slight movement of the rein and a nudge of a boot is all the rider might contribute. It’s the horse’s performance.

The ferris wheel was the star of the carnival rides. Since motion sickness has always plagued me, I steered clear of things that moved in horizontal swirling motions. No carnie was complete without throwing a few pennies to win a teddy bear, and the day wasn’t over until hands and faces were sufficiently sticky with cotton candy and the ubiquitous music spun in your head.

In a less politically correct and compassionate era, there was always a show of oddities—both people and animals.

However, the tent that fascinated me the most was in a far, dimly lit corner of the grounds surrounded by a long line of men and marked with a sign reading, “Adult males only allowed.” Seductive music and a belly dancer enticed the crowd. I suppose even if I had donned my George Washington attire, I wouldn’t have been tall enough for admission, but I wish I had tried.

I think it would have been more interesting than the two-headed calf.


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Millie Theis Martin writes for children and young adults from her home in Tomball, Texas. She has worked as a contract writer for Concordia Publishing and is published in children’s magazines, anthologies, and academic journals. She holds a Ph.D. in educational psychology from Texas A&M University and has teaching experience at all levels—preschool to university.

Millie is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and Assistant Regional Advisor for the Houston chapter.

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