Anonymous Cowboy

☆ June 24, 2011


There are some things that blatantly give away that I am a transplant and am not from Wyoming.  I can be found wearing Fluevogs.  I avoid brandings when at all possible.  And I’m not into rodeos.

I respect the ranch-bred traditions from which the rodeo organically grew but the contemporary incarnation of rodeo feels empty to me.  To me, if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ’em all, and I never go unless I’m with the ambulance.  I silently root for the bulls.  I busy myself with taking photographs so that I don’t think too much.  And I watch the real cowboys.


During the rough stock events (bulls and broncs), there are always two men on horseback, ever-present in the ring but discreet, hanging back during each contestant’s ride.  Once the rider is bucked off, the job of these two men is to bring the angry bulls and frantic broncs back to the front of the arena, guiding them through a large gate and back into the holding area.


This is where real horsemanship can be seen: in the absolute union these men have with their mounts, in the confident sensitivity with which they use their own horses to guide the others. These traits, these abilities, are the real root of rodeo.



39 Responses to “Anonymous Cowboy”

  1. Arlene
    June 24th, 2011 @ 7:51 am

    I don’t like rodeos either, I never got the ‘sport’ of terrifying or tormenting an animal for fun.

  2. Alyssa
    June 24th, 2011 @ 7:53 am

    Yup, not a big fan of rodeos. My uncle does calf-roping here in Texas, and I’m always rooting for the calves. The whole pomp and circumstance just makes me sad.

  3. lisa
    June 24th, 2011 @ 7:57 am

    the first time i went to a rodeo i cried. i hate calf roping and bull dogging. i do not secretly root for the animals. i cheer them on as loud as i can and am so happy when they escape from the ropes. my fellow rodeo-goers look at me like i am a nut but i don’t care.

  4. Chiriohs
    June 24th, 2011 @ 8:01 am

    I love how that black horse the one cowboy is riding always has one ear on his rider and one ear on the bronc.

  5. Ms. Pants
    June 24th, 2011 @ 8:11 am

    You had me at Fluevogs. <3

    There are two parts I really enjoy at the rodeo (which is a big thing here in Houston, as you might imagine): the women barrel racing on horses and the calf scramble. For the scramble, a bunch of kids (usually 8-12ish) are in the ring and they let a bunch of calves loose; the object is for the kids to chase down a calf and bring it into the marked square in the center of the ring–no ropes, no tools, nothing. (They get to keep the calf and raise it all FFA style.) The calves generally beat the snot out of the kids before they get pulled into the square. Good times.

    But seriously–Fluevogs. I’m an addict. (I think I’m up to about 18 pairs.)

  6. Janet M
    June 24th, 2011 @ 8:17 am

    I’m troubled by rodeos too. I respect that the rodeo feats come out of the working traditions of the west, but, their time has passed. Rodeos are cruelty to animals and fairly dangerous to the participants, so I will never go to another one.

  7. Donna
    June 24th, 2011 @ 8:27 am

    I must admit that I do enjoy bull riding, but I cheer on the bull, rather loudly.

    Nice Cowboy pictures!

  8. Hawk
    June 24th, 2011 @ 8:37 am

    I don’t go to rodeos (none in the area); but my family, two of my great-aunts to be exact, have raised and trained champion barrel racers for years. I adore horses, and I adore the look of rodeo gear, and how “gussied up” the horses can look for some of the events.

    I agree that some of the events are foolish machismo, and not much better than Spanish bull fighting.

    I also agree that the safety riders (that’s what my aunt always called them, anyway) are the REAL talent out in the ring. Then again, they are almost always fellows that have been doing the real job, for a really long time, and my aunts say that all the ones they know and work with pretty much raise and train their own mounts.

    My aunts’ horses are generally trained for women’s barrel riding, and as cutting horses.

  9. Catherine Chandler
    June 24th, 2011 @ 8:57 am

    My favorite rodeo was always the Cody, Wyoming rodeo. The arena was smaller, or more sparse than others…more real in a sense. It wasn’t all flash and lights.

    You’re right about those real cowboys. They’re what make it great.

  10. christine
    June 24th, 2011 @ 9:19 am

    ME TOO!!! Those guys rock…Plus their cowboys in chaps = eye candy.

  11. Tracy
    June 24th, 2011 @ 9:28 am

    *sigh* cowboys….

  12. Laura Oliver
    June 24th, 2011 @ 9:40 am

    I hate the rodeo and they have a huge one here in Houston, Texas that lasts for months. People get really excited here at rodeo time – February and March. I think it is animal cruelty. I especially hate the calve roping. Cowboys really do nothing for me and I am from Texas or am I??? Sometimes I feel like I am from some where else and from another time (possibly the future) where animals and people are treated with respect.

  13. Mari
    June 24th, 2011 @ 10:12 am

    “Sometimes I feel like I am from some where else and from another time (possibly the future) where animals and people are treated with respect.”

    Laura, I’m with you there.

  14. Marlene
    June 24th, 2011 @ 10:21 am

    I used to do barrel racing.. but did notlike the other events in rodeo..something did not feel right about all of it..I was unconfortable watching those events and how scared the animals were in them..just wasnot right…so I stopped going and participating after a while..did love those cowboys though even if they were part of it all..I always wonder what happens to those poor broncos and calves they use in those shows.. what is thier future if any??? Marlene in Cambria

  15. Lorelei Dacus
    June 24th, 2011 @ 10:59 am

    I just don’t get why animal organizations aren’t all over rodeos. The calf roping and steer wrestling is particularly barbaric. There must be some big money lobbying for the Rodeo Association!

  16. Joan
    June 24th, 2011 @ 11:02 am

    You are so right! Love the pickup men – really hate the calf roping!!

  17. LeFiffre
    June 24th, 2011 @ 11:16 am

    I love you for this post.

  18. Kendall
    June 24th, 2011 @ 11:17 am

    Those cowboys are always my favorite part of the rodeo! The rest is pretty dull. Like you said, once you’ve seen one, you have seen them all. But those dudes always impress me and are in my opinion the only part worth watching.

  19. Anna
    June 24th, 2011 @ 12:18 pm

    Have you heard of Buck Brannaman? I just saw this documentary last night and thought of you. It’s a must-see! :)

  20. Evan
    June 24th, 2011 @ 12:41 pm

    cute shoes and great shots! :)

  21. Patr
    June 24th, 2011 @ 1:55 pm

    I always root for the bull and livestock. Best part of our stock show rodeos is the chuck wagon races. Would love to go to the annual commotion some day.

  22. Idaho Dee
    June 24th, 2011 @ 5:04 pm

    I always thought I must be the only person in the stands watching the pickup riders instead of the action. Fascinating. I also rooted for the animals as well…bulls, broncs, calves. The only event I really liked is the barrel racing.

  23. TomT
    June 24th, 2011 @ 5:21 pm

    Those guys are real pros. Sometimes I wish I grew up out west around horses.

  24. rose
    June 24th, 2011 @ 9:29 pm

    The fluevogs alone don’t make you a transplant! Ditto on Buck the film! Read his book its amazing and Tom Dorance (sp may be wrong ) but he helped pioneer natural horsemanship also.

  25. Miranda
    June 24th, 2011 @ 9:31 pm

    Lots of rodeos travel like traveling circuses. Some have been banned because of the way they treat the animals behind the scenes. Bad enough what they do in front of the crowd but shameful what they do out of the arena. Animal abuse both in and out. I wouldn’t ever go.

  26. I Hermit
    June 25th, 2011 @ 7:01 am

    I must have been about 12 when my family went to a rodeo in IL. By brother and I loved it until after the show we went behind the scenes to see the animals. There was one steer with a horn ripped off bellowing in agony. I have been anti- rodeo ever since.

  27. Aleta
    June 25th, 2011 @ 7:23 am

    BRILLIANT photos. Thank you for a beautiful morning essay.

  28. Laurie G
    June 25th, 2011 @ 11:06 am

    Ditto re: rodeos. Gross…

    I was a Fluevogs virgin until today. Out of curiosity I clicked on the link and then had multiple “shoegasms”!!! Thanks enlightening me.

  29. Nikki
    June 27th, 2011 @ 7:52 am

    Rodeo – not my thing. But my parents were into cutting horses for a while, and . . good lord. Those are some crazy-athletic animals. I love watching a well-trained cutting horse and its rider. Poetry in motion.

  30. Coral
    June 27th, 2011 @ 9:57 am

    Either those are some BIG horses or those guys are little. That red roan looks HUGE in comparison to its rider.

  31. Amelia
    June 27th, 2011 @ 11:16 am

    When not rodeoing, many of the cowboys ranch. No ranch, no groceries, at least no meat.

    It is a myth that rodeo animals are mistreated perpetuated by folks who don’t know any better. YouTube is a simplistic, unreliable source of info. Some of it is even canned from the very animal rights groups mentioned in this thread. It would be like getting your info about humans from one story about murder. There are the odd freaks, but they are NOT the norm.

    The rough stock, bulls and horses, are not frantic, they are trained to do what they do, and great care is taken with them. They are revered in some cases, and can sell for tens of thousands of dollars. Pro Rodeo has a “Born to Buck” program where semen is sold for AI breeding, and it’s expensive. Care is taken with anything expensive, no less rough stock.

    Calf roping and team roping are the 2 events in rodeo that you’ll see most closely replicated on a working ranch. When you have hundreds, or thousands if you’re lucky, of cattle spread out over huge tracts of unfenced pasture, roping is the least stressful way of catching them when you need to doctor, let’s say. With regional and ethnic variations, it is also a beautiful tradition that is practical, efficient and humane. At a rodeo you see skillful atheletes who have spent a lifetime perfecting the art of catching loose cattle without injuring them.

    Talk to a rodeo cowboy, ask questions and see first hand with an open mind and some reliable information at your disposal. Rodeo is a treasure of tradition and skill on the part of man and beast.

    My pet peeve is unwanted animal euthanasia. We kill upwards of 3 million animals each and every year in this country for lack of a home. How many of you have every bought a puppy from a “breeder?” How many of you have produced a litter of backyard puppies. How many of you support the AKC, which supports puppy mills for the registration fees they generate?

    Who will cast the first stone?

  32. shreve
    June 27th, 2011 @ 4:37 pm

    Amelia ~ Actually, working cowboys don’t have time to run the rodeo circuit. They’re on the ranch full time. Working cowboys and rodeo cowboys are separate groups of people (they identify themselves as separate from eachother), separate professions.

    With the huge rodeos, like the National Finals, yes, the stock is very fancy and very expensive and the investment is protected, but it’s a very different story in the smaller arenas.

  33. Sea Wolf
    June 27th, 2011 @ 4:38 pm

    “It is a myth that rodeo animals are mistreated. .. The rough stock, bulls and horses, are not frantic, they are trained to do what they do, and great care is taken with them.

    I would call on these staements. I do not support the rough riding parts of the rodeo. I am not a PETA freak either. I hunt as well as well as other PETA despised activities. As for the bronc and bull riding parts, I DO consider taking a tight strap or a rope and wrapping it over the animals genitals to make it buck an abuse. Cowboys breaking a horse did not do this. The horse bucked of it’s own accord if it felt like it. How many of these horses would buck at all without that strap? The bucking strap is used to make the animal kick and thrash to get rid of it. It’s not the rider they are trying to get rid of but that strap cutting into their genitals. Watch the real cowboys after a rider is thrown. The first thing they try to do is release that strap. The animal stops thrashing and running and can then be guided out of the arena. Some events at a rodeo represent the real cowboys. Barrel racing, calf roping and others but the bronc and bull riding is nothing but spectacle for the thrill of the audience. Any connection to being a working cowboy is all but lost. The real cowboys behind the scenes and the rodeo clowns .. those are the real heroes in that game.

  34. GD
    June 28th, 2011 @ 5:27 am

    I root for the bulls, too! I can’t even watch bronc riding. I just love horses too much! Went to Spain earlier this year. Bull fighting…oh, I can’t even tell you how I feel about that! I saw pictures on a wall of matadors being gored. I have to admit, it made me smile and I thought, “You got what you deserved!”

  35. Kar
    June 28th, 2011 @ 11:10 am

    I kind of like the ‘riding woolies’ where the kids try to stay on top of the sheep as they amble along the ring.

    That said, I can understand how the sport emerged and respect the heritage but I suspect my speed’s more along the lines of a cowboy poetry reading.

  36. Amelia
    June 29th, 2011 @ 11:04 am

    You’re right Shreve, not all rodeo cowboys are working cowboys, but most have it in their background somewhere, or will go back to some form of it at some point. My ex and I managed 16,000 acres and a stocker cattle operation of approximately 2000hd. He managed to win the team roping in the Turqoise Circuit one year and held a PRCA card for all the years we were together.

    But it was this statement that made me reply again.

    “As for the bronc and bull riding parts, I DO consider taking a tight strap or a rope and wrapping it over the animals genitals to make it buck an abuse.”

    A flank strap does not touch an animal’s genitals…AT ALL. And it doesn’t cut into anything. Please take a close look at one. Go to a rodeo and ask to see one.

    Do not take my word for it.

    Many of the greatest bucking horses are mares, and it couldn’t possibly touch theirs. And flank straps are usually covered in a faux sheepskin, of the same kind that you see covering a cinch on a saddle. A flank strap is a cinch, just like you see on a saddle, except that instead of going around their middle, it is placed around their flank, just in front of an animal’s hips.

    The flank strap controversy really is a myth, but please see for yourself before you perpetuate it further. Thank you

  37. kk
    July 2nd, 2011 @ 9:19 am

    UGh. Seriously people? The bucking strap does NOT NOT NOT NOT tighen around the genitals! It’s truly amazing how many people latch on to some youtube BS and start spouting MYTH as fact. The bucking strap goes around the flank which is FORWARD of the genitals. The fact is you can’t MAKE a horse buck. Many horses fail as bucking horses because many wont buck even with a bucking strap. If you actually WATCH rodeo you will see many horses come out the shoot, buck, dump their rider and then STOP bucking and jog our the gate.

  38. shotgunsnack
    July 5th, 2011 @ 11:16 pm

    hella. so fucking awesome. about the silent cowboys at the rodeo, not all the other stuff. I can’t go to rodeos anymore. But the guys on the horses helping the animals after the ‘show’? ooo baby.

  39. Angie
    October 19th, 2011 @ 11:49 pm

    Third cowboy down is hot!

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