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A ripping good time - A night at the rodeo

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a cowboy.

I grew up in an age just as Westerns were giving way to cop shows on TV. The Cartwright men still held sway on the Ponderosa. Marshal Dillon kept the peace in Dodge City. And cowboys were the lords of the rugged Western terrain.

Cowboys were tall, lean and tough. They could mend a fence, break a horse, court the ladies and then head to the saloon for a shot of whiskey. White hats. Black hats. Life was simple.

So when I got transferred to Dallas for work, one of our first outings had to be to the rodeo in Fort Worth.

My English-born wife grew up riding horses (English riding, of course), and naturally gravitated to the Western lifestyle. So with our two youngest men home in Dallas for college spring break, we all headed over to Cow Town for a night at the rodeo.

Like those TV westerns of old, life at the 21st Century rodeo is simple as well. The program opens with exactly the right music - "Deep in the Heart of Texas," "I'm Proud to be an American" and of course the national anthem. Flags wave, the crowd stands and roars its approval.

Then comes the action - bull riding, calf roping, barrel racing.

We've all seen this stuff on TV and in the movies. But until you see it up close, you can't appreciate the sheer power of these animals. Bulls, with 1,500 pounds of taut muscle, terrifyingly throw their would-be masters into the air, snorting and stomping throughout the area. Unbroken horses demonstrate why they are known as bucking broncos. Young ladies thrill the crowd during the barrel racing, showing off unbelievable skills as their horses around the barrels at fantastic speeds. There was even a trick roper.

But as always, it's the cowboys who are the stars. These tall, lean and tough men see if they can stay on a bull's back for eight seconds. Or master an unbroken horse. All for a few dollars and a moment of glory.

There's no doubt that I made the right choice not to be a cowboy. I enjoy my comfortable job in front of a keyboard and screen. But on this fine night in Fort Worth, wearing my cowboy boots and big belt buckle, a little boy's dream is intact.

Enjoy the photos from the night.

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