“It’s bulls and blood, it’s dust and mud
It’s the roar of a Sunday crowd
It’s the white in his knuckles, the gold in the buckle
He’ll win the next go ’round
It’s boots and chaps, it’s cowboy hats
It’s spurs and latigo
It’s the ropes and the reins and the joy and the pain
And they call the thing rodeo” – ‘Rodeo’, Bastian/Brooks
For Novel #4, I’m exploring a major interest of my protagonist: cowboys. I won’t be writing a western, but I’ve been enjoying reading some like Sackett’s Land by Louis L’Amour and Dead Man’s Walk by Larry McMurtry. I’ve also been delving into films and television programmes such as Unforgiven, Hang ‘Em High, Bonanza and Lonesome Dove. When I was a young reader, I devoured many Louis L’Amour novels, but then left the genre altogether. It’s been fun revisiting the setting and characters of the American West.
But today, the American West made its annual visit to our area in the form of the Kakahi Rodeo. Kakahi is a small settlement in a beautiful valley along the Whanganui River just a few kilometres south of Taumarunui. My past visits there have been to visit the lovely church and marae during my days teaching at St Patrick’s school in Taumarunui and to view the glow worms nearby. About 15 years ago, I took my son to the rodeo there, so I looked forward to seeing it again.
The rodeo is part of the New Zealand Rodeo Cowboys Association circuit and features riders from overseas as well as New Zealand and local participants. The rodeo has had some controversy here lately and I was even more intrigued at the notion of attending when I saw a recent story about a protest at the rodeo in Whangarei. The Auckland SPCA is petitioning for a ban of rodeo in New Zealand, citing similar movements in parts of Canada, the UK, US and Australia. While my primary interest in attending was literary, I also wondered what impressions I would have of the treatment of the animals at the events.
During my time in Kakahi, I witnessed team roping, barrel racing and bull riding. The general atmosphere was wholesome. The participants were decked out in their finest gear, the language was clean, families populated the hillside and all were encouraging of the many younger riders at various skill levels. Thanks to my friend, Adrian, of PC Solutions Taumarunui who was DJing the event, I had a high, shady vantage point from which to take some photos and videos.
A highlight for me was to meet up with a past pupil from Taumarunui High School who was scheduled to ride a bull later in the day. I have rarely met such an honest and congenial young man and it wasn’t long before he brought up the topic of the SPCA. He explained to me that nothing painful was done to the animals to rile them up and that a special rope was wrapped around the bull’s underside to tickle it enough to irritate it into wanting it off.
He took the matter a step further and invited me back behind the chutes and I was able to see for myself that nothing extraordinarily painful was being done to the animals. Mind you, how many of us would like to have someone climb on our back, irritate our stomachs while crammed into a confined area with several others gathered around yelling and carrying on? The point my young friend made to me was that not much more was being done to the animals that you wouldn’t see being done as part of an ordinary farm environment.
But, while I appreciated the explanations and the chance to see how the animals were treated, this was not my main focus. I enjoyed the morning and came away with several helpful impressions, some of which reinforced my ideas of Novel #4 and some which have challenged me to re-think things. What I have also discovered is that, the sensibilities of our age with regards to multiculturalism and animal rights are causing me to re-examine those simple stories I remember reading as a child. This is good in these early days of researching for Novel #4.