The Old West Rides On

 E-Communications Manager Paige Ryan, with Honest Abe (left) and Mouse (right), introduces the press to the Grand National Rodeo at the Cow Palace. (Still from video by Jeff Kaliss)

E-Communications Manager Paige Ryan, with Honest Abe (left) and Mouse (right), introduces the press to the Grand National Rodeo at the Cow Palace. (Still from video by Jeff Kaliss)

Just around a big corner from the 7 Mile House — well, about a mile up Geneva Avenue —, you can be reminded, in grand style, both why the Cow Palace is called what it is, and where the protein comes for the Cow Palace Burgers Eating Challenge, which the 7 Mile has been hosting for the past several weeks. And there’s much, much more to see under the giant curved roof this coming weekend:  champion livestock (hogs and sheep, as well as the cows and steers), andscores of cowboys and cowgirls in jeans and stetsons in a variety of events of competitive skill and stamina, involving some of those steers as well as horses and even a few dogs. It’s the 75th anniversary of the opening of the ginormous Cow Palace, and the 70th of the annual Grand National Rodeo, of which this year’s installment began this past weekend. “In our culture, the Cow Palace is a great honor to work at,” commented Matt Merritt, the Rodeo’s designated Clown or Entertainer, during a press tour preceding opening day. “And that’s simply because these bucking chutes, which I’m leaning on right now, have seen every Hall of Famer in our sport.” Matt, who hails from Minden, Louisiana, points out to folks watching baseball or football in sports bars that, “A lot of people don’t view us a sport, but we are, a major sport. And we know that San Francisco is a great sports town, with world championship after world championship in many things.” (Well, Matt, not in all things, every year.) The rodeo, of course, is actually several sports, involving riding, roping, racing, and wrestling (steers). “There’s a lot of down time between events, and the audience pays good money to be entertained, so I work hand-in-hand with the Announcer to do off-the hip comedy”, Matt explains. The Rodeo also incorporates a livestock and agricultural exposition, a marketplace of clothing and gear, and award ceremonies, which this year honored Melanie Fowle, a cattlewoman from Scott Valley who has also taught AP English at Etna High School, in California’s Siskiyou County. Of course, there’s alsoWestern Barbecue and music, ending the activities on Friday and Saturday. Earlier next Friday, you’ll see the Mustang Act managed by cowboy Bobby Kerr, from Hico, Texas. Bobby introduced the press to Cinch, one of his newer horses, named both for a part of the saddle and for the brand of jeans and Western shirts which sponsors the act. The mustangs roam free over government land in California and Nevada, and Cinch is “still very herd-bound,” Bobby points out. “You take him away from the other horses and he gets nervous, but he loves people and he’s getting better every weekend. He’s probably more athletic than some of the other’s I’ve got, and I’m looking for that. I broke him to ride, I’ve worked cattle with him, he can already lay down and dip, lope circles, and change leads.” Bobby’s daughter Kelsey assists her dad with equine management, and was impressed by having ridden her horse, Trigger (named for movie star Roy Rogers’ mount) out into the Cow Palace arena for the first time. “It’s an honor, knowing the people that have been there,” she testifies. “And the horses feel the energy, the way they’ll feel the crowds, they know it’s different.” --- Jeff Kaliss

 Mustang rider Bobby Kerr praises his rookie ride, Cinch. (Still from video by Jeff Kaliss)

Mustang rider Bobby Kerr praises his rookie ride, Cinch. (Still from video by Jeff Kaliss)

Vanessa Garcia