Cowtown Rodeo gallops into Fort Worth this weekend Newbie chute dogger Dade Duke tests his mettle
As a Lone Star native who grew up near Beaumont, Dade Duke spent his childhood horsing around. He lived near a stable, and every week, he rode trails and pastures.
"But I’d only gone to two rodeos. Southeast Texas was very rural. My neighbors were farmers who had livestock. They weren’t interested in rodeos much," Duke says.
When he was 17, Duke joined the Navy. At one time, he spent six months on a ship. And for a while, he lived in Okinawa. When he got out of the armed services, Duke worked as a computer programmer on the Atlantic coast. In the early ’90s, he played bass and guitar for a couple of punk bands in Virginia.
"No one cared if you were gay in the punk scene. I had just come out of the military, and it was difficult getting used to gay clubs, which were very dance oriented," Duke says.
Four years ago, a friend in Dallas invited Duke for a visit.
"I had never been to a country bar before. And I immediately fell in love with The Round-Up," he remembers.
Soon, Duke was greeting boot-scooting patrons at the door. And now he’s a bartender at the country saloon.
Three years ago, he attended his first gay rodeo — the International Gay Rodeo Finals held at Mesquite’s Resitol Arena. And the more he talked with competitors, the more enticing rodeo riding sounded. Plus, they told him that experience wasn’t required.
"I always thought you had to be raised in rodeo to compete. First, I thought I’d try the camp events, like goat dressing — where you race out to put underwear on the goats. They told me that event didn’t require any training," he says.
But veterans pulled Duke aside and told him about other non-horse events that were perfect for rodeo virgins. Like chute dogging — a rough stock event where the steer and the contestant both start in the bucking chute and face a 60-second time limit. When the chute gate opens, the contestant must bring the steer out to a 10-foot line in front of the chute, and then attempt to wrestle, or "dog" the steer to the ground.
To Duke, chute dogging sounded like an attainable goal. And with no preparation or training and without ever touching a castrated bull, Duke revived his punk-rock heart and drove to Austin last September for the Texas Gay Rodeo Association’s "silver anniversary" competition.
"I just thought it would be a great life experience. Something I’d like to have under my belt," Duke says.
But dogging wasn’t exactly a cinch.
"My first day, I didn’t dog the steer. I went to drop it, but it wasn’t going down," he remembers. "Then I figured I had to use my momentum. There’s a commitment to dropping the steer. You can’t just twist its head and hope it falls. You have to lift it a little bit off the front legs so it’s off balance. Then you drop your body and pull it over. It’s like a wrestling move."
Duke is a big dude — six foot and 218 pounds. "A steer is about 600 to 700 pounds," he says.
On his second day at the Austin rodeo, Duke said he was completely committed to dropping the steer.
"He didn’t want to go down, but I didn’t give up. It took me 50 seconds, and the crowd’s response was phenomenal. It was an exhilarating adrenaline rush," he says.
Duke says it was relatively easy to be a first-time competitor.
"It seem like it would be difficult, but it wasn’t. Somebody lent me their vest. A woman coached me — yelling at me in the chute," he says. "When someone shows interest in any events, usually there’s someone there who’s willing to explain everything and help you get started. They really walked me through the whole process. Anyone can do it — male, female, young, old."
This weekend, Duke returns to the chute at the Cowtown Rodeo, which saddles up at the Watt Arena in Fort Worth.
"There’s a rule change that you have to stop the steer. A lot of times when the steer is running out of the gate, you can use its momentum to drop it. People were dogging the steer within three seconds. You can’t do that anymore," Duke says. "Now you have to really pull it out of the gate and drag it across the line. This year will be more competitive."
QUEER COWBOYS INVADE FORT WORTH
Cowtown Rodeo schedule, Feb 27-March 1. All events held at the Will Rogers Memorial Center W.R. Watt Arena, 3401 Lancaster Ave. Fort Worth. Rodeo hotline: 214 346-2107. For more information, visit TGRA.org.
• 9 a.m., horse stall check-in at W. R. Watt Arena
• 9 a.m., rodeo performance.
• Noon-ish, grand entry.
• Afternoon, rodeo performance.
• 1:30 p.m.- 4:30 p.m., entertainment in the Centennial Room.
• 10 p.m. OKC Sooner party at Ft. Worth’s
Stampede Club, 621 Hemphill St. 817-335-0196
• Noonish, grand entry.
• Afternoon rodeo performance.
• 1:30 p.m.-4:30 p.m., entertainment in the Centennial Room.
• 8 p.m., awards ceremony in the Centennial Room.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 27, 2009.