The Cowboy Monkey rides again

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Whiplash the Cowboy Monkey performs with the World's Toughest Rodeo

Family Arena, 2002 South River Road

Friday, January 2, and Saturday, January 3, at 7:30 p.m. Bull and bronc riding and team barrel-racing are secondary to Whiplash's mighty deeds. Tickets are $16 to $30. Call 314-534-1111.

The Family Arena crowd settles back into its seats as the victorious bull grudgingly trots into the holding pen; he's just tossed his second cowboy of the day, hurling the man five feet up and over his thick shoulders to land awkwardly on the soft-packed dirt. The rider is a tough hombre and gets up quickly, casually beating the dust off his chaps with his hat; as they say, this ain't his first rodeo.

Then the crowd half-gasps: A handful of dirty white sheep break free of their pen, racing faster than you'd think sheep could manage, around the perimeter of the ring. A red, white and black blur streaks out of the same bullpen and the crowd's gasp becomes a roar of delight as the blur charges towards the knot of sheep, wheeling them back in the other direction. The blur pauses just long enough to reveal itself to be a mid-sized, black-and-white sheepdog. Perched on its back is a tiny cowboy, decked out in a red button-down shirt, a ten-pint cowboy hat and a wee pair of roping gloves: Whiplash the Cowboy Monkey rides again.

Amid cheers and laughter, Whiplash and his trusty mount ride herd on the sheep, turning the flock in on itself several times until they've corkscrewed to a standstill. Then Whiplash screeches and digs his little heels (but gently) into his steed's ribs, forcing the flock toward home. When he has his livestock safely back in their pen, Whiplash takes a leisurely victory lap through the trodden dirt, soaking up the crowd's adoration. With the easy grace of someone who makes his living through physical action, Whiplash pulls a pouch from inside his shirt (revealing his hirsute chest in the process, to the catcalls of the ladies) and shakes a banana chip into his mouth. Another day, another dollar.

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