Pendleton, Oregon is a town far away from Seattle and fairly far away from Portland and really far away from Portland, Maine, a town no one has ever been to but is apparently surrounded by 40,000 acres of wild blueberries. Surrounded in the sense that the state of Maine itself prorogates this vast quantity of blueberry foliage, which turns out to be the favorite food of black bears, foxes, deer, rabbits, skunks, fox squirrels, chipmunks, and really liberal college students – all of which, when combined, explains why no one ever goes to Portland, Maine. At least in a touristic sense.
But remember, we’re talking about Pendleton, Oregon here, not Maine, so try to focus. Pendleton is located in the wilds of Northeastern Oregon, nestled in the valley of the Umatilla River and surrounded by vast tracts of golden wheat fields and little truck stop-like centers that usually have a Carl’s Jr. or some other “it sounded like a good idea, but now I feel gross” quasi-famous fast food chain. It has hot, dry summers and fairly short, cool winters that supposedly generate 15 inches of snow per year, but how is that actually tracked and measured? With a ruler? And who’s recording this? Are they trained in anything beyond ruler-holding? It sounds like a scam to bring in those tourists Portland (Maine) so desperately craves.
Speaking of tourists, our sources recently visited Pendleton. They confirmed the presence of the Pendleton Round-Up Grandstand, which immediately begs an explanation of why our sources were there and what, exactly, a Grandstand is. Our sources connected with a shipment of 1,000 pounds of Brazilian cocaine (ironically) smuggled by a Columbian cartel, which is why we shouldn’t have mentioned this. And a Grandstand is a structure for seating spectators of auto racing, horse racing, and rodeo events. It is, in essence, a single section of the stadium but further differs from a whole stadium in that it does not wrap all or most of the way around because the people who watch auto racing and horse racing are generally claustrophobic. Fact.
The existence of the Pendleton Round-Up Grandstand adequately explains the prevalence of independent retailers located throughout town specializing in cowboy and cowgirl stuff, a.k.a. “Western Wear,” many of which paid us to mention their names – specifically Hamley & Co. Western Store, ReRide Western Resale Store, and Staplemans Custom Cowboy & Cowgirl Boots and Shoes – the latter of which is very popular amongst people with a chaps fetish because they sell tons of chaps, chaps being sturdy coverings buckled over trousers with an integrated belt but, unlike trousers, lack a seat and are not joined at the crotch. Thus the fetish. Although the original intent of these strange pants was to allow those cowboys and cowgirls to ride horses and bulls and (when no one is looking) lions from the local zoo – and otherwise protect their legs from ranch-style environmental hazards like working with livestock and sagebrush and stuff. Oh, and no one paid us to mention their names – however, we’re hoping they somehow see this article and mail us a check. We like our chances.
The existence of the Pendleton Roundup Grandstand also explains the Pendleton Roundup itself – the over 100-year-old major rodeo held every year (except of course last year but returning this year – September 15 through September 18), adding upwards of 50,000 chaps enthusiasts of various persuasions to the town’s 17,000 residents. It’s pure madness. Main Street is converted from wheeled traffic to horse-traffic-only, there’s a dress-up parade which implies a certain amount of kinkiness goes on, kick-off concert, “Happy Canyon” show (a live retelling of Pendleton’s founding and other local histories), the largest annual teepee village encampment honoring the history of the Umatilla Native American tribe, and (off the record) whiskey swigging, fistfights, light gunplay after being accused “a cheat” in saloon-style poker games on dirty tables with puffy dress-wearing prostitutes lounging about various banisters… and of course, the Round-Up itself, which is where the athletics come in.
The Pendleton Round-Up is a member of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) and subsequently pays out $337,500 in prize money to the crazy maniacs who compete in Bareback Bronc Riding, Saddle Bronc Riding, Bull Riding, Steer Roping, Steer Wrestling, Naked Oil Wrestling, Team Roping, and Tie-Down Roping as both a trade and profession. Other events include Barrell Racing, Six-shooter Bank Robbing with Getaway, Breakaway Roping, and Wild Cow Milking. That’s right, wild cow milking. The whole thing is a PETA and possibly World Wildlife Fund nightmare, but lots of things are when you think about it.
The Pendleton Round-Up’s catchphrase/branding tagline “Let ‘er Buck” accurately describes most of what professional cowboys and cowgirls do. But in fact, both the humans and the livestock need to be in peak condition to compete. Plus, it’s a team sport, given the very nature of rodeo requires a working relationship/partnership between the cowboys/girls and the animal athletes. Any cowgirl/boy will tell you they take home a paycheck only when they, and the animal, are in top form. And when the animal is slacking, the human partner is forced to have difficult yet supportive conversations about what the heck is going on – coined “bull whispering” due to the bull’s natural tendency to bottle up its emotions or otherwise avoid situations where it has to feel vulnerable.
The factors separating the top athletes from the rest of the field are the same as any pro sport, those being raw talent, desire to win, mental fitness, attractiveness on a score of 1-10, hundreds of hours spent developing sport-specific skills, and extraordinarily high levels of fitness. To the latter point, pro rodeo’ers focus on core strength, overall strength training, lactic threshold improvement (similar to endurance athletes), and anything else that develops high levels of aerobic fitness as their heartrates are extremely elevated long before and after long after a ride (not just during the 8-second run on a bucking horse or bull).
There’s even a state-of-the-art workout facility in Decatur, Texas called Fit-N-Wise that Jerry Jones likely owns with a rodeo sports performance program that caters to the best cowboys in the world and tries to sell them PEDs in back rooms. Power, agility, explosiveness, and footspeed are all emphasized with pro-football-styled workouts like leg cradles, leg raises, lunges, kettlebell swings, medicine ball work, and tire flips – to name a few.
Speaking of football, there’s a former NFL player who joined the PRCA as a steer wrestler with much success: former New York Giants tight end Bear (real name, talk about being destined for football and/or rodeo-ing) Pascoe (several receptions in the Super Bowl XLVI upset of the New England Patriots – yay! – not to reveal our bias, oops). Note: Bear was not involved in the helmet catch.
The 6’5”, 260-pound Pascoe “finished the money” in the steer wrestling title race at the Ellensburg (WA) Rodeo, which offers competitors $341,885 in prize money. He compares steer wrestling to pro football in some ways:
“Both are very high tempo, very physical sports. In steer wrestling, you’re dealing with three animals and two humans, so a lot can happen. At least on a football field, most guys can kind of judge what team’s going to do or what a defense is going to do. There are a lot more variables when you’re steer wrestling.”
Good grief. Don’t tell Gronk about the PRCA, please. We love that guy, but it’s just, you know, it would be nice not to see him win yet another title in…anything. Not to show our bias against Tampa Bay. Oops!
The message here is the following: Pendleton, Oregon is a real place you should visit to watch cowboys, cowgirls, and their animal partners – a.k.a. top-notch athletes – perform at a high level. Plus, you may get to see some bar fights where someone is picked up, smashed on top of half-full drink glasses, and slid down the length of the bar to crashing in a heap next to the mustachioed, striped-shirt wearing barkeep. Oh, and Portland, Maine, is to be avoided. And we’re totally open to advertising your business within long-form copy.
See you at the Round-Up.