All work and no play makes Dr. Bland a dull vet. Which is why I was happy to accept an invitation from a friend to attend a rodeo one Friday evening. We both belong to a local camera club and the event is a great opportunity for amateur photographers like ourselves. As we arrived at the arena, our backpacks full of photographic equipment, I thought it would be neat if we could acquire press passes which would provide us access beyond a general admission ticket.  I told my friend to follow my lead and let me do the talking.

I approached a security guard, presented a business card and introduced myself as “…Dr. Pierre Bland, a local veterinarian… “. I inquired as to whom we would need to speak about press passes. When asked what media outlet I was with, of course I proudly proclaimed my affiliation with the South Florida Times.  We were admitted to the arena and escorted to the office of the general operations manager. After a short conversation and a quick explanation of the dos and don’ts, our credentials were issued. My friend was amazed the process went so smoothly and my plan actually worked. I explained being a veterinarian with a newspaper, I am the kind of affiliation an animal related event like this would love to have. Rodeos are targets of animal rights activist for their treatment of animals, real and perceived. They are also competing for the public’s entertainment dollars in a very tight market. Rodeos today can used all the good press they can muster. We began our photography adventure in the paddocks, the back stage area.

In the paddocks, there were exceptional photographic opportunities among the livestock and cowboys. I quickly realized all the women in the area were either rodeo queens, show girls on horses, or girlfriends of the cowboys. Obliviously this is a man’s world in addition to not being very diverse. None the less, everyone was exceptionally courteous and more than tolerant in allowing themselves to be photographed. After an hour photographing in the paddocks, the event was about to start.

My friend and I split up and positioned ourselves on the floor of the arena along the protective fence. We heeded the advice of the general manager and located ourselves next to a support pole along the fence for our protection;  one additional barrier of safety in case something went wrong. Rodeos are very dangerous events. When you are down on the floor, you are part of the action and have to act accordingly for your own protection.

Contrary to the cliché, this was my first rodeo. I had only seen depictions of them on television, so was not entirely sure exactly what to expect.  The evening began with a patriotic display that also reinforced this was a celebration of the cowboy culture and thus the essence of the American spirit. The rodeo started with the first event, bareback riding. The object was for each cowboy to ride a bucking horse longer than his competitors while not being thrown off. The reason the horse bucks is because a strap is secured tightly across the groin of the animal along with the rider repeatedly digging into its side with spurs. As the horses madly dashed across the arena trying to relieve themselves of their burdens of irritation, they repeatedly came so close to my location I could feel the rush of air as they passed and was assaulted by the dirt flying from their hooves. The event was great to photograph but as it proceeded, I began to get that feeling in the pit of my stomach maybe this was not for me. That feeling was confirmed with the next event, calf roping.

The object of the calf roping event was to see which cowboy could rope and hogtie a running calf fastest while chasing it on horseback. The third calf of the event raced out of the shoot straight towards me with the cowboy in hot pursuit. The calf was lassoed right in front of me and when the cowboy lifted and threw it to the ground to be hogtied, I heard the thud of the animal’s body as it hit the ground. With that sound, I became physically sick to my stomach and decided the rodeo was not for me. I found my friend and told him I was going to sit under the tent outside the arena and wait for him. Apparently the expression on my face showed my disgust and he repeatedly asked if I was ok? I was honest and told him no. As I left the arena and proceeded to the tent, it began to rain.

I concluded that what I had witnessed was no more than a gladiator sport; not unlike football. With football however, at least all the participants can choose to participate or not. I asked myself how as a species, could we be so barbaric? To pass the time, I opened the news app on my phone and read about the terrorist attack on Paris.

I guess we are what we are.

Dr. Pierre B. Bland is a small animal practitioner who offers office and house call appointments to his clients.  His offices are located at 3225 N. Andrews Avenue, Ft. Lauderdale, FL and can be reached at 954 673-8579.