It’s one versus four.
Even though the lone figure weighs almost as much as the quartet, it is at a clear disadvantage in terms of number and comprehension. If that isn’t enough, they’ve even got a strategy to rein it in.
The beast senses the group, which has now dispersed and surrounded it tactically. It charges at the nearest warm body, barely misses, and mindlessly plows through field. After a couple of lucky throws, two ropes strangle it around the neck.
In its mighty struggle to break free, the beast drags its two captors, who are slammed to the ground and sweating like hell, while its remaining pursuers follow closely behind and ramble something to each another.
All the running and locking horns take its toll on the beast, and it decides to freeze in the middle of the action. Still flustered and trying to compose themselves, the quartet takes advantage of the brief lull and executes their game plan. They managed to entwine the rest of the lariats (strings of rope that are used to restrain movement) around the target.
The beast finally goes down after a collective squeeze and the four proceed to secure its legs using the remaining ropes. The crowd roars—only this isn’t an act of animal cruelty, but rather beneficial to both sides.
It's actually for its own good
Some serious bull
Every year since 2011, the municipality of Tanay has held a rodeo competition that gathers the best Luzon-based ranchers clubs. The Tanay Rodeo also doubles as an agricultural bazaar, where locals are given the chance to showcase their produce to patrons.
According to Senior Tourism Operations Officer Jeffrey Pino, Tanay Rodeo started “mainly to promote tourism and the cattle industry in the municipality of Tanay. Our efforts go hand in hand with eco-tourism and agricultural industry.”
Similar events in line with the local cattle industry are also held in other parts of the country, like in Masbate, Padre Burgos (Southern Leyte), and Bukidnon, but Tanay is relatively less remote to practitioners, who come from universities in the metro and provinces as far as Pangasinan.
At least one of them was spared from the festivity
While others view rodeo as barbaric and dismiss it as only hurtful to the bovines, the well-attended activity actually serves a useful purpose.
“This is not just a sport,” explains Pino. “Of course, the schools and its respective teams, they prepare all year round. Aside from wanting to win, this is also a form of practice on how to restrain and handle cattle properly, when treating and administering medicine to a sick animal.”
In fact, bona fide students of veterinary medicine or animal science are the only ones qualified to take part in the event, which ensures the creatures will be dealt with properly. To further guarantee the participants’ safety, the committee also requires medical certificate and insurance; medics and ambulances are also on standby.
If anything, these wannabe-cowboys take this thing seriously. Especially when qualifying for the National Rodeo Finals in Masbate is at stake.
The carambola or free-for-all calf wrestling is one of the rodeo's highlights
Leave it to the cowgirls
Almost everyone was clad in plaid or denim shirts, some even threw in a Western hat for good measure, to complete their best cowboy impression during the early morning parade.
After the opening remarks and ceremonial branding, the search for Miss Tanay Rodeo 2017 immediately followed. It was such an amusing sight; the eventual winner, who just sashayed to the crowd’s delight, would slug it out with a bull in the dirt a couple of hours later.
Perla Lubangco, 20, and Karen Ruiz, 21, didn’t join the pageant but were head-turners in their own right when they wrestled and tied down a calf double their size. The two are members of Central Luzon State University’s (CLSU) Ranchers Club Philippines, both taking up Agriculture, Major in Animal Science.
This was Karen’s first crack at an actual rodeo competition, while Perla has already taken part in a couple last year (Masbate and Vigan). This was their club’s first year of participation at the Tanay Rodeo in its 94-year existence (Ranchers Club Philippines-CLSU was instituted on August 22, 1922).
It’s one thing to watch them from the safety of the bamboo barricades separating the spectators from the struggle, but it’s another thing to come face-to-face with the bull.
“Iba yung pressure sa loob, mas enjoy kung manonood ka lang. Pero kapag nasa loob ka na, nandun na yung tension eh,” Perla narrates. “Sa kabila nun, dapat tanggalin mo yung kaba mo, dapat mag-focus ka lang sa laro mo.”
Perla (right) shows Karen (left) how it's done
Karen, for her part, remembers the first time she applied her training in front of live cattle. She admits the experience was totally nerve-racking—it was nice that her fellow club members (whom she calls brad and sis) had her back, just like they were in her rodeo debut.
Aside from jogging, part of the preparation to become a rancher is watching countless hours of film, Karen relates. “Tapos dine-demo din ng mga senior namin kung pano gagawin, pano mag-sidestep, pano iwasan yung baka.”
A week’s worth of studying, which includes drills using a dummy, culminates in a rodeo clinic every Saturday at CLSU’s personal corral. There, they limber up and put their lessons into practice.
One has to wonder why Perla and Karen are entrenched in such a male-dominated endeavor. Even in this age of woman empowerment and gender equality, majority of farm work is still designated to men, especially animal husbandry.
But for these aspiring agriculturists, their passion just came naturally. Karen’s mother is an agricultural techinician, while Perla’s father is a farmer, so developing a fascination for and pursuing a career in ranching isn’t too farfetched.
The adage “It runs in the blood” may be true with these two women, but the former has another rationale about her college degree of choice.
“Kasi in demand yung agriculture, hindi nawawala sa industry natin,” explains Karen, who also graduated from CLSU’s agricultural branch.“Tsaka mas maganda mag-engage sa agriculture kasi yun yung mga basic needs natin. Sa animal science, mas mabilis yung pera.”
Seeing their faces light up every time the bull makes its move is borderline insane and heartening. Asked about being undaunted by a raging beast dashing towards her, Perla says it best: “Wala po, kasi pag kinakabahan ka, wala na ring magagawa yung kamay, tsaka talagang masarap maglaro. Okay lang madapa, bahagi ng laro yun eh.”
'Pag kinakabahan ka, wala na ring magagawa yung kamay, tsaka talagang masarap maglaro. Okay lang madapa, bahagi ng laro yun eh'
Especially with Karen’s dream of putting up a family farm with her siblings, and Perla hoping to mentor aspiring ranchers, what are wrestling cattle quadruple their sizes and getting soiled all over if it means the fulfilment of their respective goals.
One wild ride
The bull riding part of Tanay Rodeo is easily the most-awaited of the four-day affair. There’s something strangely compelling about a man holding on for dear life while a furious beast roughhouses him off its back, despite being frowned up by some sectors.
Twenty-one-year-old veterinary medicine student Joaquin Ortega of Cavite State University eclipsed the minimum six seconds before he found himself lying on dirt. With his command of the cattle and staying power, it’s hard to believe that this was just his first ride.
“Parang dinadala sa hukay...ililibing na,” Joaquin laughingly describes what was going through his mind right before the pen was unlocked. To begin with, there is no sure-fire technique to stay mounted, only the right way to the inevitable: falling.
This won't be Joaquin's first and last bull ride after such an impressive showing
“Yung bull riding rarely nate-train, pag laro na lang mismo," he explains. "Extra na lang siya kasi sobrang delikado pag ipa-practice mo pa. Yung pagtumba kasi mas madaming kinu-compete na ganun, para sa calf wrestling, carambola (free-for-all), and casting down (depicted in the first part).”
He’s in it for the thrill as a member of Rodeo Club Philippines, but Joaquin's connection to rodeo harkens back to his mother and father's love story. “Yung tatay ko hawak yung kamay ng ibang babae, (tapos nakita niyang) nagpapatumba yung nanay ko ng baka. The rest is history,” he narrates.
Joaquin may not find his better half on the cattle range like his parents, but no doubt he has already stumbled upon something he genuinely loves. Even if it meant being flung off the back of a crazed cattle.
Off to greener pastures
It’s been a couple of minutes and the stock horse (used for cattle-herding) still hasn’t drawn one of the stubborn bovines into the pen after a round of lassoing. The beast even blitzed the cow pony in aggression and exhaustion. Right away, five farmhands jumped inside the arena and startled the calf into retreating with its fellow oxen.
Judging from the quick response and the luxury of an extra pair of hands, the event has definitely come a long way since its humble beginnings. Starting out at a mountain range in Brgy. Sampaloc, Tanay with only six teams, the annual competition now accommodates 15 clubs, each with 15 members.
What people often see in the movies requires countless hours of practice in real life
Pino is optimistic that from being a practice ground for vet-med and animal science students, Tanay Rodeo will further expand its scope, hopefully nationwide.
“Ten years from now, Tanay Rodeo will be held at a larger venue, which will translate to massive participation and turnout. We can invite people from all over the country, not only here in Luzon. And who knows, foreigners might also be encouraged to join.”
The success of the yearly spectacle carries over to the outcome of its side events. Unless the likes of Perla, Karen, and Joaquin let go of their lassoes and ambitions, and the local government cuts off its support to the cattle industry, Pino’s forecast might just not be reduced into a load of bull.
Until next year!