Illinois Times: Another Rodeo Groupie

The following article was printed in the August 2006 edition of the Illinois Times newspaper. The Illinois Times is - or at least was - an alternative weekly newspaper willing to take a deeper look at issues then the average media is willing to cover. When the 2000 and 2001 National High School Finals Rodeo was held in Springfield, the Illinois Times covered humane violations and criminal acts of rodeo people in a way that the Springfield Journal-Register, the dominant publication in the city and a rodeo sponsor, would not.

The Illinois Times still claims to be an alternative newspaper. But that claim is refuted by the following rodeo fluff piece by reporter and obvious rodeo fanatic Dusty Rhodes. We're sorry that the Illinois Times, a publication with a history of good journalism in the past, has chosen to reduce itself to becoming a mere minion of the Rodeo Mafia.

This miserable horse just wants to leave the torment of the chute.

The Badder the Better 

My homeboy cowboy loves getting bucked

The Illnois Times
August 2006
By Dusty Rhodes

SHARK's commentary is bold and italicized.

Tilden Hooper was 14 when he started riding wild horses - or at least started trying to.

Horses used in rodeos are not wild, and even most rodeo people wouldn't claim otherwise. Rodeo people tend to claim that rodeo horses are rank or mean, but not wild. Ms. Rhodes comes out of the chute with her journalistic integrity already in tatters.

All his friends competed in rodeos, and Tilden figured he could ride bareback broncs, just as his father, Terry, used to do. Problem was, Tilden had failed to inherit his dad's innate ability to keep his pants pockets glued to a thousand-pound bundle of rapidly rotating equine energy. 

Ms. Rhodes' "thousand-pound bundle of rapidly rotating equine energy" is actually a domesticated horse tormented into acting wild. Rodeo horses are shocked, spurred and have a flank strap tightened around their groin. While the flank strap may not sound like much to a human, it is a huge issue for a horse. A horse will in some cases literally kill herself to try to escape the buck strap. Why did I call the horse a "her?" Because it is a ironic fact most bucking horses abused by these phony "macho cowboys" are females. 
The flank strap on this horse is mercilessly tight. The horse is still bucking out of reaction and misery-NOT because a rider is on.
The buck strap is a device that is loosely placed around a horse's midsection while they are in a chute. The rodeo contestant gets on the horse, and as the chute gate opens, a person pulls the strap tight around the horse. This exploits an area that horses can't stand to have pressured, and they buck furiously to try to get out of it- an impossible effort. Rodeo people may try to say that the horse is trying to buck the contestant, but that isn't true. In fact, when the contestant comes off the horse, the animal will usually buck harder because the weight of the rider is gone. These animals are abused, in spite of Ms. Rhodes' efforts to make it appear otherwise.

In fact, Tilden was so bad at bareback bronc riding that if natural talent were holy water, he couldn't have baptized a mosquito.

Pretty cute, Dusty. If the accuracy of your writing were currency, you couldn't extinguish a spark. Yeah, that statement doesn't make any sense, but then neither does Ms. Rhodes'.

His mom, Patti, cried at every rodeo Tilden entered for two years. "To me, those horses were horrible and they were gonna kill my baby," she says.

We realize that this is really tough for all rodeo people, but Mommy Patti needs to get a grip on reality. Her "baby" Tilden is the bad guy in this story. He takes part in the abuse of horses. He chooses to get on them knowing that they will have the hated flank strap put on, and then he will spur them hard and fast.

Rodeo people are quick to point out that their rules require that spurs be dull. There are two problems with this excuse. First, violations of rodeo humane rules are rarely if ever enforced. Second, even dull spurs can cause a great deal of pain, torment and injury to a horse.
Have you ever hit yourself with something dull like a small hammer, or stuck yourself good with something like a pen? That can hurt plenty, and that's just an accident. In the case of spurring bucking horses, the riders are intentionally slamming and raking their spurs into and up and down their victims. This can cause plenty of hemorrhaging and bruising under their skin, just as it would under ours.
Ask any responsible horse lover if they would purposely spur their animals hard and repeatedly, or better yet ask them if you can do it to their horse. Don't stand too close to the person when you make the request, though, cause they might just take a swing at you. That's because no caring person would ever do that to a horse, but rodeo people do it all the time. In fact, the more they spur their victims, the more points they get. That's the way it is in the Rodeo Mafia.

She happened to stay home the night Tilden got his bell rung in Shreveport, La. He kept asking his friends what had happened, and they would remind him that he had been bucked off a horse, landed on his head, and lost consciousness. Tilden would respond: "Don't tell my mom!" A few minutes later, he would repeat the same question and admonition again.

This is just a stupid paragraph. This guy chose to get on an abused horse, and then he fell off. It's not worth writing about, much less the failed attempt to glamorize it.

Medical tests showed that Tilden had fractured his skull and bruised his brain in four different places. The injury changed his outlook on bareback bronc riding, albeit not in the same sane folk would think. "I decided it was a little too dangerous to be doing just for fun," he says, in a soft drawl. "I decided I'd better get good at it."

Great. Baby Tilden decided to get good at abusing horses.

He was still hooked to an IV, pushing it on a pole down the hospital hallway, when he spotted his doctor and asked how soon he could ride again. The physician's recommendation? "Never." Tilden was back on (and off) a horse a few months later.

Is there really anyone who read this nonsense and was actually enlightened, or even entertained?

There's only one way to learn bareback bronc riding, and that's the hard way.

More worshipping at the feet of the phony cowboy.

Done properly, it involves the cowboy wedging one hand into a stiff handle, called a "rigging," strapped to the back of an untamed animal. For the safety of both parties, a sheepskin tickler is cinched around the horse's flank to encourage it to kick rather than rear up. The moment the chute opens, the cowboy is already using blunt spurs to knead the steed's shoulders - an action that requires the rider to suppress basic survival instinct. What happens next, ideally, is a horse hurricane, with the cowboy performing a graceful whiplash dance, continuing to spur while holding one hand nonchalantly aloft. If the dance continues for eight seconds, it's a success.

"Untamed horses?" Dusty, you are not telling the truth. Many rodeo horses were formerly owned and subsequently bought cheap at auctions. Virtually any horse will buck when it is abused with hot-shots, spurs and buck straps. And calling it a "tickler" doesn't change what a buck strap really is--a device used to incite a horse through pain.
The buck strap doesn't "encourage" a horse to buck, it triggers a reflex wherein the horse is desperate to rid itself of the hated strap. Many a horse has become injured and even died in the attempt.
The contestant doesn't "knead the horse's flank" He spurs the living daylights out of his victim. In fact, the contestant gets extra points for how much he uses the spurs. No caring horse person would do that. The "horse hurricane" Rhodes refers to is the behavior of an animal that is trying to get away from the abuse it is suffering. It is the same type of behavior the average person would have to being mercilessly abused - a desperate effort to make it stop. Rhodes' characterization of this struggle as a "dance" is as repulsive as it is a lie.

To learn this craft, you can practice leg movements on a "spurring board." And you can train like any other athlete - aerobics, weightlifting, stretching - or not. The only way to master the horse-human mind-meld is to ride mount after mount after surly, swirling mount. Eventually, Tilden says, a light bulb clicks on.

The beginning of this paragraph should read, "To learn this abuse" There is no horse-human mind-meld, and Ms. Rhodes surely knows this. Rodeo thugs don't meld with animals. They abuse them, they try to dominate them, they exploit them, but they don't meld. Rodeo animal victims want to get as far away from rodeo morons as possible. It's time for a major reality check for Ms. Rhodes. As for any light bulbs of knowledge or understanding going off in Baby Tilden, we suspect those occurrences are very few and far between.

Once that happened, he could ride anything. He gave up his superstitions (don't put your hat on the bed, don't wear yellow, don't eat peanuts) and developed a craving for wilder horses. In the bareback event, judges rate both the rider and animal, each eligible for a many as 50 points. If a cowboy gets assigned to a mild-mannered horse, it will inevitably decrease his score. Tilden always hopes to draw the "baddest horse they've got."

It figures that people who live their lives in a John Wayne fantasy land would naturally be a superstitious bunch. As stated before, the horses in rodeos aren't wild, and they aren't bad, they are abused by people like Baby Tilden. There are bad reporters with no journalistic integrity who glorify rodeo animal abusers, but there are no bad horses.

He has ridden enough bad horses to qualify for the National High School Finals Rodeo. Currently occupying the Illinois State Fairgounds, this rodeo lures thousands of competitors from as far away as Canada, Hawaii, and Australia. But Tilden is special to me, because he comes from a place close to my heart - the same little East Texas town nobody ever heard of where I grew up. His mom, Patti, was my classmate.

Ah, so finally we learn what is behind all this gushy, propagandist nonsense about rodeo. It's an attempt at a touching tribute to friendship between two Texas girls who are all grown up. Dusty, wasn't there something positive that you could have written about?

Ms. Rhodes isn't a journalist, but merely a good old girl from Texas, and she ain't about to let some darn fool ethics stuff (as in telling the truth) get in the way of painting rodeo the way she wants it to look, as opposed to the cruel and cowardly spectacle that it is. So Dusty and Patti, does the term "buckle bunny" have any special meaning for you? (For those of you who have lives and don't suck up to rodeos, that's a rodeo groupie)

The only real question is, how could an alternative newspaper that formerly prided itself on digging deeper into issues allow this propagandist garbage to defile its pages?

Before the rodeo Tuesday night, she and I swap compliments and the kids' photos and share a couple of Dr Peppers (the national drink of Texas) at the Hoopers' travel trailer. When we hike over to the multipurpose arena and take a seat in the bleachers, Patti is somehow able to pick out Tilden and Terry among the sea of straw hats, jeans, and chaps poised on the bucking chutes.

We have to ask if the editor of the Times actually looked at this piece before it ran.

"There's Tilden! See him? In the pink shirt. My baby has no issues with his identity" Patti laughs.

I'm sorry, but how old is Patti's "baby?" Our guess, based on her own comments, is that her baby has a whole bunch of issues with his identity.

She grabs my notebook and concentrates on writing down each rider's scores. If a horse darts around the arena, Patti sighs, "Poor kid."

Poor kid, right. Poor horse.

If a steed jumps and gyrates, she breathes, "Oh isn't that beautiful? I hope my baby gets a horse like that!"

"My baby." Good Grief! Thank God my mother raised me to be a man.

He doesn't. His horse surges somewhat spasticly but never once kicks up its heels. Afterward, back at the trailer, Tilden's heartbroken. "My horse ran away," he says over and over to the long list of friends who ring his cell phone to see how he fared.

Poor, poor kid. we smell a moping, droning whining country western song coming out of this sad story.

He will have another chance Saturday morning. If his two scores average high enough, he'll make the final round on Sunday.

This means that if Baby Tilden's horse is adequately abused - if the buck strap is sufficiently tormenting, if he spurs the horse hard enough, and perhaps if the steed gets a few thousand volts in the chute, Baby Tilden will get a high enough score for this John Wayne wannabe to pretend he's a man.

After this rodeo, Tilden will rejoin the professional circuit - Pecos on Wednesday, Honey Grove on Thursday, Mesquite on Friday, Teague on Saturday, Wemberly on Sunday (all in Texas), then Oklahoma, Iowa, Arkansas. He's 19 now, and nothing in his life matters as much as rodeo.

Nothing matters as much as rodeo. What great aspirations Baby Tilden has! Thank God he's not in my family.

"There's nothing like it in the world, nothing I would rather do," he says. "This is the only thing I've found that I'm willing to work hard to be good at."

We have always said that rodeo people just don't want real jobs. Baby Tilden just confirmed that belief.
Note from SHARK president Steve Hindi:
It must be mentioned that prior to discovering this article, I sent an E-mail to Ms. Rhodes inquiring if she would be willing to look at SHARK's evidence of cruelty and lawbreaking at the national high school rodeo finals. The cruelty included the shocking of two bulls, which is strictly forbidden by rodeo rules, and the rider of one of those bulls was injured and taken out on a stretcher. Additionally, I questioned how much tax money was wasted in bringing this cruel event to Illinois.

Ms. Rhodes response was that she really wasn't interested in the story because she wanted to write about people, not animals. I was confused, because even if one was to ignore the animal abuse, there was still the issue of an illegal act leading to the injury of a boy, as well as the matter of wasted tax dollars in a state that claims it has no money for even important programs.
Since Ms. Rhodes clearly stated that she was not interested in writing about the cruelty and corruption of the high school rodeo finals, I asked her if there was someone else at the Times I should talk to. She replied in the negative, claiming that she was "half of the reporting staff."
I was surprised that Ms. Rhodes seemed to be intent on steering me away from talking to someone who might have an interest in what was unquestionably a very newsworthy story. It was at that point that we picked up back issues of Illinois Times issues and found this ludicrous column by Ms. Rhodes. Apparently, the days of the Illinois Times doing deep stories and hard-hitting investigations is long gone, and that's too bad.

Click here to see the type of fine newspaper the Illinois Times once was.

Read SHARK President's Letter to the Editor, printed in the Illinois Times in response to their rodeo propaganda article: 


IllinoisCorruption.com exposes the cruelty and corruption of high-school rodeo finals held in Illinois. A link on the site www.sharkonline.org exposes Dusty Rhodes' highly inaccurate and juvenile fluff piece on the finals ["The badder the better," July 27]. Rhodes' piece completely excludes any mention of the extensive cruelty, including clear and obvious violations of the Illinois Humane Care for Animals Act, that occurred. It ignored the fact that both the governor and the Illinois Department of Agriculture ignored video and still-picture evidence of those violations. It further ignored the poor attendance and taxpayer money wasted.

I recall days past when Illinois Times published real news. While I am not a regular reader of the publication, when I did I had respect for your work. Rhodes' article was enough to taint the formerly high opinion I held. 

I can't help but wonder, when did Illinois Times decide to pick up the scraps that fall off the State Journal-Register's table? The SJ-R already holds the top spot for official rodeo cheerleader, so what is in it for Illinois Times to throw off any semblance of journalistic integrity?

The State Journal-Register sold out years ago. I just never thought Illinois Times would follow.

Steve Hindi
Showing Animals Respect and Kindness

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