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The Crooked River Roundup festivities are wonderful...but also a painful reminder that I am no cowboy

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Jason ChaneyIt's Roundup season again in Prineville, that annual celebration of our cowboy heritage that spawns a week of Western-tinged celebration throughout the community. It brings this town to life in a way nothing else can. And it reminds me of one undeniable fact -- I am no cowboy.

In years past, I have chosen to keep this detail to myself, hoping nobody will notice as men and women clad in cowboy hats and boots proudly pass me on horseback. But this year will be different. This Roundup season, I have decided it's time to come clean.

Where should I begin? How 'bout my attire? I have lived in this community for 16 years and I still don't own a stitch of Western ware. No boots, no cowboy hat, no Wranglers and no extravagant belt buckles. Nope, my summer attire is best described as a cross between business casual and beach bum — colorful button-down polyester shirts, khaki-colored shorts and flip-flops.

The thing is, if I ever decided to give cowboy fashion a try, I would feel like a fraud, no different than someone faking a Texas accent. I would probably experience some sort of existential crisis. Sure, I could wear the clothes, but deep down, I would know that it's all a lie. I might as well go trick-or-treating because it would be nothing more than a Halloween costume.

Moving on, let's talk horses. I can't ride them — in fact, they intimidate me to the point that I give them a wide berth. I hear that they kick and if they get spooked, watch out! And those aren't the only things fueling my fear. I remember a couple of instances where riding horseback didn't go so well for me. Once, I was on a pony (stop laughing and let me finish the story!) and it decided to stroll under a camper overhang. I have no doubt the animal was trying to rub me off its back, but I somehow managed to stretch backward, lay back-to-back against the pony and slide underneath the obstruction. The experience prompted two reactions: One, who puts a camper in a horse pasture? Two, horses are jerks! But I was young and easily persuaded, so I found myself on another horse later in my childhood. Things were going alright until the animal apparently got bored with my preferred pace — somewhere between a standstill and a slow walk — and erupted into a gallop. Thankfully, somebody got the runaway horse stopped before we reached the fence that lined the pasture. But that was it for me. There are plenty of bikes and cars out there. No more horses, thank you very much.

If that wasn't enough, my wife's experiences with horses only helped solidify my stance. Seems that she once fell off a horse that then stepped on her back. Years later, when we were dating, we were visiting her parents' acreage and she decided to give horses another try…and she promptly fell off. Incredibly, she decided to try it again a few years later. Same result. So, we are a no-horse household. Back in the old days, when Prineville was founded, that might have been a problem, but fortunately, we were born in the right century.

If you're still not convinced of my inability to cowboy up, I've got some more evidence. I also can't shoot — well, let's rephrase that, I can shoot, but don't expect me to hit the target. And I definitely can't rope anything, which I realize a lot of people can't do, but I possess a special level of ineptitude. If I did try to rope a calf, I'd probably end up roping my calf -- lower leg, not the animal -- instead. Coordination, it ain't my strong suit.

So sadly, in a community rich in Western heritage, I am not a cowboy. But like the sinner who later becomes a saint, there may be hope for me. I mean, I did live in Pendleton, home of Let 'Er Buck, for five years and much of my family hails from that cowboy town. And even though I grew up in Bend -- which is definitely not known for cowboy culture -- I did end up moving to Prineville where I have put down roots for nearly two decades. I may not come from a long lineage of Crook County pioneers, but it's better than nothing, right?

I used to not care much for whiskey and ordered my steak well done — don't judge — but now, I prefer medium, trending toward medium rare and I have developed a taste for Pendleton on the rocks. I used to steer clear of country music — I wanted to rock! — but I must admit, thanks to continual exposure to the music by my lovely spouse, that it is starting to grow on me.

So, I am not a cowboy, and each year that the Crooked River Roundup festivities overtake this community, I am reminded of this fact. Maybe I will never become one. Or I might someday experience something akin to a spiritual awakening and the cowboy culture of this county will transform me. Maybe I better buy a pair of boots, just in case.


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