Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Giddyup, pardner, it's my turn in the barrel

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AS part of my ongoing quest to improve myself as a human being, I have signed up for golf lessons.

I am extremely excited about my first lesson Thursday night and sincerely hope I do not have to cancel because of some unforeseen circumstance, such as being dead.

The possibility of sudden and painful death has raised its head because earlier in the day I will be taking part in the latest media challenge at the annual Manitoba Stampede & Exhibition in Morris.

I do not wish to brag, but last year I was crowned champion at the rodeo's first-ever milking competition. I credit that victory to intensive training and the fact that I was the only "media celebrity" willing to cheat.

Anyway, I was delighted last week when I received an e-mail inviting me to participate in a "barrel racing" event Thursday afternoon.

I had never heard of this event before but I was feeling pretty confident about the whole thing because I have spent a considerable amount of time around barrels and have never felt even remotely threatened by any of them.

I was explaining all this to my editor, Buckaroo Bob, when he began making frowny faces at me.

"Do you know anything about barrel racing?" Bob wanted to know.

"Yes," I replied casually, "It's a race involving barrels."

"Have you ever been on a horse in your life?" he asked, in the sort of tone you would use if you were explaining a complex mathematical concept to a shellfish.

"No," I sniffed, "Why do you ask?"

He then explained to me that barrel racing involves climbing aboard a live, dangerous-looking horse and racing at breakneck speed around three huge metal barrels placed in a cloverleaf pattern in the centre of an arena.

This so-called sport was apparently developed as a women-only rodeo event, a fact that didn't really make me feel a whole lot safer.

Later, I explained to our photo editor about the predicament I'd gotten myself into.

"Look at this," he said, leaning over his computer and calling up a series of photos showing plucky cowgirls riding obviously unsafe horses that appeared to be tipping over as they careened wildly around giant metal drums.

At this point, it seemed prudent to call the folks at the rodeo to find out whether, in an effort to improve media relations, they were trying to kill me.

I spoke with a very nice young woman named Vicky Dearborn, who is the assistant to the Stampede's general manager.

"I think we should just stick with milking," I advised her politely.

"Ha ha ha," Vicky said. "We just thought barrel racing would be a little more rodeo-ish for you guys than milking a cow. You actually get a chance to get dirt on your face."

I pointed out that it would be a bad idea for me to get killed because my insurance doesn't cover death by horse.

"I'm fairly confident that no one will die," Vicky said in what she seemed to feel was a reassuring manner. "But you might want to wear shin guards under your pants."

"Good to know," I muttered. "I'm guessing barrel racing is a walk in the park for someone like you."

There was a dramatic pause. "No," she chuckled nervously. "I'm terrified of horses."

I did not find this soothing. "My point exactly," I chirped hopefully. "We should work up to barrel racing via easy stages, such as milking."

Another pause. "Actually I was frightened by a cow, too," Vicky confessed. "I was feeding a cow and she sucked my arm in all the way up to the elbow. I screamed and pulled it out. I thought it was a meat-eating cow. It had a very long tongue."

Despite the threat of carnivorous livestock, I agreed to give it a go when Vicky assured me that (a) I wouldn't have to dress up like a cowgirl; and (b) they would hold a very nice ceremony for me if the event happens to prove fatal.

Not that I am at all worried about this. As a father and a respected journalist, I can't afford to get killed.

Not when I've already paid for golf lessons.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 17, 2007 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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