I was about to enter my first competition in the Tri-Cities Rodeo Classic in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin. The announcer introduced me to the crowd of nearly 90 fans who packed the Wood County Fair Arena that night.
“Next on his maiden ride, we have David Hesse, from Brookfield, Wisconsin. He’ll be riding #12, outta’ Wheatland, Wyoming, a bronc named Peaceful, but I can assure you, that little bronc is anything but peaceful.”
A shiver ran down my spine, was I really going to do this? I looked at Juan Guitterez, my coach and noticed he was smiling.
Nearly all the spectators were either standing or perched on the edge of their seats. Suddenly, the crowd grew eerily silent as they released my bronc into the chute, but it wasn’t the bronc I had drawn the night before. It was a big black stud named Black Smoke.
“Hey, what’s this? I drew number 12, the little buckskin bronc.”
“Yeah,” the handler said, “but he kicked out the side of his stall last night and cut up his leg. We had to pull him. This here fella is his replacement. I know he looks pretty mean, but he was rode last night by Ferrell Bannister who pretty much rode the buck outta him. You’ll be fine, pardner.”
“Joo sure joo want to do this, gringo?” Juan asked. “Joo might geet hurt, reel bad.”
“No, but I’ve come this far and can’t see myself backing out now,” I replied.
Juan spent the past six months teaching me how to ride saddle broncs and now I was ready to try it out.
“The first time eez alweez dee hardest, gringo.It geets“ better, I promeese,” Juan laughed.
I stared at him and couldn’t think of anything to say, so I just shook my head.
“Joo ain’t got nothing under joo hat but hair, gringo. You see how beegs that flathead eez? Heez goin’ to keel you, gringo. If joo” die, can I have joo saddle?”
I looked over at Juan as I climbed the chute and said, “Sure, it’s your’s Juan. I appreciate your vote of confidence. Coming from my instructor it gives me a positive feeling.”
“Ha, ha, joo crazy, gringo. Thanks for jour saddle.”
As I stood on the fence, I looked down at this big flathead horse wishing I had the little bronc I had drawn the night before.
I eased down into the saddle, holding the buck rein in my riding hand and bracing myself with the other hand on the chute. I put one foot in the stirrup that was easiest to get to. Then I gently moved Black Smoke over so I could get my other foot in the stirrup. He looked up at me as I eased my feet up to the front of his neck, and I could see the whites of his eyes and knew you could hurt your eyes trying to find any compassion in that face. I was careful not to touch him with my spurs as that might have caused him to rear over backward.
I didn’t make any noise or quick jerking motions, remembering what Juan had told me, “Don’t joo speek out loud joo sceer your horse in the chute.” So I kept my mouth shut, for once.
When my feet and riding hands were in position, I leaned back and down in the saddle and tucked my chin to my chest. If Black Smoke reared out, I could still keep my balance. Juan told me if I didn’t keep my chin tucked and the horse throws his head back, I would be thrown off balance, lose his swells, and miss spurring the horse on the way out of the chute. How well you spurred your mount was part of your overall score.
When I was finally sitting on Black Smoke, I looked down on his head knowing a horse had to follow his head; if he rears, his head gives you the clue first. If he ducks you’ll be able to determine it earlier than if you aren’t looking at his head.
Finally, I was ready and nodded at Juan to open the chute gate. The big ol’ horse was watching me,
Everyone thought I was gonna get bucked, and Black Smoke wouldn’t just buck you. If you didn’t get out of the arena, he’d camp onto you something fierce. Then he’d go wipe out the barrel. Both Juan and I were scared.
Then Juan flung the chute open. The ride started out well. Black Smoke bolted from the chute with four straight high kicks and I stuck like glue. Then the bronc lunged to the left and jerked the rope out of my hands. I hung on with the tail of the rope, shifting to the left with each whipping turn.
I was doing real good, raking his neck with my rowels; then right before the whistle blew, I found myself too far to the inside. He caught me off balance and turned me a flip and while still soaring through the air, I heard the eight-second whistle. My final thought before I landed all wadded up on my back, breaking my collar bone was, “You almost made it Hesse.”