Motherhood sure hasn't mellowed Moulin Rouge.
The feisty bucking horse kicked and spun with enough vigor Saturday afternoon to help Monte Downare score an 86 in bareback at the 96th annual Clovis Rodeo.
For an encore, Moulin Rouge shared the arena floor with her 3-month-old colt that followed mama's every move as the near-capacity crowd let out a collective, "Awwwww."
"She's probably the No. 1 bareback horse in the world right now," said proud owner Tim Bridwell, horse breeder for Growney Brothers Rodeo Company. "She's that special."
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Downare's ride was one of the day's highlights. Others included a blistering 17.05 seconds in barrel racing by Kelli Tolbert and an 87 by bullrider Cody Hancock aboard Zoomer. More than $300,000 in prize money will be awarded at the conclusion of today's final performance, which begins at 2 p.m.
But it was Moulin Rouge -- and Downare -- that stole the show as well as captured the most hearts.
Besides her unusual roan coat, which looks like a blend of gray and yellow, Moulin Rouge doesn't appear that special. In fact, she's about 200 pounds lighter than the average bareback horse.
But put a cowboy on her back and place her in a chute, and look out. Seven times, she's been a top-three finisher in the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association's Bareback Horse of the Year award.
After competing Friday night at a rodeo in Corpus Christi, Texas, Downare caught an early morning flight to Fresno filled with anticipation.
"I've been pretty much scared for a week," said the cowboy from Hartsel, Colo. "She's one of the smallest bucking horses you'll ever see, but she bucks like a horse twice her size. She's really fast, and she likes to rip the rigging right out of your hand."
Not bad for a 15-year-old mother of four.
"What makes a good bucking horse?" Bridwell said. "That's like asking what made Mike Tyson a good fighter. It's what's in their blood and in their heart. You try to breed for those traits, but there's no guarantee."
That goes for the timed events as well.
Trevor Brazile, rodeo's $3 million man and a seven-time world champion in the all-around, left Clovis with not much to show for his trip from Decatur, Texas.
Brazile and team roping partner Patrick Smith were penalized 10 seconds for breaking the barrier. In tie-down roping, Brazile's calf didn't stay down for the required 6 seconds.
"No doubt it's a wasted trip, but that's part of it," Brazile said as he hurried to catch a flight. "You go to 70 rodeos a year and do the best you can at each."
Hancock, a bullrider from Taylor, Ariz., has already earned a place in Clovis Rodeo lore by winning the 2005 contest days after suffering a severed ear lobe. Even after the accident, Hancock steadfastly refused to wear a helmet. But that changed last year when doctors told him to start or retire after the 34-year-old suffered his 20th concussion at the National Finals Rodeo.
"Everything I've been through," he said, "a helmet ain't nothing."