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Saddling up for the Walterboro Rodeo
I never outgrew my girlhood love of horses and count my up-to-now trip of a lifetime as the time I traded my English riding hat for a five-gallon number to gallop through the limestone gullies of the Chihuahuan Desert atop Cheetah, a mare whose photo hangs in my office to this day. All that to say, every spring as wildflowers crop up in the ditches of Highway 17 and signs for the annual Walterboro Rodeo pop up alongside them, I take notice. This year, as always, the big weekend at the Double D Arena hits the Friday and Saturday of Mother’s Day weekend.
When I first headed out there a couple of years ago, I went alone. I’m not sure why it wasn’t an easy sell to friends; they complained of it being a haul from town (about an hour away), a late night (it starts at 8 p.m.), not exactly “Friday night” urban fare, and on. So, cowgirl-style, I tuned them out and hit the trail solo. And I couldn’t have been more thrilled, because that daggum rodeo (and the ones since) has all the trappings of the ideal weekend ramble for me.
For starters, heading to Walterboro gets me out of the city and the norm. The drive always starts me thinking about how Euro settlers built homes in the small towns outside our cosmo village, how they traveled by river and horse, and how long it would have taken them to get from point A to point B via boat or beast. Next, upon arriving at the huge rural field where Double D puts on their show, I get to climb into horseshoe-configured bleachers that cradle an open-air ring and hunker down on my bench to take in big country skies, the scents of the coming season—like fresh grass crushed under heels, hooves, and wheels—and sights galore. Other bonuses? I’ve never bumped into a single person I know there, have no idea where the folks who join me are from, and love the anonymous camaraderie of it all. Last, the vicarious thrills of seeing gals race their horses ’round barrels; teams lasso and wrestle steers to the ground; and men hang rag-doll-like to bulls or bucking horses while aiming for eight-second glory makes the kids squeal, the crowd gasp, and me holler. And then there’s the food—steak vendors sell gingham-patterned paper trays of beef tips, roasted potatoes, and pretty much any other cow dish you can imagine—and it’s ramble heaven.
My friends may not have rallied to join me yet, but my mom? She’s a different story (and sort) altogether. Last year, I took her for a Mother’s Day surprise. Maybe that’s not your typical Mom’s Day fare, but she’s not your typical madre. She, whose teen riding lessons were at the Royal Riding Ground Complex on castle grounds in her native Copenhagen, was the one who taught me when to hang up that English helmet and bring on the swagger. She likely instilled my love of rambling, too, as she has explored this big ol’ country like only a true and curious immigrant can.
So as for our jaunt: Yes, she hiked up into the bleachers. Yes, she bonded with the surrounding 10-gallon set. Yes, I brought her beef tips and a funnel cake (the latter which caused me to miss the bull riding—a near tragedy even now). And yes, she hollered with the best of them. But alas, my mother did not, like many of the moms, hit the corral dirt for the annual attendee calf chase. (For the uninitiated, rodeo organizers tie a red bow to a calf’s tail, and kids race after the thing trying to nab the ribbon and immense honor. Moms go second, and they, too, stumble about till they’re covered in dust and mud, the calf surrenders, and the bow is snatched. The winner gets roses and a gift certificate for dinner out—I’m guessing it’s to a steak joint.)
My mom seems to draw the line at the tenuous point where hilarity teeters on humiliation. But then again, after a couple of decades stateside, the woman’s soaked up her share of cowgirl. Heck, she even became an American citizen recently. So maybe there’s some hope for a red ribbon this year. A rambling daughter can only dream.
Photographs Courtesy of Tommie Derry
21st Annual Walterboro Rodeo at the Double D Arena. May 7 & 8, Friday & Saturday, 6 p.m. gates open; 8 p.m. show. $15; $13 advance; free for child under 11. (843) 893-3894, (843) 909-4849, www.doubledarena.com