Whatcha Gonna Do with a Cowboy?

Rodeo Cowboy

Whatcha Gonna Do With a Cowboy?

 Chris Amundson, the editor of Nebraska Life, spoke at a Nebraska Press Women’s conference I attended and I loved listening to Chris talk about the great things to be found in Nebraska.

However it was a little distracting to have this picture blown up into a poster right behind his back. It was the cover for an article they did on small town rodeo.

Here’s a link to a lot more great rodeo pictures.


It hits close for me because we have a rodeo in the next town down the road called the Hoot Gibson Memorial Rodeo in Tekamah, Nebraska. And we’ve got neighbors who are big time into rodeo, entering and competing when the rodeo is in the area, although they don’t follow the circuit.

So today I’m including a little history, a quick look at events and some great, great pictures all about rodeo.Chris Ledoux

 Fun Fact: Rodeo is the official state sport of Wyoming and Texas, and the iconic silhouette image of a Bucking Horse and Rider is a federal and state registered trademark of the State of Wyoming.

 Rodeo Quote: I can remember sittin’ in a cafe when I first started in rodeo, and waitin’ until somebody got done so I could finish what they left.
Chris LeDoux(1948-2005) Real  life cowboy and Country western singer of Whatcha Gonna Do With a Cowboy among many great hits.

Barrel Racing




Main Rodeo Events

Barrel Racing

Barrel racing is an exclusively women’s sport. In a barrel race, horse and rider gallop around a cloverleaf pattern of barrels, making agile turns without knocking the barrels over. Look at that picture on the left. Really notice how low the horse is, almost on it’s side.


A calf is roped around the neck by a lariat, the horse stops and sets back on the rope while the cowboy dismounts, runs to the calf, throws it to the ground and ties three feet together. (If the horse throws the calf, the cowboy must lose time waiting for the calf to get back to its feet so that the cowboy can do the work. The job of the horse is to hold the calf steady on the rope) This activity is still practiced on modern working ranches for branding, medical treatment, and so on.

 In spite of popular myth, most modern “broncs” are not in fact wild horses, but are more commonly spoiled riding Bronc Ridinghorses or horses bred specifically as bucking stock. Rough stock events also use well-trained riding horses ridden by “pick up men” (or women), of whom there are usually at least two, tasked with assisting fallen riders and helping successful riders get safely off the bucking animal.

Bronc riding

There are two divisions in rodeo, bareback bronc riding, where the rider is only allowed to hang onto a bucking horse with a type of surcingle called a “rigging,” and saddle bronc riding, where the rider is allowed a specialized western saddle without a horn (for safety) and may hang onto a heavy lead rope, called a bronc rein, which is attached to a halter on the horse.

Bull riding Rodeo Bullriding

An event where the cowboys ride full-grown bulls instead of horses. Although skills and equipment similar to those needed for bareback bronc riding are required, the event differs considerably from horse riding competition due to the danger involved. Because bulls are unpredictable and may attack a fallen rider, Rodeo clowns, now known as Bullfighters, work during bull riding competition to help prevent injury to competitors. 

VaquerosSome interesting rodeo facts: Rodeo stresses its western folk hero image and its being a genuinely American creation. But in fact it grew out of the practices of Spanish ranchers and their Mexican ranch hands (vaqueros), a mixture of cattle wrangling and bull fighting that dates back to the sixteenth-century conquistadors. But you know…what does American mean if not a melting pot from all over the world? Bill Pickett

 There would probably be no steer wrestling at all in American rodeo were it not for a black cowboy from Texas named Bill Pickettwho devised his own unique method of bulldogging steers. He jumped from his horse to a steer’s back, bit its upper lip, and threw it to the ground by grabbing its horns. He performed at local central Texas fairs and rodeos and was discovered by an agent, who signed him on a tour of the West with his brothers. He received sensational national publicity with his bulldogging exhibition at the 1904 Cheyenne Frontier Days. This brought him a contract with the famous 101 Ranch in Oklahoma and its traveling Wild West exhibitions, where he spent many years performing in the United States and abroad. I’ve seen bull riding competitions and it’s a mean sport. I don’t care for it. But the crowd goes wild.

 I remember a few years ago some company was selling ‘Great Rodeo Moments’ on TV and they’d run these awful clips, over and over, of riders getting gored by a bull or trampled by a horse. I went and looked at YouTube but honestly the clips there are pretty hard to watch. So I’m not sending you there. Go at your own risk.

Some Great Rodeo Movies—it seems like they always have them riding the bulls.

8 Seconds-starring Luke Perry

Electric Horseman – starring Robert Redford

Pure Country – Starring George StraitPetticoat Ranch

My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys – Starring Scott Glenn.

 If you want to see some more really cool rodeo photos by Erik Stenbakken who took the picture at the top of this that I’m calling Mud Soaked Cowboy go here: http://www.stenbakken.com/ Click on Portfolios and then Rodeos. Very talented guy.

Any rodeo fans here today?

Seriously, have you ever been to the rodeo?

Have you got a favorite rodeo movie or rodeo cowboy I didn’t mention? What’s a cowboy got in him that makes him climb on that bull? There are cowgirls out there, too, and they’re pretty tough. Let’s hear rodeo memories, opinions or just tell me Whatcha Gonna Do With a Cowboy……

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Author of Romantic Comedy...with Cowboys including the bestselling Kincaid Brides Series

45 thoughts on “Whatcha Gonna Do with a Cowboy?”

  1. Love Rodeos, in fact we have one coming to town this weekend.

    Love the movies you listed, must confess never seen Electric Horseman. The movie 8 seconds is hard for me to watch it is too sad.

    Oh, and answer to your question “Whatcha Gonna Do With a Cowboy”?, better question “What would we do without them,” that is the nongutter answer.


  2. Hi Mary, I have never been to a rodeo-it sounds exciting though and an interesting part of our American culture and history. Again, I have learned something truly informative from P&P (I also enjoyed Stacey’s post yesterday about the Orphan Train; didn’t get a chance to write.)

    Thanks for the post and as for the cowboy…I have the wonderful P&P fan you sent me on my desk, talk about motivation to do my work!

  3. Hi, Mary, love your blog. I remember rodeos as a kid. Haven’t been to one in decades but I always get hooked on the TV bullriding events. As an animal lover, I know I should hate it, but those bulls are pampered million dollar babies, and all they have to do is buck for a few seconds. And those riders…yummy!

  4. Bet not too many of you young ladies even know who Hoot Gibson was.

    My Daughter-in-law had a cousin who rode bulls.
    Amazing part was he had lost an arm in a farm accident when he was a little kid. Sad thing is he died of an undetected heart problem when he was 21.

    Personally, I don’t care for rodeos. When we were little we begged our dad to take us to the rodeo in Bancroft. He told us we wouldn’t like it, but took us. I did like the barrel racing and I like to watch the horses jump rails in the more sophisticated horse shows.

  5. What cha gonna do with a cowboy? Omm… I can think of a couple of things lol!! anyway no, i have never been to a rodeo but loved the movie 8 seconds.

  6. I loved 8 seconds except…well, spoiler…pretty tough ending. I won’t say more. I think it’s a true story.

    Have anyone seen Pure Country? That’s not rodeo but it’s real horse-y. 🙂 George Strait a runaway country western star.

    And Electric Horseman…The line I think of when that movie comes to mind is, Robert Redford, barely sober, hung over, his face on a box of breakfast cereal can not care LESS that he’s sitting on a dias in a huge press conference about some Las Vegas show and someone says, “You were four time All-Around Champ at the Whatever…biggest rodeo in the world.”
    And this apathetic, burned out gorgeous guy lifts his head and says, “Five time.”
    “What?” the reporter asks.
    “Five Time All-Around Champ.”
    No matter how much he doesn’t care about anything anymore…he can’t pull off not caring about that.

  7. AND I’m slow chiming in here today because I’ve just paid a dentist a fortune to hurt me very badly.
    Now THERE’S a blog post everyone could comment on.

    Maybe not rodeo experience…but dentist experience. UNIVERSAL.

    Good morning. Half of my face is smiling and very happy to be here. The other half…it’s best not to ask.

  8. I’m thinking rodeoing is a passion, like writing–you’re willing to make those social and financial sacrifices to do what you love 😉 I like to watch barrel racing and calf roping. I can’t watch bull riding–just like those suspense scenes in scary movies–I close my eyes!! I worry for the rider and the bull 🙁

  9. Hi Mary and YAY Nebraska! As always, good stuff this morning. We took the kids to a couple of rodeos held to raise money for a charity when they were small…the folks we went with told me the broncos bucked so hard because their “family jewels” were hooked up into straps that the horse wanted off. I hope not! I had fun watching then but these days, some of the activities do seem kinda mean.

    One of my favorite country songs is an oldie by Crystal Gayle about the guy who loves to ride the rodeo. Someday Soon, I think.

    Hope your mouth’s on the mend, Mary. Reminds me I have to change a dental appointment this morning. Just a cleaning 🙂

  10. Wow, Susie, your dil’s cousin had quite a life for 21 years. So he rode bulls with only one arm? What a dare devil. Maybe he sensed somehow that his life would be short and he wanted to pack it full of a long life worth of excitement.

  11. I googled Hoot Gibson trying to find images for the blog and it went, so fast to Hopalong Cassidy played by William Boyd that I had trouble figuring out which pictures were Hoot and which were Boyd.
    And Hopalong Cassidey led me to Louis L’Amour, which I read a funny story about L’Amour and his early writing, he did several Hopalong Cassidy books under a different name. Funny story. I’ll use it in another blog.

  12. Elizabeth, you followed rodeo, huh?
    Do you know what prompts people to want to ride a bull? Seriously.

    I get barrel racing. That’s a non-deadly skill. Did you see that picture? That horse is at…about a 45% angle. Amazing.
    Our neighbor had mostly daughters and they did barrel racing. They were really good too. They had an on-going feud (maybe just in their own heads) with the rodeo because the rodeo made it hard for them to sign up to compete. My neighbors believed it was because they catered to the pro-riders and didn’t want locals horning in on the prize money.

  13. Tanya, how weird to hurt those horses to make them buck. Obviously the bucking horses grew out of breaking wild horses to ride. But now they have to cart the horses around to rodeos and probably don’t want them too wild, but then they’ve got to buck.
    Of course it’s only for a few seconds, then it’s back to straw and all the oats you can eat.
    The ASPCA let’s it go on. There probably ought to be a ASPCC…American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Cowboys.

  14. Mary – I love the rodeo! I love everything about it! It’s a fun time and oh, some of those cowboys… but honestly, the only sport that makes me queasy is the steer roping. It sure looks painful for the calves. I do love to watch bull riding and I even watch PBRA on television at times.
    I had a rodeo clown, give me tips about how it feels to ride rodeo , those guys are really brave! They are like the red cape in a bullfight .. here, come get me!

  15. I watched some of the bull riding clips on YouTube, those rodeo cowboys, wow, they are deadly serious about protecting the riders. Some of those guys are risking their lives to try and get a rider free if his arm is caught in a cinch or he’s being dragged.
    I think, if they WEREN’T dressed up like clowns it would be ten times more frightening to watch them work. The clown suit must somehow make it more of a show and less of a life and death struggle.
    They’re heroes.

  16. I love rodeo! I love the excitement of the chuckwagons as they round that final curve in a cloud of dust so thick you can’t even tell who’s in the lead. Since the wagons run in the evening, the setting sun serves as a backdrop for the maelstrom of dust, brawn and grit. Then suddenly, the horses break through the cloud, stretching their forelegs and noses for a flat out race to the finish. After they cross the finish line, the horses are snorting, the harness brass is jingling and the men are stoically walking their horses in an attempt to bring themselves and their animals back to even breathing. What a thrill!

    I’ll whoop it up through any rodeo I’m lucky enough to get a ticket to…except I have to leave my hubby behind. He’s one of those guys who doesn’t want to hurt anyone or anything. I’m not complaining, mind you…but his sounds of displeasure are not what I want when I watch cowboys and girls pushing themselves to the limit in a challenge against nature and the clock.

    I loved Pure Country but my favorite rodeo movie is Rodeo Girl (1980) starring Katharine Ross. It’s the story of the wife of a champion rodeo performer who is bored with just being the wife to a man who rides the circuit. Her release is to join the rodeo herself. To me, the heart of the story is when she makes the decision to keep riding even after she finds out she’s pregnant.

  17. Mary, interesting post. I attended one rodeo in Fort Worth during the RWA conference in Dallas a few years ago. It was exciting with lots of fanfare, but also scary to watch.

    Sorry about your painful dentist visit. Ask for laughing gas next time. Or do they still use that?

  18. I forgot about bulldogging–THAT is fun to watch, where the cowboy jumps from his horse and grabs a steer by the horns and turns it onto its side and has to hold him down for a certain about of time. Exciting, and doesn’t make my spine ache like watching bull riding 😉

  19. Round these parts calf roping and bulldogging are two different things. Calf roping is like you described, a team sport of a cowoby and a smart horse 😉 Bulldogging is flat-out steer wrestling 🙂 Brawn against brawn 😀

  20. They didn’t offer me laughing gas Janet. Just a sharp, sharp, sharp needled.

    And I know from experience that even the laughing gas wears off sometime.

  21. Stacey, go back and look at that picture of the bronc rider. The cowboy is almost laying flat on the horses back. Not because he’s laying back but because the horse is standing almost straight up on it’s front feet.

    The bull is almost as bad. Aching spine indeed!

  22. Don’t they tie the feet up of the calf or steer?

    I remember them slapping that calf/steer on the ground, the horse totally helping, then using a pigging string, wrapping it lightning fast around the calves legs and jumping back, hands high, like an olympic gymnast who just stuck her landing.

  23. I do enjoy rodeos as does dh. I am scared that someone will get hurt and don’t want to see that happening so am on the edge of my seat some times. There is excitement and drama at a rodeo.
    One time a bull got loose at the Calgary Stampede where we were watching and the bull went on over to a swing set where a small boy was swinging; I’m telling you there was tension so thick you could have cut it with a knife.

  24. Eeep!! Bronc and bull riding is INSANE *lol*

    The piggie ties and Olympic posing is calf roping. With bulldogging the cowboy rides alongside the steer, then jumps from his saddle as he grabs the steer from behind the head, litterally taking the bull by the horns, digs his boots into the dirt and turns the steer onto its side and has to hold him down for so many seconds. Letting the steer up is just as dangerous as getting him down!

    My sister’s hubby rodeos–after their baby was born she told him no more bulldogging! He had to stick to calf ropping 😉

  25. OMG, Robyn! I hope the boy wasn’t hurt. I’ve been to a couple rodeos where a bull got out–lots of screaming, but thankfully no one hurt. Both times I was in the bleachers, so my britches stayed dry *ggg*

  26. Mary, I love rodeos – both attending and writing about them. There’s such an air of excitement at a rodeo that I don’t find anywhere else. I guess it’s the element of danger and the pitting of man against beast. You never know who’ll win.

    In the upcoming anthology that I wrote a story for, “Give Me a Cowboy,” it takes place during a Fourth of July rodeo in 1890. Back then they called ’em Cowboy Competitions but me and the three other authors found a way to change the name to rodeo. We had a lot of fun writing these stories. And I enjoyed learning about how the rodeo has evolved from those early beginnings.

    Great subject and wonderful blog!!

  27. A tidbit about the movie “8 Seconds” — It is based on a true story about Lane Frost. He was the 1987 PRCA Bull Riding World Champion. He lived in Vernon, Texas which is about 50 miles from where I live. They put up a monument there for him after he was killed. He was so young. Left a wife and a baby. I think she moved away from Vernon after being widowed. At least that’s what I heard.

  28. There’s a herd of buffalo not far from where I work. Since my husband works until Dark everynight this time of year, I’m going to drive over there. I brought my camera along planning this and see if I can get a good picture…without getting too close of course.

    I got your bull riding RIGHT HERE, lady! Snort.

  29. Have I ever been to a rodeo? YES! I live in one
    of the “premiere” rodeo cities! I’ve been to
    rodeos ranging from Future Farmer events to county
    to the “big show,” the Houston Livestock Show and
    Rodeo! This rodeo was established in 1931 and in
    1954, as a member of the Jefferson Davis High
    School’s Carlton Cadettes, we actually (in our
    cowgirl-styled uniforms) got to take part in the
    show’s closing program. It was even more exciting
    for me when, as the only Hispanic officer in the
    group, I was approached and congratulated by one
    of the show’s stars, Pancho of the Cisco Kid and

    Pat Cochran

  30. Pat, Have you got a picture? (No, I’m not asking for evidence) I believe you. 🙂
    It’d just be cool.
    We could post you in your cowgirl uniform to the blog. I’d love it. Pancho can be in it too if you want.

  31. I have always been a rodeo fan My favorite event the the bronc riding.
    Eight Seconds was such a sad movie.
    Cowboys—-What would we do without them?

  32. Unfortunately, I don’t have a photograph of the
    occasion, but I do have a picture of me in my
    Cadette uniform. What is the best email address
    to send it to? To send the address privately,
    it can be sent to me at p-cochran@juno.com.

    Pat Cochran

  33. Here in Arizona we take our rodeos seriously. We have the oldest, continually held rodeo in the world on July 4 in Prescott, AZ It started in 1888. My son participates in that one.
    The other is in Payson, AZ and this year will be the 124th time is has been held. And of course, the National Championship rodeo help yearly in Las Vegas is a must if you like to see the color, the action, and the excitement of rodeos.
    Love those cowboy boots and butts.

  34. Kathleen, start looking around. I’ll bet there are some in every area. We have two fairly close to here, and a big one in Omaha. They haul tons and tons of dirt into the huge Civis Auditorium in downtown Omaha for the event, to create dirt ring for the rodeo. I can’t imagine how that could work but it does.

  35. I went to a good rodeo once in Colorado Springs with my Sunday School Teacher from when I was 12 years old – I was in 20s. I got to go see the parade up close before hand too. It was best I’ve seen. I also lived next door to a guy who rode in a rodeo in Texas and went to the small town rodeo a few times.
    God Bless.

  36. I also was in the Carlton Cadettes, graduated in 53, how neat and I do have picture of me in the uniform

  37. Hi my family is heavily into rodeo and i just wanted to let you know that what your refering to as bulldogging is actually calf roping. Bulldogging or steer wrestling is when the cowboy slides off of his horse next to the back of a steer grabbing the steers horns and throwing then down in one swift motion.

  38. Also another side note, barrel racing is not just for women. Some young male riders will barrel race, and i even know of one man who still does. It is however normal for only women to participate in this event.

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