With skies hued an appropriately blue-jean blue, this past Saturday in Oneonta marked the town’s first ever rodeo. The event, a fundraiser for the Outlaws, opened with a mounted rider holding on high the American flag, circling the custom built ring while the hearty crowd stood on its boot-clad feet and listened first to a recitation of the flag’s history, then the anthem, and finally the Cowboy’s Prayer. During the prayer the cowboys for which it was said could be seen—fringed chaps, leather vests, and all—squatting on bended knee, hats-in-hand and heads somberly bowed. Following this was a small parade of horses and their riders and then, with much hand-clapping and foot-stomping ado, the real action began.

The day’s feature event was bull riding. What a ride it was! Like the announcer said, “These bulls aren’t here for the petting zoo—they’re here to put cowboys down in the dirt in a big, big way!” Before entry into the ring, said cowboys squat, legs akimbo and heels propped on a lattice of rails, hunched over and waiting for the cue to drop down onto the awaiting angry bull. Both rider and bull are then released like a shot and the rider is tasked with trying to remain mounted for eight seconds. If a rider fails to last the duration, he comes up scoreless. If he avoids being unseated, rider and bull are each scored on a scale of 0-50. The bulls, with names like ‘Frankenstein’ and ‘Tonto,’ are judged on how they buck; the cowboy on how well he one-handedly grips, maintains balance, and makes use of his legs.  Each cowboy has two rides, the final determining score being the average of both.

The sight was worthy of a few held breaths. Because, despite how glancing eight seconds may seem, a lot can happen in the ring of a rodeo in that short span. And staying atop a bull is, apparently, much harder than it looks. Many of the riders were bucked almost instantaneously, and some quite indelicately. As the announcer put it after a particular throw, “He got flipped over like a dirty pair of Wranglers in the washer!”

With high scores of 76 and 81, local cowboy Jamie Griswold, of Bainbridge, was the day’s big winner. Griswold started with calves, not bulls, at the age of 6 on his family’s farm. When asked about what inspired him to pursue riding as a career, he said “My brother and I saw it on TV and just thought, ‘I wanna do that.”

Other highlights included women’s barrel racing and team roping.

Just for the day, historic Damaschke Field was filled with the sounds of deep lowing, spirited music, and cheers from the fans occupying the bleachers. The air was laced with the tang of fried foods and manure, mixing with the dirt-sweet scent of sunshine on fallen leaves. Not surprisingly, Outlaws owner Gary Laing announced happily to the crowd that he “Can’t wait to do it again next year!”

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