Four Life Lessons from Watching Bullfighters at a Rodeo

I just attended a rodeo for the first time ever.

I was not disappointed!

From the moment I walked into the arena, I was surrounded by everything I hoped it would be. From the smell of the dirt floor to fresh popcorn. The sounds of the animals and the sounds of the gates opening and slamming shut. The sights of colorfully-dressed bullfighters and the American Flag hanging proudly in the corner.

I was trying to take it all in. How is it possible that I’m in my early forties and I’ve never been to a rodeo before?

I came to watch a family friend participate in the bull-riding events. He is just starting out, so after the rodeo, they do practice rounds with some tamer bulls. So I got to watch some really good professionals and some brand new rookies ride some really big bulls.

While watching and waiting, I began to notice how people were engaging and interacting.

Everyone had a role to play.

Everyone Has A Role To Play

The announcers were engaging the crowd, reading sponsorship announcements, calling for the riders, and announcing scores.

The bullfighters, dressed in their colorful outfits were wrangling the bulls and protecting the riders. Oh, and they were having fun too! Ok, I honestly don’t know if they’re actually called bullfighters or rodeo clowns. So, I decided to use “bullfighter” for this.

Even the kids were playing their part, literally! I saw little boys on the sidelines dressed in boots and cowboy hats playing with their toy tractors in the dirt.

As I looked closer, I began to take note of the social hierarchies in play. With the riders, you could easily make out groups and cliques. You could learn the routines of a rider from when he or she arrived to when they finished their ride. They dressed a certain way, prepped their ropes and gear a certain way. There were social rules for where certain riders placed their bags and equipment.

The same sort of social order repeated itself over and over again from the bullfighters to the cheering girlfriends on the sidelines, to the spectators and parents, to even the bulls in the pen.

Then I stepped back to think about how many times I’ve seen this play out in different settings in my own life and experiences.

In workplace settings. Family gatherings. Karate tournaments. Basketball games at the park. Business conferences and military training.

I think we can get overwhelmed with a new activity or oblivious to routine activities and miss out on the uniqueness of human connection.

Simple Life Lessons

I was reminded of a few simple life lessons while watching these riders and bullfighters…

  1. Everyone Has Their First Day. I watched Tyler, a professional bull rider stay on three different bulls for over 8 seconds each! Without having ever attempted this, I can tell it takes a lot of skill and training to accomplish this. At the same event, I watched brand new bull riders take their first ride and many of them barely made it out of the gate before falling off a tame bull. As great as Tyler looked, he had his first day too and no doubt has fallen off plenty of times. Communication professional, Pat Quinn with Advance Your Reach, always says, “Your first time may not be your best time, but you can’t have your best time until you have your first time.
  2. Everyone Should Mentor Someone and Be Mentored. The bullfighters were a show in themselves. They were dressed in wildly colorful clothes and were very agile as they ran around the arena chasing some bulls and being chased by others. It was fun watching them up close. Yet, even with all of the excitement, there was a storyline of its own happening within the ranks of the bullfighters. While some bull riders were taking their very first practice rides, there was a young, energetic and aspiring bullfighter watching every move of the experienced ones. At one point they invited the young protégé out onto the arena floor to try his hand at wrangling some bulls and he ate it up. He was hungry. My former pastor, WJ Jackson, taught on mentorship. When trying to decide who to mentor, he said, “You’ll know who to mentor because you’ll see something in them, something that reminds you of yourself. You’ll be able to mentor them at that stage because you know what you needed at that stage.”
  3. Don’t Be Afraid to Get Dirty. When getting ready to go to the rodeo, my sister told me to wear my boots. Great advice. This wasn’t the place to wear fancy shoes. There was dirt everywhere and no one seemed to mind. Some kids even brought their toy trucks to play in the dirt. Riders would land in the dirt and come up covered from head to toe in dirt. During intermission, everyone flooded the arena floor to dance, play and run around. No one, it seemed, was afraid to get dirty. Isn’t it so in life that we find the most fun and the most success when we just jump in and stop worrying about getting dirty? Mark Twain tells us to “Dance like nobody’s watching; love like you’ve never been hurt. Sing like nobody’s listening; live like it’s heaven on earth.” I would simply add to that, play like you have nowhere else to be.
  4. Try Something Different. This should really go without saying. Get out of your comfort zone and try something new. I felt out of place, I looked out of place and I’m sure I gave off some crazy vibes at the rodeo. I’m sure my facial expressions told their own story at times. But I had a blast, I learned a lot and I am certainly looking forward to attending another rodeo. We have to be intentional in life to allow ourselves to try new stuff. We have to allow ourselves to experience stuff that is different than the way we were raised or what is natural to us. While you may learn something different, you may also learn how similar things are.

Play like you have nowhere else to be.

I’m sure there were tons of other simple lessons staring at me but wanted to stop here and share just a few with you.

I encourage you (and me) to take time to step back and observe the world and people around you. Learn the stories and roles of other people. Embrace different perspectives and opinions. Seek to understand. Share.