I attended the Bluegrass Rockin’ Rodeo at the Kentucky Horse Park on Saturday, Nov. 18. As the wife of a former competitor turned rodeo announcer, I have been attending rodeos for almost 30 years. As a donor to the Kentucky Horse Park Foundation, I take a keen interest in the Kentucky Horse Park and the part it plays as a community asset and in promoting tourism in the state of Kentucky.
Rodeos, almost without exception, feature a reading of Clem McSpadden’s “The Cowboy’s Prayer” before the beginning of the competition. It is an evocative poem asking for the safety of both animal and human athletes during the competition. The prayer is as much a part of the spectacle as the grand entry parade, a humble request for protection amid the pageantry that follows.
What I have never seen before is the Christian flag as part of the rodeo opening and the aggressive Christian and nationalistic commentary that followed.
As a Christian, I was uncomfortable with this display. I cannot imagine how a person of another faith would have felt.
A Jew, a Muslim, a Buddhist, an atheist; how would it have felt to be so blatantly unwelcomed before the ticketed event had even started? The implication was that if you aren’t Christian, you can’t be a rodeo fan.
This divisiveness is not what our country or the Kentucky Horse Park stand for. In a venue that celebrates horse lovers without qualification, an event was staged that clearly implied that non-Christians were not welcome.
My personal experience of the rodeo community is that they don’t ask if you went to church on Sunday before offering a helping hand.
Leadership by example, actions speaking louder than words; that is the cowboy way. We are each a congregation of one, and coming together for a few moments to honor Clem’s prayer, which so eloquently states what the cowboy stands for, would have been a more powerful statement than the tone-deaf display of the Christian flag.
We do have freedom of expression and this display would be entirely appropriate, if unacceptable to some, on private property. It was not an appropriate display for the Kentucky Horse Park, which is not religious in its mission. To exclude people so emphatically from an event on the horse park grounds felt wrong.
Of the many rodeos that I have attended, every performance was someone else’s first rodeo. Similarly, every day a person visits the Kentucky Horse Park for the first time.
Should this message of exclusion be the impression that these first timers take away after the last bull ride, as they drive past the statue of Man O’War and leave the park?
Laura Simcox lives in Taylorsville.