Without challenge, where is courage in the modern world?
Originally written on November 1, 2015. Updated and published on September 28, 2017.
Recently I visited a rodeo. This is not something I’d usually do, and I can’t remember how old I was last time I attended one…probably before high school. But I enjoyed the experience, and it got me thinking about several topics. The first of these was animal cruelty. While I can’t state that this is the case for all rodeos, I did not see anything I’d consider cruel going on.
I spoke to one of the men down near the chutes, and asked him what he thought about this topic. He explained that cruelty was frowned upon these days, and that the industry was aware of what people thought about it. He explained that it was understood people had other choices to spend their leisure time and money on, that word of mouth (through social media) was really important, and that for rodeo to stay alive, it had to make sure it both appealed to as many people as possible, and not to do things that didn’t pass public acceptance.
One of the parts of the day that most astounded me was the horsemanship on display. As someone who has personally had little to do with horses, to watch children under 11 move their ponies around 3 barrels in under 20 seconds was an impressive feat. What’s more amazing is that the kids this young set some of the day’s best times for this event, faster than either the teenage or adult competitors.
This made me think of the next objection some people raise to this type of thing – that it’s dangerous. One teenager did fall off his steed when it bucked him, and he got a little winded. I also have no doubt that others do get injured. But nothing happened yesterday beyond what I just described, and this refers to the animals too. In fact, some of the animals seemed to enjoy being part of the action.
And while I don’t think I’d ever get on a steed (the mechanical version is fine by me), it would be cool to ride a horse as well as the rodeo people do. This in itself makes me wonder two things;
There was a time when many people depended upon horses for so much; transport, muscle power for hauling, exercise, and even friendship. While accidents happened, people were used to horses, and to riding them. Now, most people live in cities, and have no contact with horses or cattle. While I can understand they are nervous around large animals, they seem to have no understanding of the bond that can exist between humans and these beautiful animals. And as such, rodeos may be perceived by some as a barbaric and violent relic of a bygone era.
The idea of riding either a horse (which can be controlled), or a steer (cow/bull, which cannot) doesn’t come across as the most rational of activities. However, much of what humans do is not rational either; smoking, building cars based upon motor transport, and indeed much of capitalism itself. But what I saw at the rodeo yesterday involved no small level of skill – and more importantly, courage.
Adults often talk about young people not showing enough initiative. Well, I pose the question – where is the scope to show courage in a culturally acceptable manner in modern urban life? Skateboarding? Or does it only show up (especially with young men) when they get access to cars and motorbikes?
Tragically, at least in Australia, young people suffer disproportionally from preventable deaths - far too many young men (and increasingly, young women) are injured and dying from their behavior on the roads. Worse, of course, is that other people often die in the same accidents. Is this a consequence of our modern world being (ironically) so safe that when young people get a chance to try something a little edgy, they take it too far?
While we don’t have the gun culture of the United States (for which heaven be praised), Australia shares with New Zealand the dubious honour of some of the highest youth suicide rates in the world, and these rates are higher in rural and regional areas. Is a lack of options to show courage, and to feel that they have earned respect in the eyes of adults, and their peers, part of this? As such, could rodeo be one answer to providing a socially sanctioned, supervised activity which allows young people to burn off energy, and to show courage?
It was great to watch the rodeo yesterday, as something well and truly beyond my normal scope of activities. It was also good to see that the event helps to keep some minimum level of horsemanship in the community alive….you never know, we might need it one day. And I can fully appreciate now what Billy Crystal was saying in the 1991 movie City Slickers;(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=77xaqFyFET0). I don’t “sell air” for a living, but I can see the appeal in doing something active and tangible….and why this made the movie so funny! :)