Ride ‘Em Cowboy! – by Anne Carrole

rodeo redI can’t explain why I love the rodeo, but I can’t seem to get enough of it, particularly saddle bronc riding.  Maybe it’s all those cowboys at one time in one place. In any event, even though it started with the Spanish vaqueros, rodeo has a firm place in America’s history.


Rodeo started when cowboys from different ranches engaged in friendly, and not so friendly, cowboy competitions of skill after long cattle drives in the late 1800s. Such a cowboy gathering was a good place to blow off steam and a form of needed entertainment.  When the Homestead Act and barbed wire fences brought an end to the open range and cattle drives, cowboys would gather at stock shows to compete just like they do today at Denver, Houston, San Antonio, Fort Worth and many others.


Where and when was the first rodeo held? This is a hotly contested subject.


Payson, Arizona, claims it has the oldest continuous rodeo (1884).  But when the game Trivial Pursuits upheld Prescott, Arizona’s, documented claim as the oldest organized rodeo (1888) it was Pecos, Texas, that threatened to sue based on recorded eye-witness accounts of a rodeo that took place there in 1883.


At that first Prescott rodeo on July 4th, Juan Leivas cinched the title and was awarded a trophy for all-around cowboy having won both the steer roping and bronc riding contests at the “cowboy tournament” as it was then called. Leivas was a Date Creek Ranch cowhand, and Date Creek is still a working ranch raising grass-fed beef and still employing descendants of Juan Leivas, according to his grandnephew, David Leivas Chavez, who worked there when he was fifteen.


The Arizona Weekly Journal-Miner recorded Juan’s steer roping win as follows: “His steer turned toward the herd at breakneck speed…Libas (sic) made a beautiful throw with his rope, bringing his steer to earth so suddenly that he spilled his horse over, also throwing him to the ground, but quick as a flash of lightning he was again in the saddle.” His winning time was one minute, seventeen seconds. bronc-1


However, all three towns cited above might have lost out in their claim as the first ever rodeo by over a decade, according to the New York Times and ProRodeo.com. It appears Deer Trail, Colorado may hold those bragging rights. They held their event also on July 4th but in 1869 when two ranches got together to compete. An Englishman, Emilinie Gardenshire, successfully rode a horse named Montana Blizzard and took home a new set of clothes for his troubles.


After 140 years, rodeo is still going strong in big cities and small towns, not only out west but throughout the United States.  Some say it’s now the fastest growing sport in America with pro bull riding and shows such as America’s Toughest Cowboy (Spike TV) leading the way. My own eastern town throws a rodeo the first weekend of June every year. Even New York City hosts an annual rodeo event at Madison Square Garden.


Unlike most sports athletes, however, rodeo cowboys, despite the danger, still don’t make a whole heck of a lot of money.  First off, they have to pay an entrance fee to even compete. Before national sponsors, the cowboys would actually compete for a part of the entrance fee purse and nothing more. At some of the smaller rodeos, that is still the way it works. If that cowboy gets bucked off or doesn’t place, he not only doesn’t get any money, but he’s out his entrance fee. Then there are the travel expenses, which given the price of gas and the expanse of the west, can be formidable. Rodeo cowboys tend to “buddy up” in order to save on those expenses.  It used to be two or three traveling together, now it is more like four or five cowboys spending 200 days of the year on the road with each other.


chad-1And then there’s the gear.  Outfitting cowboy style isn’t cheap. They need a quality hat, a good pair of chaps, leather boots with spurs and protective vests, all with price tags to rival merchandise on New York City’s Fifth Avenue.  If you’re in timed events, you’re also saddled with the expenses of your partner, the horse.boots


Trevor Brazile has been the top earning rodeo cowboy for the last two years, earning about half-a-million a year.  He reported his annual expenses in 2007 to the New York Times as follows: event fees $65,000, fuel cost $31,000 (and rising) and horse feed another $15,000.  And that doesn’t include room and board for him and his wife and young son who travel with him. You can just imagine where that leaves cowboys lower on the winnings ladder.


Rodeo cowboys clearly do it for the love of it.


annecarroleIn my new book, Re-ride at the Rodeo, available now at The Wild Rose Press, rodeo is the element that brings the couple together and threatens to tear them apart.  The hero, Clay Tanner is a saddle bronc rider and rancher looking to make some quick money and have a good time. He spies a pretty little blonde who looks like she could use some fun. Trouble is, she turns him down.  Dusty Morgan wants nothing to do with rodeo riders.  Her late father rode broncs and he was never there for her—until he learned he was going to die. Now she’s looking for happily ever after, and despite her attraction to the strapping cowboy, she’s not interested in a hit and run with a footloose rodeo man.


In the story, Dusty grills Clay on why he does it.


He shrugged. He knew she couldn’t appreciate it. But he sensed she was trying to understand because it was important to her. He gave it another shot. “There’s also knowing that you’ve faced a difficult challenge. A challenge a lot of other people wouldn’t be able to meet. And you’ve succeeded. Against pretty significant odds. Done what most people in the stands wouldn’t even attempt, much less pull off.”


“Why not team roping or tie-down?”


He smiled. Those were safer sports in many respects, though they took a lot of skill. “I’ve competed in those events during ranch rodeos. But besides the money, rough stock is more of a challenge for me.”


She cocked her head. “It is about guts then.” She tossed in two pennies.


“Some, but I think there are other factors. Hell, sitting on a bull or bronc is nothing compared to facing down the enemy in a place like Iraq, or saving people from a burning building. There’s an element of courage involved, sure, but it’s more like you’re testing yourself. Most rough stock riders aren’t really competing against each other. Rodeo riders are a pretty tight bunch even though we play for each other’s entrance fees when the purses aren’t supplemented like here in Wayback. You try to better your own score, increase your standing. It’s a way, I guess, to measure yourself against the rest of the world. And if you measure up, you can take home some serious money. Does that make sense?”


Having been bucked off both a burro and a horse, it certainly doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. 


My burro incident came when my sister convinced me to ride our neighbor’s burro in the town’s Fourth of July parade. She was always talking me into something. She clapped a sombrero on my head, gave me a colorful shawl and there I was riding a reluctant burro with the marching band providing the beat. Unfortunately a bystander’s dog decided he’d like to play with that burro and dashed out into the street and started barking. Well, you can guess the rest. Next thing I knew I was down on the hard pavement, scraped, bruised and bloody. My mother burst from the crowd, scooped me up and took me home—ending my parade career. Along with a sprained ankle, I was sore for days.


Of course, that didn’t deter me in the least from riding, particularly since my oldest sister had just gotten a horse. Dusty (yes, I named my heroine after our palomino) had been a wild mustang when our neighbor got her. Unfortunately, wild seemed to be in her nature since no one, no man that is, could get near her. My sister could. The neighbor told her if she could break that horse, he’d give her a good deal. My sister spent every day for weeks working with the palomino, until she was finally able to ride her. Well, one day my sister announced it was time I rode Dusty. She didn’t have to convince me on this one; I’d been yammering at her for weeks to let me on.  My mother hadn’t yet agreed to it, however, since I was many years younger than my teenage sister. But Mom wasn’t around that day so up I went on Dusty.  We pranced around that corral and I felt like I could conquer the world.


But Dusty was easily spooked and something–we never did know what–spooked her and up she went on her hind legs and off I went—landing with a thump on the hard packed earth. It was the first time I had ever had the wind knocked out of me and I remember panicking for breath as my sister stood over me yelling, “Don’t tell Mom. Promise you won’t tell Mom.”  Tell Mom?  Couldn’t she see I wasn’t even breathing?


Even though I tasted blood in my mouth and had bruises all over my back and legs, I never told my mother.  I was too worried she would insist we get rid of the horse.  Dusty eventually calmed down—some. Enough to compete with my sister in barrel racing anyway.


Those two experiences, however, have convinced me that riding animals born to buck doesn’t make much sense—but I still love to watch those cowboys do it.


What about you? Any horse encounters you care to relate? Any rodeo memories you’d like to share? What do you think of the sanity of rodeo riders? And if you have any questions regarding the rodeo, I’ll do my best to answer them.


Leave a comment and you’ll be entered into a drawing for a free e-copy of Re-ride at the Rodeo.

Click on Anne’s book cover to go to The Wild Rose Press:   



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38 thoughts on “Ride ‘Em Cowboy! – by Anne Carrole”

  1. Horse encounters. I hadn’t ridden since I was a kid on my granddad’s farm. But one of my friends who owned several had me over for a weekend. I didn’t want to admit how long it had been so just saddled up and went with it. Unfortunately, the horse I was riding liked to break into a full on run after it passed an outbuilding (opps, forgot to tell you that, said friend said after the fact!). Hairy time but I didn’t fall off and eventually I reined the horse in. Guess that is why I still love reading horse stories, rodeo stories etc…because I know it isn’t as easy as it looks :-). Looking forward to reading more of your writing!

  2. Julie,Good thing your cowgirl skills never left you!:)Horses have a mind of their own. One time Dusty got it in her head to run up the steep wall of a quarry–I hung on for dear life and held my breath as she teetered at the top, shifting my weight and praying she’d make that last step onto level ground. She did and my sister, who was then riding her daughter, blasted me good for letting her have her head–as if I’d had a choice.:)Though I’m relating some of our wilder experiences with Dusty(and there were a few) she was actually a great horse and lived into her thirties. Thanks for stopping in!

  3. Hi, Anne. We had horses when I was young. I broke my arm falling off of one when I was in kindergarten or first grade. I still rode many many hours but the thrill was gone.
    Some of us kids and our neighbor kids were fanatics but for me…they were fine, just big, smelly beasts who usually didn’t want a bit in their mouths.

    Sorry, not exactly a warm memory. LOL

  4. As usual Mary, you have me laughing. My sister was the horse fanatic in our family–I was sort of along for the “ride”:)But I must say I am in awe of anyone who actually risks getting bucked off for a living.

  5. Hi, Anne. Had a chance to ride with a real cowgirl when I was 10. It was a whole day event and absolulely spectacular off-trail scenes and experiences. I wouldn’t tell my parents about the multiple saddle sores and pined away in agony…but with a huge grin! All I can say is “Ouch” to your being thrown not once, but twice!! My question is: Did you ever ride Dusty again? Come on. Tell the truth 🙂

  6. Hi Mickey–nice of you to stop by especially since your book, Retribution, just got released yesterday over at The Wild Rose Press–congrats BTW. And yes, I did ride Dusty again and for many years but I must say, like Mary, that first encounter sort of knocked the wind out of my sails for a while (as well as my body-lol). Oh, and saddle sores–yeah, not my fondest memory.:)

  7. Hi Anne, welcome back to P&P! We’re delighted to have you.

    Loved your look at the rodeo, early days and present. Lots of good info there. Rodeos are so exciting. You can literally smell the adrenaline in the air. But maybe that’s the blood and sweat and rawhide. LOL All the things that spell courage.

    The peek inside RE-RIDE AT THE RODEO sure hooked me. I want to know more. You show great insight as to why a cowboy wants to try to tame those wild animals! Wow! Love the hunky guy on the cover too. 🙂

    Have a great day at the Junction!

  8. Anne, this woman left a comment under the announcements so I’m moving it over.

    “Anne, having been bucked off a horse that got a bee stuck under his saddle flap, I could relate to your tales of flying off the burro and Dusty. Glad you’re OK! I rode a lot when I was young and hit the ground on more than one occasion, but the bee incident was really memorable!”

    Miriam Newman

  9. My best friend’s grandfather farmed with horses. She would ride these huge beasts bareback and standing up! I rode the trying to wrap my stubby legs around their massive bellies while clinging to their necks while they ambled at breakneck speed towards the barn. I so envied her courage.
    I have only attended one small rodeo but love watching on tv. Have a friend who did bullriding but he had quit by the time we met. He is who I think of when I think cowboy as he is tall, lanky, and leathered by the sun.

  10. Hey Linda, so happy to see you here. And loved all the stories in your newest anthology, Give Me a Cowboy, about rodeo cowboys at an 1890 rodeo! That Tempest really kicked up a storm-lol! Thanks for stopping in!

  11. HI Anne! Welcome back to P&P 🙂

    I live in a rodeo town and have atteneded many. As a kid it was always a rush when a bull got out and went tromping through the fair grounds *lol* My youngest sister is married to a rodeo cowboy, and lemme tell ya, she’s also married to his horses and the rodeo 😉

    I just finished reading your book last night—what a fun and emotional read!! Clay and Dusty were such great characters–and man do they get a rough ride–I felt for both of them, and was cheering at the end 😀 Thanks for a super read, Anne!!!

  12. We had some old horses when I was growing up on a farm in PA. I loved them and wanted to buy a horse for myself. But we moved to Florida when I was 12 and I never got to buy my own horse. After I was married my DH we moved to a 2 1/2 acre mini farm. He built the barn and we called it Almost a Ranch. We got two horses, an abused throughbred (Ginger) and an Appaloosa. One day Ginger was in our front yard near the porch and my DH decided to hop on her back… Bad idea! He startled her and he ended up on the ground with a broken back! He recovered but learned not to just jump on a horse! Now we live in a small town in North Florida and they have wonderful family enterainment Rodeos here!!

  13. Miriam–a bee! Now that horse must have been bucking something fierce.

    And Connie, I have pictures of my father as a youngster standing next to two huge horses (Pat and Mike they were called)that my grandfather used for the farm. Whenever I’m around big draft horses I’m too worried about getting stepped on–can’t imagine riding one! That would be one long fall.

    Thanks for stopping by ladies and sharing your memories.

  14. Oh- DUH to me – I meant to say that your post was great! Very informative. Thanks! And I agree it is really hard to understand why those cowboys put themselves through thosse painful challenges!

  15. Hi Stacey–thanks for the nice words about Re-ride at the Rodeo. So glad you enjoyed it. 🙂

    Those bulls get loose? So far, I’ve been spared that experience. Talk about getting the adrenaline pumping!

    Thanks for stopping in Stacey! Can’t wait to read your next one, Mountain Wild!

  16. Wow Martha–your hubby was lucky! That’s one thing Dusty taught me the hard way–to respect what she liked and disliked-lol. My sister is down in Florida now and planning on going to the rodeo at Port St. Lucie as a matter of fact (she was the barrel racer in the family). And BTW, was Ginger named after Ginger in the Black Stallion–talk about an emotional read–at least it was when I read it as a kid.

  17. Love horses but scared of them. We had a pony when I was a little girl, he bite my sister on the breast.

    Love rodeos but don’t get to go very often. If I got to go as often as I would like I may get a sensor overload.

  18. Anne, Pat and Mike must have been common names for draft horses as I am pretty sure that was Papa Jenks’ name for his.

  19. Wow, I have seen a few rodeos, and have to admit that those cowboys have guts. I would never have the courage to try those things. I love horses, but could never see myself on one trying to fling me off. Nice and calm is perfect for me! 😀

  20. I was thrown off of horses so many times I can’t remember. The doctor suggests it might be the reason that every one of the discs in my spine is herniated.I shoulda taken lessons!
    I also loved the rodeo. I belonged to the Ottawa Valley Western Horse Association at one time. Yep. I absolutely loved to barrel race, and do (I can’t remember what they called it), a pick up race. You’d ride like crazy and pick up someone and ride back. I liked Western much better then English. Gosh I felt cool up in the saddle. I could go on and on.
    As you can tell I enjoyed your blog!

  21. Hi Anne,

    Loved your post. So true about the expenses involved to participate in rodeos. My husband financed some of those fancy combination rigs that house the horses and the cowboy’s family.

    My experience getting thrown involved my friend, we were riding double, getting scared when a car appeared in the dirt road. She dug her heels into the horse’s flank and he started bucking. In trying to stay on, she’d pulled me lose from the saddle and I fell in the road.

    Of course, we had no business on the horse in the first place, especially riding double.


  22. I grew up with horses. We had one that would find a low hanging branch and try to scrape you off. We rode bareback and some of the time he succeeded.
    Our county fair has a rodeo every year.

  23. Mary, it sounds like you’ve got what it takes to have been a female saddle bronc rider (there are quite a few women who ride broncs and bulls) and at least you could have gotten some money for your trouble. I must say after those two times getting thrown I wasn’t eager for a repeat. And pick up racing sounds challenging.

    Estella, horses sure can be clever about getting their way! Glad you weren’t hurt.

    Thanks ladies for stopping by.

    Thanks ladies for stopping by.

  24. Hi Anne,

    I loved reading about the history of rodeos. My horse encounter almost became a funeral. Last year, we had the most beautiful garden. Well, our horse being the horse he is got in my garden. He crawled under the barbwire and ate everything but the tomatoes and hot peppers. We didn’t have electric on the fence so part of it was our fault. So needless to say, this year we will.

    Have a great day.

  25. Never trusted horses enough to ride them. Did ride a couple of times in the Philippines and Bali, but the horses were so small your feet nearly touched the ground. That plus they didn’t have real saddles or were bareback (very boney bareback). My sister got thrown once and had the breath knocked out of her (like you). It scared us all. She turned several shade of red and blue before she was finally able to draw a breath. My daughter loved to ride, but now that she has horses, she doesn’t. She was riding a mule and leading a second while working at Boy Scout camp. Something spooked them and she was pulled off. They thought she bruised her hip and sent her back to work for the rest of the season. She has been having hip trouble lately and x-rays show that she actually had a hairline fracture that never got a chance to heal properly.

  26. Gosh, Anne! I love reading about the rodeo, but I’d never actually been on a horse until a year ago, when my husband and I were on vacation and decided to sign up for one of those touristy things by the beach. It was extremely tame, thankfully, and I can definitely see why horses are so appealing–they’re beautiful and strong, and to think that they let you ride on their backs! Anyway, no horrible incidents on that first ride, although I haven’t been on a horse since then either 🙂 And no aspirations to rodeo riding, nosirree! Congrats on Re-ride at the Rodeo!

  27. Anne, here’s another message that was left under the announcements.

    “Hi Anne, I enjoyed your stories and rodeo trivia. And I can totally relate to
    being thrown off a bucking horse. Dancer was spooked by a wild turkey crossing
    his path and totally freaked. He neighed and leaped high in the air over a
    stream, landed on the other side–and still I managed to hang on for dear life.
    But when he stood back on his hind legs, off I went, hitting the hard ground
    with a thud. To this day, my knees crack when I stand up! But there is no
    comparison to the feeling of riding wild and free in the open countryside!”

    Sharon Donovan

  28. Well, you are definitely, braver than me, Anne! I got my picture taken on a pony once and that was enough for me. I did get up on a horse at my friend’s farm one time, but I wanted off almost immediately. I just hated being that far from the ground!

  29. Roberta–glad your horse was okay–Patricia–good your daughter finally got that checked!Sharon–you are so right about that wild and free feeling and Lynn there’s something to be said for having our feet on the ground.

    Thanks everyone for stopping by–it was great fun to read everyone’s stories about their own horse encounters and the rodeo!:) We’ve all had some interesting experiences–and still we love horses! Overall, I think it was pretty unanimous–none of us would get on an animal born to buck!

    I’d like to say a big thanks to the fillies here at Petticoats and Pistols for letting me hang out with you all. I had a blast!

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