The Lakeside Rodeo is more than just a century-old tradition, if you can believe it

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The uproarious sounds from the Lakeside rodeo grounds echoed between the great sleeping hills at the end of the highway with all the thunder of a stampede of longhorns. Setting sunbeams turned the granite faces of those old hills gold and a quiet dusk settled into the valley just close enough to the lights of the stadium to contrast the commotion in the area: a rodeo in full swing.

San Diegans are spoiled. Where else in the world can you start a Saturday morning at the beach, eat lunch between skyscrapers and still catch a sun setting over a corral?

The Lakeside Rodeo is indeed one of the gems of San Diego’s calendar and just one more facet that makes San Diego County the finest in America – thank you, Lakeside!

But the Lakeside Rodeo, in tandem with the Lakeside Stadium Association, provides more than just a few yearly shindigs to give residents a reason to pull out their cowboy boots (the Bulls Only Rodeo is July 12-13 this year – save the date!).

Nor is it only a fundraiser put on by the Lakeside Stadium Association that pours resources back into El Capitan High School and the youth of the community – though plenty of that happens.

In the half century that the stadium association has worked in Lakeside, it has poured nearly $5.4 million into the youth of the community. Not bad for one organization in a small town.

And, certainly, the rodeo is not solely an opportunity for Lakeside to hit the national and international spotlight as world renown rodeo champions come to test the dirt on this side of the earth.

It is thrilling to watch East County’s native sons and daughters competing against steer wrestlers and barrel racers from Canada, Texas, New Zealand and Florida, to name a few from this year’s program. We hold our own some years better than others.

Still, it is hard to beat good, hearty competition and the world does seem smaller when everyone in the area owns a broad-brimmed hat and a sturdy pair of boots.

No, something more essential is happening here. Lakeside’s rodeo maintains a tradition. It preserves a piece of history.

The first rodeo in Lakeside took place in 1920, making this nearly a century old tradition and one of the longest-standing “good times” in San Diego. Before the Lakeside Stadium Association broke ground for a proper arena, rodeos were held in makeshift corrals. Picture automobiles ringed up to create a fence.

Perhaps every generation is afflicted with a longing for the days that came before it – the good old days – but in these rapidly changing times, looking into the past for those shadows of adventure, valor and life brimming with vitality seems only natural.

(It should be noted that not all change is bad – our country has seen much needed civic and social evolution in the last century and we are better for it).

But rodeos remind us of days when we were closer to the earth, closer to our friends, our family, our food. It took sweat to bring a hard day to a close and long roads often lay between the cowboy and his loved ones.

Convenience, a privilege of this modern age, dulls appreciation for the struggle that is life – like wrestling a steer to the ground in the dust, a thousand pounds groaning and pulling against the guiding arms that try to bring it to the earth.

“This is team roping,” the legendary Don Jesser announces to the crowd on Sunday afternoon in a voice that sounds like the Old West. “When the calves get big enough, it’s hard for just one cowboy to tie ‘em up, so they work together to bring that little fella down so he can get his shots or get his tags or his check up.”

The rodeo can appear cruel and senseless to anyone who doesn’t understand the purpose of the roundup. 

I have had more than one girlfriend leave the grounds in distress after watching a calf roping. City slickers, what can I say?

It’s hard to imagine that being tied up and brought down is good for you.

But life can be like that too. Whenever we are brought to the dirt, so low we can taste the dust in our mouths, life only intends for us to rise up stronger.

Maybe we don’t taste the dirt often enough anymore.

I can’t say I have all the answers – I still barely understand all the rules to barrel racing, apparently. But I do know that I plan to go to the rodeo more often.

And I plan on taking a closer look at the cowboys and girls in my own life, maybe grabbing the other lassoe if the team needs it.

I plan seeking out appreciation for what I’ve been given and for what I’ve earned in this life, even if it means tasting a little more dirt.

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