Real Western > Rodeo > Japanese Rodeo Cowboys > Jin'ichiro Shibahara

Chasing The Dream

Written by Jin'ichiro Shibahara

Apr 29, 2007 - Lakeside, California

I took off from Springville early in the morning and headed South on Route 15 through Bakersfield, then through the mountains, and then through San Diego.  Going through L.A. via Route 5 would have been the shortest way, and even though it was Saturday morning, it just didn't seem like a good idea, so even though I probably drove further, I think I made up for it in time.  Some relatives of mine live here outside of San Diego, and being that it's only an hour to Lakeside from there, I asked to stay with them a while.  As a matter of fact, it had been about 10 years since I had last seen them all.

Sunday, I headed out just before noon, full of joy having been able to sleep in a bed with my legs outstretched and eaten a warm breakfast.  The rodeo started at 2 p.m.  It took me longer then expected, what with my taking the wrong exit and all.  Proportionate to it's larger population, the 43rd Annual Lakeside Rodeo was also a grander spectacle than Springville, and being that it was Sunday afternoon, just about all seats were full.  There was no space available in the contestant parking area, so I was forced to park in the same area as the spectators, something that would have both good and bad consequences for me later in the day.  I had a long walk to the arena carrying my gear bag on my shoulder, and to make matters worse, the rodeo office where I had to go and enter was on the other side of the arena.

Once I entered and finished preparations, I still had quite a bit of time.  The area behind the chutes was quite small, and it was difficult to find a spot what with the gear and such of bareback and saddle bronc riders sprung all over the place.  I decided to take out just my rope, rub in some rosin, then wait a while for their performances to pass.  The bull I had drawn this day was #987 Magic from Salt River Rodeo.  I had ridden one of their bulls at the PRCA rodeo in Tehachapi last year, and they're one of my favorite stock contractors.  I found Magic in the pen and it turns out he's the smallest bull of the day at only about 1300lbs, with black speckles on a white body.  However, when it comes to bulls, bigger is not necessarily better.  Bulls such as this have a commonality of being fast on their feet.  Probably faster than anything a Japanese person could imagine when they think of "cattle."  Agile may be the best word to describe them.  Then again, the movements of all rodeo bulls are beyond the Japanese imagination!

The only rider I knew was Vince Stanton from Idaho.  He's about my age and has been to the NFR, but suffered major injury some time ago and has been attempting his comeback since last year.  Of the eight entered, I was the eighth to ride.  In other words, I was the last rider in the last event of the rodeo; I was the closer.  Of course, they didn't choose for me to be in that position; the order we ride is determined by the order the bulls load into the chutes; mine just happened to load last.  And then, all seven were bucked off; even Vince.  When the seventh man climbed into his chute, I too climbed into mine and began heating my rope.  Even after he was bucked off, the bull refused to leave the arena so I was told to wait.  The crowd knows, and I know, all seven before me have failed; the air was thick with excited anticipation.

One of the reasons I like Salt River stock is the calm demeanor of their bulls in the chute.  They are used to being in the chutes and never fight or act up.  It's well known that bull riding is a dangerous sport, but actually, one of the most dangerous moments is the one minute or so you spend preparing and waiting for your turn in the chute.  If it's a young bull or a chute-fighter you're wrapping your rope around and he kicks his rear legs up even a little, it will launch a rider forward, slamming his face or head into posts or slide doors in front of him, causing fractures or even concussions.  Another common occurrence is a bull leaning to one side or the other and pinching a rider's leg between the bull's body and the gate, and if done with some force, this can break a rider's knee or ankle in a heartbeat.  So, what every rider really wants is to get out of the chute as quickly as possible.  On the other hand, if you don't take the time to get yourself properly ready and into position, your sure to be finished one buck out of the chute.  So, what you want to do is hurry, but steady your breathing, calm down, keep an eye out on what's going on out in the arena, listen to what the guys around you are saying, yet making sure you are properly prepared, then signal to leave.  But with bulls like Magic, you can safely take a little more time preparing.

After leaping out of the left side delivery, Magic immediately changed directions; this is what we call a "turn back" and that is when a bull makes a sudden 180 degree change in direction.  It may be hard to believe, but less than a second has passed at this point; that's how fast these type of bulls move.  With that move, he started into a left-hand spin and gradually increased the speed at which he spun, kicking as he goes.  A bull kicking with his rear legs as he spins puts greater centrifugal pull to the outside on your body, and I was just about thrown off.  When one rides with his left hand, it is said that it is easier for him to ride a bull spinning to the left; this is because it is easier to for someone riding with their left hand to get their balance on a bull spinning to the left than it is on a bull spinning to the right.  I'm not sure how long I was on that bull, but apparently, in my eagerness to throw my right arm over my head I apparently lowered my right arm too far, thus causing too much weight to be placed on my left arm holding the rope, with the result being that my left arm became stretched straight, and where I sat being pushed back from the bull's shoulder area to the middle of his back and being thrown off.  And wouldn't you know?  I was hung-up again!  And it was a long time being swung around from there...  The bull was still going wild, and while the bullfighters are doing everything they can to get me off, but my hand just wouldn't come out of the rope.  The bull is swinging me around so hard I am horizontal in the air and can't get my feet on the ground.  Then, the bull changed directions and I was sucked under the bull where I was drug around the ground a while, getting stepped on all over by his hind feet.  Finally my hand comes out of the rope, only to have him turn around and charge me, bashing me with his head and stomping me this time with his front feet.  I was on my back but somehow managed to twist my body over and crawl away.  I was saved when Troy, the barrel man got in between us.  The whole affair must have lasted over a minute!  Hardly a good experience...  I tried to stand but my right calf was swollen.  I could barely walk.  Troy brought me my rope and I thanked him.

I began to change in the now deserted area behind the chutes.  My relative's kid Josh came running over and asked if I was okay.  Once I got my jeans off, I realized my right calf had now swollen to about twice the size of my left.  It seemed swollen to capacity and was hard as a rock.  One of the bull's rear feet must have stepped right on it.  Oh well; in this game, a bruise ain't an injury.  It seems this was the first rodeo the 14 year old Josh had seen, and he seemed awfully excited.  Taking out his cell phone, he called his mother, my relative, to let her know where he was.  She too came around behind the chutes and took a picture of me with Josh.  Skip from Salt River came by and said, "See you next week!" and walked off.

Then it was a long walk to the parking lot.  As I made my way dragging my foot behind me, some of the spectators called out as they drove by.  Most of them seemed like they were still quite excited, screaming "I've never seen anything like that before!" and wearing expressions of surprise at the fact that I was up and walking.  It seems I provided them with the best entertainment to wrap-up their Sunday evening.  A young cowgirl walking with her cowboy dad asked my for my autograph, while another got out of his car to come over and talk to me (causing a traffic jam in the process), and when I finally made it to my car, an SUV drove up and stopped beside me.  Inside was an elder lady, middle aged gentlemen and four girls; all of these girls also asked me for my autograph.  Even though this was a professional level rodeo, there is just about no distance between the competitors and their fans; one of the reasons I love rodeo.  The people are just so warm.

Once I finished talking with all that wanted to talk with me and the traffic jam at the gate seemed to have dissipated, I was about to start my car when I realized something was wrong.  It seems I had lost my right contact lens.  I had left my glasses at my relative's house, and I dont have a spare.  My Prelude has a right light that won't go down (the 1990 model had retractable lights, remember?) and now I'm one-eyed along with my car.  It was just past five and the sun was still high; the sun doesn't set until sometime past seven this season in California.  Thanking California for it's long days, I started down the road.

My next rodeo is May 5th in Bakersfield.

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