What do you get when you combine a handful of ambitious young bucks, a few wild equines and ornery bulls, a one-armed cowboy with two trained bison, a chatty clown and a stadium full of folks from the suburbs? Well, pardner, that’s the World’s Toughest Rodeo, of course.
The rodeo gallops into town every January, turning the Xcel Energy Center from concert-friendly venue to an area fit for bucking broncos and cow manure. For some reason, though, the rodeo never changes from its formula. It’s an enduringly popular event, attended last Friday by everyone from little kids to faux-country teenagers from Maple Grove. Said teens come decked out in their camo, sequined jeans and their most obnoxious straw cowboy hats, probably purchased not at Boot Barn (an official sponsor) but at Walmart.
You’d like to think the rodeo would be soundtracked to Garth and Strait and Merle and Waylon, but it isn’t. The most country thing we heard was Luke Bryan, which goes to show that the rodeo itself has evolved from a small-town tradition to a real flashy industry, much like country music itself. The cowboys take their turns riding to the sounds of Nelly, Kid Rock and even Bieber. The poor kid who had to ride to Bieber got tossed two seconds in, because of course he did.
If you couldn’t tell, the World’s Toughest Rodeo is not the rodeo you might’ve grown up with. It’s less of a competition and more of a show. They’re always looking for new ways to ramp it up, from loud pop music to adding pyrotechnics; it’s not too different from a monster truck show. You feel a little trashy, but it’s still entertaining.
Though I’ve attended for the past four years, I still have no idea how the riders are judged. Each hopeful young gentlemen aims to stay on his wild, angry animal for eight seconds, and many of them achieve that goal. It’s always thrilling to watch and amazing when you remember that these young kids - these Jeep Steinbrooks, Freeman Yoders and Dusty Elkingtons from Michigan, Kansas and even Minnesota - go back the next day and do it all again.
This year, the stunt riders were noticeably absent, and I missed them. I like watching pretty barefoot girls stand atop horses and do backflips, OK? We were treated to the One-Armed Cowboy, who chased two lumbering buffalo atop a trailer astride his horse. It was fun to watch, though, in all honesty, I would’ve been just fine watching the horses in all their massive, strong beauty run circles around the Excel to the sounds of “Damn It Feels Good to be a Gangsta.” While the cowboys perform admirably, it’s the animals who are the real stars. Sorry, rodeo clown, but you’re just not necessary.