Back in the day, this time of year meant going home (to California) and tackling a new phase of competition. Coming off my winter run I was anxious to get back and geared for the “Grand Prix“ (of roping), California’s “rodeo” kick off, and one of the most major ropings of the year, The Chowchilla Stampede.
I had survived the winter as a foreigner, treading anti-team-roping ground (Denver, San Antonia, Fort Worth, Houston, El Paso) battling predominantly calf ropers and bulldoggers. These places were late bloomers to the team roping event. In those days team roping was merely a gleam in my eye that they didn‘t want to see. If I wanted to compete in the winter rodeos I had to play the home field’s game, and that was it, so come spring I was craving my own.
Of course there was the winter sum-up in Arizona where I could get my team roping game on. When it comes to winter-time roping there’s no better place in the world than Arizona, so I’d spend the latter part of winter with my team in the desert working Yuma, Tuscon, Scottsdale; and be waiting on Phoenix, (the final showdown), AKA “Jaycees’ Rodeo of Rodeos when that Arizona heat (dubbed “Air-is-on-ya”) would start closing in, like the stage curtain prompting our exit. We’d give our one last hurrah and compliantly head north.
Happy to escape the heat we’d finally cross into California and take a long breath of cool. Its notorious Spring rain would wash away the desert dust, while its lush blankets of green, blooming flowers, and beautiful women soothed our dry eyes and refreshed our attitudes. That first cross back never stopped being new, and we’d unanimously agree it was how the world should be. Life was getting good.
Though roping in Arizona I was in my element, I still always felt like a visitor roping on the away field. (A lion in the crocodile swamp). Once back on my California-turf, the land that I loved, the land that I owned in my heart, I became a determined captain kick-ass. The bell for round two would sound in my head as anticipation boiled in my blood. With home field advantage I was eager to show my rivals how it’s done, and I welcomed them into my house of pain.
“The meek shall not inherit the turf.” Bum Phillips
When we’d first pull in to Chowchilla it would be all soggy-wet and raining. You could see pieces of the event coming together, but it was like the lull before the storm. Waiting on the stampede to start, for me was empowering (like being the first kid to class on the first day of school). I could settle in and get a good lay of the event before it cluttered with competitors. This enhanced my confidence and affirmed my motto, “The meek shall not inherit the turf.” I was excited to be a part of the annual cattle drive moving 200 Mexican steers straight through the little town of “Cow-chilla“, and the first sight of those Mexican freshies was like coming home to mom’s cooking. I couldn’t help but lick my chops and think, moms’ putting on the steaks. I’d be so anxious to go off on them virgin Corrientes my hands would twitch. I knew full well, by the end of the year they’d develop into old, worn out pigs pulling on the end of my rope. At that moment they were hot, and I could not wait to sink my teeth.
On our way to rope our high team (in the pre-roping), rain pouring straight down on us in mud up to our knees, we’d ride past the water truck in the arena parking lot and chuckle at the ridiculous necessity. But, come our final round (at the end of the week), thanks to the apt work of Springtime sun and wind, we’d have to pull up for the water truck, who’d become the busiest, most needed necessity on the grounds.
My memories of Springtime and California (particularly Chowchilla which I won 8 times earning the perpetual trophy that I never received, eh-hmm) represent cleansing and rejuvenation. I could shed winter’s restraint like an old coat and spring into real rodeo-fever. There was something refreshing and magical about this time of year in rodeo that always sweetened my crave. It’s hard to say whether it was a winning “Springtime” start that brought a good attitude or a good attitude that brought a winning “Springtime” start. In any case the two were synonymous and proved advantageous in all aspects of my competition
Unfortunately, like a smoldering bonfire the Chowchilla Stampede has been reduced to a lower numbered, weekend roping, awarding insignificant titles. Where patrons once roped in what seemed like miles of countryside over a 35-foot score they’re now confined to an itty, bitty sheep barn with an even-to-the-box score. Though its legendary cowboys of back-in-the-day faithfully return every year to compete in its “Gold Card”, its sad to see something so significant has died. Like, that Springtime flower wilted so the professional cowboys of today have all rode away.
That’s all I know…