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The Pusher

I married my pusher. It was an excellent decision. A girl gets tired of having to find a different pusher at every rodeo, never knowing what she’s getting until she nods her head.

Calf pusher, of course. What other kind is there?

In an earlier post, I may have implied that I married my husband for his rope horse. This was not entirely accurate. While he did, indeed, have a very nice horse, it turned out ol’ Brown and I had philosophical differences. In other words, I didn’t rope for crap on him. But once I’d experienced the thrill of having my very own, full time calf pusher, I wasn’t about to let Greg get away.

Breakaway roping is the fastest event in rodeo. You nod, you swing, you throw, you stop, and if you catch, the rope breaks the string that attaches it to your saddle horn. Time stops when the string snaps. All within two to four seconds. There is very little margin for error. (Never seen it? Watch this: Breakaway Roping)

Therefore, the calf pusher is vital. A stall or a false step by the calf can cause the roper to break the barrier, a ten second penalty. The pusher’s job is to be sure the calf stands straight and leaves when the gate opens. To achieve this outcome, the pusher must climb into the chute behind the calf.

This is where the job description gets dicey.

There are sewage ejection devices at the back end of a calf. This area is guarded by a set of sharp hooves mounted on spring-loaded levers, which are triggered by touch, movement or sound. Thanks to the above mentioned ejection of sewage, even in the midst of a ten year drought the bottom of the chute will be ankle deep in pungent muck.

Above the pusher’s head there are additional levers, bars and bolts, ideally situated for removing hide from scalps. These mechanisms are operated by a gate man who habitually drops the rear gate just as the pusher is ducking under it. To avoid all this hardware, the pusher is forced to assume a hunched position, which brings his face in closer proximity to the sharp hooves and the raw sewage.

Then they close the rear gate and lock him in.

As romantic as it sounds, people are rarely standing in line to push calves.

Finding a pusher can be especially problematic for a woman. The issue is the lack of reciprocity. If my husband needs a pusher, he simply rides up to another calf roper.

“Give me a shove?” he asks.

“Sure, what out are you?”

“Fourth. You need me to get you?”

“Yeah. I’m gunner.”

Translated: “Will you push my calf?” “Sure, what number are you on the list?” “Fourth. Do you need me to push your calf?” “Yes, I’m first.”

Even trade, all parties satisfied with the transaction. But in one of the finer chauvinistic traditions of rodeo—and I say that in all honesty, having no love for calf poop running down the front of my jeans—women are hardly ever expected to push a calf. Which is great, except it means in lieu of trading pushes, we have to resort to asking favors.

Breakaway roper says, “Uh, Jim? Could I get you to push my calf?”

Jim looks around wildly, realizing he has somehow allowed himself to be the only fool who didn’t vacate the roping chutes well before the breakaway roping. He heaves a resigned sigh. “Yeah. Sure.”

The woman can, of course, sweeten the pot by rewarding her pusher with the alcoholic beverage of his choice after the rodeo, but this strategy has its pitfalls. The biggest being Jim’s girlfriend.

After many years of scavenging for pushers, imagine my delight when I realized that I now had one under contract. If it isn’t in the wedding vows, it should be, right after that ‘cherish and obey’ part. Not only did I not have to worry who would push my calf, but I knew he would do it well. After all, my winnings were his winnings. Or so he seemed to think.

The truest test of his dedication came in Taber, Alberta. Breakaway roping hasn’t really caught on up in Canada, and only seven ropers entered the rodeo. The committee rounded up a handful of feedlot yearlings so fat their bellies hung up as they tried to leave the chute. There was barely room for Greg to squeeze in behind.

I backed in the corner and nodded. The calf bailed out of the chute in one long lunge. I roped him quick and looked back to see if I’d broken the barrier.

My husband was laid out in the dirt, blood running down the side of his head.

It seems some teenaged kid who knew nothing about cattle got the bright idea to prod the calf when the gate opened. Startled, the calf jumped, kicking with both hind feet, one of which connected squarely with Greg’s eyebrow.

My dad helped him stagger to his feet, then dragged him from the arena before he could choke the chute help. I met them at the camper. Greg was still bleeding. His eye was swelling shut. We were in Canada, we had no idea whether our insurance company paid bills that were submitted in loonies, and a visit to the emergency room would definitely cost more than the hundred and ten bucks I’d won.

Here’s where the day job in sports medicine came in handy. After determining that any brain damage appeared temporary, I slapped an ice pack on his head. Then we found a drug store. I bought Steri-Strips, benzoin and iodine, cleaned the wound, and reattached his eyebrow to his forehead. Did a pretty good job if I say so myself. Strangers hardly ever gawk at the scar when they meet him on the street.

The whole experience put a damper on Greg’s enthusiasm for pushing calves, though. At the next rodeo, he eyed the chute, eyed the calf, then looked at me and said, “Maybe I’ll just stand outside and tail him.”

Obviously, it was time to review his contract.

KariLynn Dell    Montana for Real

Update: Yes, it finally happened. I HAVE A NEW WATER HEATER! Granted, it’s still riding around in the back of my Jeep a week after purchase, but I am getting closer to my Ten Minute Shower.


5 Responses

  1. KariLynn, I am rolling with laughter here! So funny. and yay on that water heater! hurry up and get that thing unloaded and installed.

  2. Wow. I had no idea. I mean I knew rodeo was tough – I had my fair share of Chris LeDoux cassettes, but I really had no idea.

    That man is a keeper.

    And congrats on that hot water heater. Sounds like you might get to lather, rinse, repeat, for sure.


    I didn’t have calf pusher in my wedding vows. Darn it, Guess I’ll have to find another sport to pursue.

    You still haven’t said how HUGE this new hot water tank is

  4. Too funny! And I’m so glad your hubby was okay. 🙂 I agree, he’s a Keeper!

    Hope you get your water heater put in soon!

  5. I love it! But oh poor Greg! I think this post is one of my favs.

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