CODY, WYO.-Some urban kids take to the calf scramble like naturals. Others, not so much.

I sent my kids down into the arena ring at the Cody Nite Rodeo with only the bare minimum of instructions. There will be a small cow. Chase it. First one to touch it, or catch it, or something, wins a prize.

Hazel’s 8 and a fast runner. She did the jumping jacks as instructed, then took off with the 12-and-under crowd trying to pull ribbons off the tails of what turned out to be two calves.

Charlie’s not quite 4. He and one other youngster stood absolutely still, confused but not crying, while everyone raced around the arena. When one calf doubled back and came within arm’s reach — he jumped away.

Some other lucky kids won trail rides and Dairy Queen vouchers. No matter. My kids got their own trail ride the next day and a formative memory.

Cody, with a population of almost 10,000, goes by the slogan “The wildest way into Yellowstone.” It’s wild in a kid/tourist-friendly kind of way.

“The rodeo capital of the world” has the Cody Nite Rodeo running every night (technically just June through August) and a rodeo bus if you don’t feel like driving to the edge of town.

A rodeo clown will paint your face when you arrive. You can climb on Mongo, a real bull, and get your picture taken. Mongo’s very docile (probably technically a steer) and kept in a safe, confined space. There’s also a child-sized mechanical bull named Cyclone surrounded by inflatable cushions.

The kids do great on Mongo and Cyclone. Charlie, in particular, takes his turn on Cyclone very seriously and doesn’t get thrown.

“The definition of courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway — that’s a quote from John Wayne,” says Gary Hays, who’s on the Cody Stampede board of directors and owns an office supply store in town.

We sit in the Buzzards Roost, the fancier side of the arena with aluminum chairs instead of benches, with Hays as our rodeo guide.

This is an open rodeo, meaning it’s always a mix of rookies without association cards honing their skills, and Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association members on their way to competitions and looking for prize money.

If you want full-blown Americana, come to a rodeo. This one has been around since 1938. There’s the solemnity of the national anthem and flag presentation, the hard-rocking soundtrack and the off-colour/politically incorrect commentary.

“Anyone here from California?” the announcer asks the crowd. When a smattering of people clap in the affirmative, he sasses back: “Welcome to the United States.”

Hays declines to explain that particular brand of humour, but he’s happy to provide a running commentary on how bull riding, barrel racing, team roping and other rodeo events work and are scored.

On the horses: “Those animals are as much an athlete as those cowboys.”

On the calf scramble: “It gets the kids involved, gets them something to do, gets them some exercise.”

On the allure of bull riding: “It’s the danger, the rush. For the bull rider, I don’t know if there’s anything you can do for a higher adrenalin rush. Jumping off a cliff without a bungee?”

How about taking non-riders on trail rides?

The morning after the rodeo we find the Buffalo Bill Horse Rides at the spectacular five-museums-in-one Buffalo Bill Center of the West.

Hazel does her first trail ride while Charlie gets a pony ride on Rusty (we tell him it’s a horse) in the safety of an outdoor arena.

“Were you at the rodeo last night?” asks Charlie’s cowboy instructor Wyatt Lehman. “I was one of the bull riders — the only guy who didn’t wear a helmet. I got bucked off.”

How exciting, and odd, for someone to do something as dangerous as bull riding and hours later something as peaceful as children’s trail rides.

“Sometimes you’ve got to go from the lion to the beast,” a laconic Lehman reasons. “I mean, the beast to the lamb.”

Jennifer Bain’s trip was partially supported by the Wyoming Office of Tourism, which didn’t review or approve this story.

Jennifer Bain’s trip was partially supported by the Wyoming Office of Tourism, which didn’t review or approve this story.

When You Go

Rodeo: The Cody Nite Rodeo runs at 8 p.m. every night in June, July and August in Cody, Wyo. Tickets are $20 (U.S.) for adults, $10 for kids 7 to 12, and free for kids 6 and under. Details:

Ride: Buffalo Bill Horse Rides at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody offers $40, one-hour trail rides (ages 5 and up), $10 pony rides (ages 4 and under) and 30-minute wagon rides for $20. Details:

Explore: The Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody offers five museums in one, including the Buffalo Bill Museum, Draper Natural History Museum, Plains Indian Museum, Whitney Western Art Museum and Cody Firearms Museum. Details:

Stay/eat: We stayed at the Comfort Inn at Buffalo Bill Village Resort ( and got prime rib from Buffalo Bill’s Irma Hotel ( but missed the free gunfight street performance.

Do your research:,

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