Author of award-winning Forgiving Effie Beck

Rodeo Cowboys

Last week I attended the San Antonio Rodeo with friends J.R. Huddleston and Audrey Parish. Thanks to their arrangements, we had premium seats close to the action and yet up far enough in the stands to have a bird’s eye view.

My favorite part of rodeo is Mutton Busting. For those of you who don’t know: In the Mutton Busting event, rodeo officials help four to six year olds into helmets and padded vests before lifting them to the backs of sheep. The kiddos grab a double fist of wool and blast out of a tiny chute. Most fall off in only a second or two. Some stumble and stammer in the roar of a cheering crowd, wondering what all the fuss is about. A determined five year girl rode her sheep around the entire arena. When officials caught up to her, she threw her arms up in triumph. Precious. The crowd shot to their feet to applaud in thunderous admiration. Last Mutton-Busting Girl Riding, I thought to myself, a history in the making. And, not a bad title for a book.

Truth be told? The grown up part of rodeo makes me nervous. The sight of handsome, triple-starched cowboys riding thousands of pounds of beef and horse flesh, subjecting their strong young bodies to all that jerking, flinging, and stomping makes me wince. They don’t bounce from the arena floor and throw their hands up in triumph, even when they have scored big. Instead, they limp away holding onto injured shoulders, elbows or hips. They slump and amble like old men and I wonder what kind of physical pain they’ll have to endure ten, twenty years from now. Like the little ones, they seem dazed, but for very different reasons. The line from Willie Nelson’s song, “Moma, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys,” takes on new meaning.

I can’t imagine the kind of ambition that puts those young men on the backs of bucking, aggravated animals. Are they the last true Mavericks? Is it lust for danger? Or, is it ego, the idea of besting a 1500 pound spinning bull and wearing a six-inch belt buckle to prove you did it?

I’m going back to the rodeo grounds this week. I’ll watch and listen, glean any bit of insight about why cowboys do what they do.


  1. Helen Ginger

    Rodeos are such fun. I worry about those guys, too. I also worry about the kiddos. They sure seem to get jolted around a lot. My favorite rodeo is up in Wyoming. It's an outdoor rodeo, so it's interesting to watch the cowboys corral the steer since we aren't inside a building. They are really good.

    Straight From Hel

  2. Susie

    Reflecting on a time many years ago when a small girl experienced her first rodeo. On the back of a saddled Shetland pony she rode out the gate like Haley's Comet, that pony wildly pitching it's hind legs for a mile down a dusty road, before a low-growing Hackberry tree limb abruptly removed the child from the mean horse flesh. My moma didn't let me 'cowboy', but my grandma thought I needed the experience. Thanks for those Backroad memories!

  3. Cold As Heaven

    Rodeo is cool. When we lived in Colorado 10 years ago, my older boy (the only one at that time) loved to watch the Rodeos, in particular the kids' sheep back riding. We visited both oudoor rodeo in Durango and indoor in Denver. And these bull riders are just crazy >:)