Bob Pimantel is the kind of guy who wears his light-colored cowboy hat and easy smile naturally. He's about to get a new title: grand marshall. Pimantel is one of three founding fathers of New Mexico's Gay Rodeo Association (NMGRA), and he'll be bestowed the fancy new moniker alongside Mark Marshall at this year's event for his major contributions to the rodeo's parent organization.
Pimantel helped found Albuquerque's gay rodeo in the mid-'80s. He later became president of the International Gay Rodeo Association (IGRA) and traveled throughout the United States and Canada. "My office was in a bar in Denver, and I lived here," he laughs. He spent eight or nine years in Phoenix, he says, putting on the city's rodeos and acting as a liaison between the Phoenix chapter and the IGRA.
He moved back to town to help get New Mexico's rodeo back on its feet. The Zia Regional Rodeo, from Aug. 18-20, draws between 80 and 150 contestants, who compete in events spanning bull riding and the wild drag (a race involving a man, a woman, a drag queen and a steer).
We met at Sidewinders, and with a soundtrack of "Boot Scootin' Boogie" in the background, Pimantel gave me a lesson on rodeo.
Do you compete in the rodeo?
I used to, way back in the day. I used to do goat dressing and chute dogging.
What's goat dressing?
Goat dressing is a camp event, a two-person event, where they run out to a goat that's staked there in the arena and put a pair of jockey shorts on it and run back. Whoever gets the fastest time wins. It's one of the fun events.
And what is shoe dressing?
Chute dogging, sorry.
It's where you get into the chutes with the steer, and when they open the gates and send the steer out, you gotta flip it over. You only have so much time to do it.
You have to flip the steer with your hands?
Yeah, with your hands.
How big is a steer?
Pretty good size.
By yourself, you do this?
Wow. Did you ever place or win or ...
Oh yeah, but that was a long time ago. That was back in the ’80s. Then I did another event. At the time, it was called wild cow milking. Today, we know it as wild drag. It's basically a man, a woman and a drag [queen] taking the steer, and when I was doing it, I had to milk it. You had to milk it, get a little bit of milk in a cup and run back and tag the judge. Today, it's called wild drag, and you bring the steer across the line, and the drag has to get on it and ride the steer back across the line.
Do you do just one rodeo a year?
Yes, NMGRA does one rodeo. Then we do some play days and some educational days throughout the year for our members to learn how to do the events. We'll have schools to teach you how to rope or chute dog.
Why do you think there's a need for something like a gay rodeo association?
I think there's a need to just teach and make people aware of the country way of life and some of the history behind all that. Plus, it's just a great party. It's a great social atmosphere. You travel around the country doing this, competing and putting these events on. I always say it's like a family reunion, because you go see all the people all over that you made friends with over the years.
What's your favorite event to watch?
To watch? That's kinda hard to answer. Probably as a rodeo event, I like to watch the rough stock—bulls, bull riding, steer riding and stuff. The crowd pleaser is the wild drag. It's the one everybody likes to see and laughs about.
Is it dangerous for the animals?
Not really. We take a lot of care in this association throughout the international organization to make sure our animals are treated well. We don't allow our stock contractors or any animal handlers to use cattle prods or any of those types of things. [With] everything we do, the animal comes first when it comes to an event. We have animal vets on site to make sure of everything, like that an animal doesn't look overheated—every small issue that can later turn into a larger issue. Our international association has a real good handle on that.
What does it take to put something like this on?
A lot of money and a lot of time (laughs). It really is volunteers. It's all volunteers. It's quite an enormous process, especially for such a small organization like NMGRA, to put on the same event that any other organization puts on, because there are requirements for the amount of events, the amount of people, the certified officials that come in, the size of the arena. There are just all kinds of requirements, and it has to be to the IGRA's specifications. So it's quite an ordeal.
Is it primarily men that participate, or are there a lot of women?
There are a lot of women that participate. New Mexico is unique in that the majority of our contestants are women. Our contestants do very well. We recently had a rodeo up in Denver, and the women did excellent.
Is this the kind of thing that someone grows up doing? Or is it the kind of thing that an interested person could just get into?
It's both. We have people that were brought up in the ranching or equestrian world of some sort, and they come out and participate and know what they know. We have people that have never done anything, that come from back East or wherever, and have never even seen a rodeo. They get interested.
That's why camp events, the goat dressing, the wild drag and the steer decorating were brought onboard to get people involved. Once you go out there, and you get in the arena, and you find out it's not such a scary thing to be around these animals. Well, it can be scary, but you can deal with it. Sometimes you never see them again, and sometimes they stick around forever.
Do you encounter any resistance because you're a gay rodeo association?
Very rarely. Every once in a while, we will get protesters. They're mostly about the way they think we abuse the animals. In Calgary [Canada], a couple years ago, we [IGRA] had our convention up there and we had gay groups protesting us because of the animal issues. They just think rodeos are cruel to animals. We've run into only a few instances in which there were actually problems [with it being] a gay event. But for the most part, as long as you're upfront with the community and let them know what you're all about before they come in, you're fine.
In Arizona, I used to get more people who came in because they wanted to see what a "gay rodeo" was all about. They don't understand we do the same events that a pro rodeo circuit does, with the exception of some camp events.