Sheep Racing In Michigan

In my time as a Travel Editor I had plenty of weird nights in mental places, but for sheer WTF this one took the biscuit…
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We’ve been on the road for eight days by the time the Rodeo starts. Eight days of micro-breweries, buffalo burgers, deli sandwiches, treehouses and chatting up waitresses who have never left their county but ‘love the accent’. From the urban sprawl of Wisconsin we’d travelled across Lake Michigan, alighted at Iggy Pop’s birthplace and driven through relative Deliverance country up to the North of Michigan to stay in the aforementioned treehouses at the Double JJ resort. If I’m honest, the meat sweats have got to me and I’m ready to go home. But when in Michigan…

The first part of the rodeo is fucking brilliant. Standing next to the bullpen, watching these 800 lb beasts snort and rattle the pen at the indignity of having their pendulous bollocks wrapped in twine is something you don’t get in Kent. Dogs run in all directions barking and causing havoc, the smell of shit hangs heavily in the air, pneumatic teenage girls dressed like Daisy Duke gaze at the bullriders with looks of sheer lust and the riders, square-jawed boys with single syllable names spit tobacco, curse and pretend to be men even though most of them could use a cat and a saucer of milk as a razor.

The rush of adrenaline when that buzzer howls the third and final time and releases the bulls is incredible. Banners flutter in the crowd, beer flies through the air and kids are forced to watch. The crowd isn’t huge, this isn’t Texas after all, but they’ve made up for the lack of numbers in their frenzied actions. Painting a picture of the importance of such events in rural communities better than I ever can. This is their fight night. Their coliseum.


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We watch nine bulls storm from the pen and only one is ridden for more than ten seconds. Three broken arms, what appears to be a crushed sternum and a hideous head gash that spurts blood all over the clown (a useless individual who saved nobody from hoof and horn) was the final injury count as the bulls had their bollocks unstrapped and the riders limped, crawled and wept to the beer tent and the buxom girls in checked shirts.

“Now boys, you look after your Momma, Daddy’s gonna go and wrestle himself a cow…” It’s 30 minutes later and we’re sat in the stands, smoking and looking through the raw shots of the bull riding when this line drifts up the seats towards us. The Cowboy in question is massive, an ape of a man, wearing a mix of leather, denim and dirt, all bursting at the seams. The cow, we reckon, is going to get proper fucked.

In short, it doesn’t.

Our man is up third. With the moon illuminating the area, he goes into a sumo crouch and sizes up the steer. It’s not a particularly big steer, but as it flies at the big fella we know he’s in trouble, he might have the size but he’s lacking speed. He sort of falls towards it, tries to grab the horns only to be bulldozed into a pile of dung-filled mud. Somehow, he manages to hang onto one of its back legs, which on the evidence of him being dragged through the shit was a bad idea. One of his sons starts to cry, his missus sparks a fag and we try desperately not to snort beer through our noses as he limps back, covered in shit and shame. “Sorry boys,” he stammers, “it’s up to you to uphold the family honour…”

I spend the next five minutes worrying that his two sons, the eldest one about six and the youngest three, are going to wrestle a fucking dog or something. I’m properly shitting it and can’t stop smoking, it’s only when they each get STRAPPED TO A SHEEP that I stop worrying and start thinking about intervening. I’ve never seen so many kids in tears, the three-year-old is absolutely hysterical as they force his head into a helmet. His Dad isn’t happy. “You little faggot,” he bellows, “you are racing this sheep whether you like it or not, be a man not a mouse…” Thankfully the race is a bit of a non-event and nobody breaks their neck, but if anything will encourage you to drink gut-rot whiskey in a barn then this is it.

“Up next we’ve got Oooowwwweeeennnnnnnn, a journalist from England, give it up for the limey fuck,” screams the announcer. The crowd assembled in the barn boos with real feeling and one bloke points an imaginary gun at me and fires as I walk up to the bull simulator. I respond by giving him the finger as I straddle the bull, and follow it up with an imaginary rifle after I hang on for dear life for 10 seconds to make it through to the second round. Fortunately, that’s where it ends. By the time I walk up for my second go at a much faster speed I’ve been mainlining shots and beers like the ghost of Oliver Reed and get unceremoniously dumped on my head to a huge roar of approval. The winner is one of the Daisy Duke girls, who mesmerises every man and lesbian in the place for 10 rounds as she tames the ferocious bull between her legs.

As she steps off to beat her way through the crowd, something weird happens. It’s like that bit in Dusk Till Dawn when it turns from a road movie into a mental horror vampire whore romp. Without a signal, 30 of the punters get rid of the bull, sweep the floor, arrange a CD player on a table and, you guessed it, start line dancing. Everyone in the place is smashed, even the kids seem to be off it on sugar, but they all know every move and sway, kick and clap in unison.

On the verge of tears / death, I manage to dive out through a denim gap and head for the pisser to hide

I’m sort of stood in a booze and line-dancing haze when Darren the snapper nudges me. At first I struggle to see what he is trying to get me to focus on, but then we’re surrounded by them. A gaggle of handbag skinned, check-shirted, yellow-toothed haggard lesbians who seem to have decided that, after a life of being treated worse than a horse by the local menfolk, they’re better off with each other. I’d be happy to agree with them and buy them all a drink, but then they start taunting me as a “fucking useless man,” and weirdly trying to grab my cock while keeping perfect time with the line-dancing actions.

On the verge of tears / death, I manage to dive out through a denim gap and head for the pisser to hide. I’m walking towards the ramshackle one-trap wooden structure when the door swings open and the shit covered cowboy from the rodeo comes out, tucking his stomach into his belt and scowling at the destruction he’s left behind. “Excuse me mate,” I say, “you haven’t got any cigarettes have you?” “Sure,” he replies, “but I’ve only got Menthol.”

Really, you couldn’t make it up. I take the fag, thank him, light it and spend the next five minutes dry retching at the stench he’s left in the hut. Yee-hah…

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