Independence Day is a three-day event here in Livingston, and the centerpiece is the Livingston Roundup Rodeo. There are so many rodeos in this part of the country over the holiday that they call it “Cowboy Christmas” — most of these riders will do two, three or four rodeos over the weekend chasing the bonanza of prize money available that might just get them through the rest of the season. It’s easier for the rough stock riders (bucking events) to do a lot of rodeos because they don’t have to haul livestock with them — often three or four guys will hire a small plane to hop between Livingston, Red Lodge, Cody, Great Falls. But the folks who ride timed events, team roping, bulldogging, barrel racing, tie-down roping, they have to haul their horses with them, and so, many of the top competitors in the timed events show up in Livingston the day before the rodeo for the Slack Competition.
I have no idea why it’s called the Slack, but it’s my favorite part of the rodeo here. For one thing, it’s really just rodeo people in the audience, and as I said to the nice group of roper guys I wound up sort of sitting with (listening to them bitch about their wives was pretty amusing), it’s the only time I get to really watch without having to explain what the events are, or that the calves will really be all right. None of my friends here really grew up around horses, and none of the people with whom I’m going to the rodeo tonight (to hear our Sophie sing the national anthem) or on the Fourth really follow rodeo at all. To them it’s a strange, and possibly barbaric form of entertainment and a lot of them are really just there for the social scene and the fireworks afterwards.
I’ve written before about how rodeo was a thing that Patrick and I did together, and it’s always difficult to be there without him. I got a little teary sitting up in those bleachers by myself, but after a while, as I wound up surrounded by that group of ropers, as I watched the little kids running up and down the bleachers like Patrick and I did during our childhood at horse shows, as we all watched Trevor Brazil, who is leading the standings for all-around champion this year, sign a hat for one of those kids (a kid whose ears seemed to be the only thing keeping that hat above his eyes), and chat with some of the older guys in the stands, as I sat there and ate my hamburger, and had a drink, and watched a lot of very good roping, and bulldogging and then some barrel racing, well, it felt okay. The last couple of years I’ve gotten too sad, and I’ve had to leave, and it makes me mad because I really like rodeo. I’d still rather not be there by myself, but this was the first year I had a good time. It was an odd good time, but the ropers were nice, and explained to me why they don’t like roping in our arena (something about how there’s not enough room, and when they push the calves out of the chute they tend to drive them over into the corner). It was companionable, and fun, and although the bucking events are spectacular, and exciting to watch in their own right, it was fun to watch the timed events, which take a whole different set of skills while surrounded by folks who don’t just think the timed events are the boring filler between the bucking events, to be surrounded by guys who frankly, would rather be out there in the arena than sitting up here in the stands.