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A cowboy’s summer hobby

Erica Louder for Progressive Cattle Published on 24 July 2020

Last week, I was talking to a fellow rancher friend. She commented that one of the reasons she liked summer so much was the chance to slow down just a bit. I did one of those comical-cartoon double takes. “Slow down, what do you mean slow down? Summer is so busy.”

She laughed and said, “Well, it helps that we don’t try to be farmers, too.” I couldn’t fault her for that logic. She said, “There are things to do for sure, but it’s not quite so busy with cows out on the range.”

Earlier in that conversation, she had told me about a new acquaintance (a non-rancher) who had asked her what she liked to do for fun. She told this new friend that she rode horses. Confused, the friend rephrased the question, “What are your hobbies, like the stuff you don’t do for work?” Then my friend, confused herself, said, “I ride horses and rope.” The conversation ended in a stalemate, with neither of them understanding each other.

After she told me this story, I laughed and said, “That’s our problem in agriculture, we don’t know what it’s like not to work. Even our hobbies resemble work.” I said this while thinking of my own hobby/obsession with gardening, which is a little short of a full-time summer job.

We had this conversation while sitting on the sidelines of a junior rodeo as our 6- and 7-year-old daughters competed. With my babies growing into full-blown kids, rodeo has taken up a significant spot in any hobby time I am allotted. And, true to our theory, the rodeo hobby does resemble work, especially for a junior-rodeo parent.

For the full-time rodeo cowboy, rodeo is their work. And, for the full-time cowboy, handy rancher or weekend warrior, rodeos are a part-time job as well as the best, most expensive hobby they’ve ever had the pleasure to be part of. And, for the rest of us, rodeo is our favorite spectator sport. Rodeo really is the fundamental hobby of the ranching community.

Without the need to elaborate, this year has and continues to be a strange one, and rodeo has not escaped that reality. Most of the major rodeos across the country are canceled, and the rest are running with restricted audiences. In my little corner of the world, junior rodeos and county fair rodeos are functioning as they have in years past, but with an undertone of uncertainty as we watch COVID-19 cases rise and fall. With that said, our county fair board is hoping for the best rodeo in years, believing if we can keep our rodeo open, the best cowboys and cowgirls, desperate for rodeo winnings, will flock to Jerome County.

I am writing this the day after Independence Day. This week is known among rodeo athletes as “Cowboy Christmas” because there are so many major rodeos in the 10 days surrounding the Fourth. Many contestants feel like the period “feels like Christmas,” and a good run in that week can be their ticket to the big dance in December.

With hundreds of rodeos canceled this year, and uncertain cattle markets, maybe we need to revisit the “cow that stole Christmas” byline and make it “Corona, the one that stole Christmas.” I am sure I am not the only one who hopes that by the real Christmas cattle markets are recovered, and by next summer, our favorite cowboy summer hobby can resume as planned. In the meantime, remember that riding horses and roping is a valid hobby, even if that’s what you also do for work. We are agriculturalists after all.  end mark

Erica Louder is a freelance writer based in Idaho.