A growing fascination for rodeo is attracting a crowd to Tanay
AS EARLY AS 6 A.M., Clint Buelta of Nueva Vizcaya State University Rodeo Club made sure he looked good for this shindig. Clad in plaid shirt and stonewashed denims, he strutted with a pair of tall leather boots, his head covered with a wide brimmed hat. A bull whip hangs by his right shoulder like some strange fashion accessory.
It would have been perfectly reasonable that the shindig is a cosplay event, and that Buelta wore his cowboy buckle for a chance to strut his costume and pose for a selfie with a group of doe-eyed girls cheering for him. However, this is not play time for him. Along with hundreds of cowboys and cowgirls filling up the area, he is determined to bring home the coveted trophy for his team – as Champions of the 2018 Tanay Rodeo Festival.
Growing ‘Western’ Tradition
For the past seven years, an unusual yet very enthusiastic crowd gathered early morning in a grass land a few walks from the church and town plaza. A makeshift arena has started allowing crowds to enter as early as seven in the morning on the last day of the feast of Saint Ildephonse, Tanay, Rizal’s patron saint. Meanwhile, the grunting of several animals could be heard a few walks from the bamboo corral as radio blasts away on the other side with tunes like Rhinestone Cowboy and its wittier version in Filipino by Fred Panopio.
Tanay Rodeo Festival has since become a major event for those in the circuit. Starting in 2011 with a group of six school rodeo and ranchers clubs, its seventh edition had a much larger turnout in terms of participating teams, now with 12 teams coming from all over Luzon – some as far as Pangasinan, Nueva Vizcaya, Benguet and Isabela – competing in events like bull whipping, lassoing, calf wrestling, casting down and the very nerve-wracking bull riding and carambola events.
More than a display of brute strength (and by that we mean both the rodeo cattle and their tacklers), it is a showcase of Rizal’s best livestock.
“The province’s ranch owners are known for the high quality of their cattle, as we supply many of Metro Manila and neighboring provinces with high-grade meat,” Tanay Mayor Rex Manuel C. Tanjuatco said at the launch of the festival. “There is also effort to develop the cattle farms of Tanay and Rizal Province not only as major sources of meat but also bring potential income in terms of dairy products, leather and other by-products.”
For Department of Tourism regional director Rebecca Villanueva-Labit, events like the Tanay Rodeo Festival promote ‘participatory tourism’ that is now attracting millennials. “Festivals like these bring people closer to nature,” she remarked. “The younger generation want to experience how it feels to participate in a rodeo without the need to fly to or travel for a long time. Tanay is only almost two hours away from Metro Manila, and its location is perfect for nature tripping for families and friends. If they want a cool climate they can always go to Tanay.”
Celebration of Cowboy Culture
The participants are the most excited of them all, as they prepared for months to tackle bovine strength with their own muscle and strategy. A great majority of the participants are veterinary medicine students or graduates. No one can also discount the fact that half of those participating are young women who are not afraid to literally tackle the bull by its horns.
One of them is Divina Lidawan who at 22 has been making rounds in the rodeo circuit for two years now. “Last year po, nag-Vigan kami, pero we were disqualified po kasi naabutan kami ng oras (Last year, we were in Vigan but we were disqualified for not making our event in time),” she explained on her calf lassoing event. “I waited for this event to redeem myself.”
As she entered the arena along with her teammates for the lassoing event, she reminded herself of the techniques that they learned, from the simplest like holding the lasso or twisting the cattle’s neck and the more complex casting down and tying up its legs. With these in mind, she was able to lasso in the earliest possible time, earning a good number of points for her team.
Bien Patrick Quitasol, an alumnus of the CLSU Rodeo Club, admitted that joining a rodeo event requires more than just a cowboy outfit. “In my many years playing rodeo I have experienced it all,” he said. “Nasipa na ako, nasuwag, nakaladkad, napilay, at nahulog habang nakasakay (I got kicked, head-butted, dragged and fell while astride a bull).”
Given the seeming danger, Quitasol still loves and enjoys doing rodeo contests after all these years. “Players pa kami noong school days namin. At kahit ngayong may trabaho na kami, sumasali pa din kami (We played way back in our school days, and even if we have jobs already, we still join),” he said.
Venue for Animal Maltreatment?
Despite the entertainment that rodeo provides, organizations like the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) have condemned these events, alleging that the animals used in these events like horses and cattle are subjected to injuries that can be sometimes cause their deaths or tremendous suffering.
“Animals used in rodeos have suffered fatal injuries, including broken backs and necks, heart attacks, and aneurysms,” declared PETA in their online statement. “Those who manage to make it through unscathed are given little time to rest or recuperate. They are loaded into trucks, hauled to the next event, and forced to participate over and over again. When they become too old or worn out to continue, ‘retirement’ is often a one-way trip to the slaughterhouse.”
ALDF also declared that animals suffer a variety of injuries such as “broken ribs, backs, and legs, torn tails, punctured lungs, internal organ damage, ripped tendons, torn ligaments, snapped necks, and agonizing deaths.”
Quitasol, who is a licensed veterinarian, dismissed the insinuations of animal cruelty in local rodeo events in the Philippines.
“I don’t consider [rodeo events] as cruelty because they employ methods used in ranches like tending to the animals’ medical needs and taming their wildness,” he justified. “We cannot give medications to the animal unless it is properly restrained, [if only] to ensure the safety of the person [administering the medication] and the animal [receiving it] as well.”
Jeffrey Pino, Tanay’s tourism officer and one of the proponents of the festival, clarifies that they make sure all animals involved in the festival are healthy and are not subjected to injurious handling during the event.
“The main reason why we’re holding the festival is because we want to promote safe and non-injurious practices in handling cattle, which is one of our town’s main outputs,” he explained. “We make sure that the municipal veterinarian is on hand to monitor if a cow gets injured because of mishandling. Even during events, we warn on site and cite penalties if the contestants make mistakes and injure the animal in the process. Remember that almost all the participants here are veterinary medicine students so they know if there are violations of Republic Act 8485 or the Animal Welfare Act.”
To conclude, Quitasol says that rodeo is a game with heart, which is why his heart is in the game. “Many people falsely think this is cruelty to animals. But we have to take care of the animal so that it won’t get injured; we have to take care of our teammates from getting hurt, and we have to take care of ourselves.”