Chasing the Rodeo

Professional and amateur cowboys intrigue me, as do the equally tough professional bullriders.

Rodeo in Poulson, MT

Every year I attend 2-3 rodeos, from small regional amateur rodeos in Montana and Arizona, to the National Finals Rodeo held in Las Vegas, and that doesn’t include the PBR (Professional Bull Rider) events I try to attend each spring.

Fortunately, I never lack for company when I’m heading to the rodeo or PBR. My husband and I have a standing date for the NFR in Last Vegas each December and have tickets for the last three nights of competition, and my writer friends Megan Crane and CJ Carmichael are also always up for a rodeo weekend.

Jane with CJ Carmichael
Jane with CJ Carmichael
Jane with Megan Crane
Jane with Megan Crane

I’ve written a variety of rugged heroes, including cowboys and bullriders, and three of my reader favorites were all professional bullriders: Dane Shelly (She’s Gone Country), Cade King (Be Mine, Cowboy), and Colton Thorpe (Take Me, Cowboy).

9780373754427-284x450These three heroes were tough, hardcore alphas. Dane Shelly walked with a permanent limp, Cade King once dealt with his pain by drinking hard, hitting the bottle to numb his exhaustion and pain, while Colton Thorpe has no desire to ever settle down and be a buckle bunny’s sugar daddy.

I may have inherited my love of cowboys and western stories from my grandfather, an engineer and rancher from El Paso, Texas that loved the land so much he owned three cattle ranches in California and would fly his private plane in and out of the different ranches to help with routine chores and round ups. I spent school holidays on his favorite ranch in the Cholame Valley (forty-five miles east of Paso Robles) where the miles and miles of rolling hills and open land made me think anything was possible.

At UCLA I switched from being a Creative Writing major to American Studies where I could combine my love of American literature with American history, culture and art. My senior thesis was on Mark Twain, and it’s impossible to study American culture without being reminded at every turn that the American West, and our Frontier has shaped our national consciousness. Americans are explorers and adventurers and yes, risk takers. We’re fiercely independent and determined to succeed.

I was lucky to study in depth the literature of our West, reading both the classics from James Fenimore Cooper to Willa Cather, as well as getting an introduction to the greats in our popular culture, like Bret Harte, Jack Schaefer, and of course, the one and only Louis L’Amour.

The history & reference books about the West in my library at home.

Through reading I discovered one of the defining characteristics of the classic Western hero (or heroine) is strength, particularly inner strength, and this strength, and rugged individualism, resonated deeply with me. It’s not enough to say the right thing, but one must do the right thing. Integrity is also essential, as well as having a clear moral compass.

I’m grateful for my academic immersion in the West. It’s definitely been useful for my career, but as I write a contemporary western hero, not a historical one, I’m always trying to broaden my knowledge and deepen my perspective to better ground my character, making him or her as intriguing and relevant as possible for my readers.

Ty and Mac tat the PBR, Honda Arena in Anaheim

To get my characters right, I do a lot of research. In fact, at the very beginning of a new story I do far more research and studying then actual writing.

My research can be broken into one of three categories:

1) Reading: I read every reference book, memoir, and bio I can get my hands on!

2) Interviews: I talk to industry experts (in this case, cowboys, bullriders and family and friends)

3) Observation: I attend live events, soaking it all in and noting every detail possible.

Over the years I’ve collected quite a few books that have become essentials in my Western library. I’ve pulled out a few to share with you here, and have listed four favorites by title and author below.


Favorite Reference Books

King of the Cowboys by Ty Murray and Steve Eubanks

Chasing the Rodeo: On Wild Rides and Big Dreams, Broken Hearts and Broken Bones, and One Man’s Search for the West by W.K. Stratton

Fried Twinkies, Buckle Bunnies, & Bull Riders: A Year Inside the Professional Bull Riders Tour by Josh Peter

Rodeo in America: Wranglers, Roughstock, and Paydirt by Wayne S Wooden

Not every lover of westerns needs to be a rodeo fan, but if you enjoy a great rodeo hero or setting, check out one of the titles I’ve shared above (the top three are my personal top three favorites). You can also learn more about the PRCA and PBR, including rankings, schedules and ticket info at and

tytruckMy next rodeo event? Why, it’s the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas in just two months time. And I’ll be attending with my favorite ‘cowboy’, my husband Ty. And okay, he’s not a real cowboy, he’s a professional surfer, but with his Texas roots, he loves the rodeo as much as I do!

country_450x2Giveaway: Are you a rodeo fan? Have you ever been to a rodeo? I’d love to hear about your favorite event or experience and one of you will win a signed copy of She’s Gone Country and some fun Jane Porter reader swag. Winner will be announced here, in the comments, on Saturday, October 10th so please check back to see if that winner might be you!




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45 thoughts on “Chasing the Rodeo”

  1. It’s sad to say I live by a huge rodeo arena in my town, but I have never been there. I don’t have anyone who wants to go with me. I have only seen one rodeo and that was when I was in high school and went on a field trip to see the prison rodeo in Huntsville (down near Houston). I really enjoyed it. I’ve watched competitions on tv. There is a family that lives near me who has some of the best rodeo bulls in my area. The Martinez family owns several restaurants in town that we go to all of the time. My favorite is called The Bull’s Pen and it is located right in front of their ranch and the bulls are always out in the field around the restaurant.

  2. Hi Jane! What a fun post! I’ve been to two rodeos — one in Jackson Hole, WY when my family went for a summer vacation, and the annual one that is held here in Illinois near me. I really enjoyed them. I’m afraid it’s easier to get my husband to a football or baseball game then it is to get him to a rodeo 🙂 I do enjoy rodeo movies…so it would be great to see another of your books be made into a movie!

  3. Hi Jane, wow, what a terrific western background you’ve had! I love the Paso Robles area but more than that, Santa Ynez as it’s a little closer to where I live. ((I’m a Trojan parent, though LOL.) But also an American lit teacher and like you, I find what I learned and taught creeping into my stories all the time. I have been to a couple of rodeos…I’m an animal freak though so always wonder how it feels to be that poor little terrified roped calf. But the cowboys make it worth it. The best rodeo I attended was a small Friday night rodeo in Bandera, Texas. very low key and so full of local color I still remember every second. Great post today!

    • Thanks, Tanya! Research and experience always finds its way into our stories, doesn’t it? 🙂 I’m glad you’ve had some fun rodeo experiences too. The best kind!

  4. I have been to a rodeo… saw some practice runs from a few events… did not see the competitions though… it was near my home, so my family went to see what it was like in person.

  5. Jane, I love the rodeo! It’s a very special thing for me to do. Here in the Texas Panhandle not going to these things is almost sacrilegious. This is cowboy country. Lots of cattle ranches. It’s not that uncommon to see cowboys riding to the grocery stores and tying up their horses while they shop. So rodeos are a big thing. I always cry when the riders gallop in with the USA and Texas flags. I love that sight. But in the events, I think my favorite is bull riding.

    Have fun in Vegas!

  6. I have been to a lot of rodeo’s have friends that rode bronco’s the bulls. My girlfriend Penny barrel race and I hung out with her and her brother all summer going to rodeo’s. this summer I met up with some old friends that have their kids in the rodeo circuit and it was fun watching them. love the pics of your hubby and son!

  7. Hi Jane,
    Wow, I love that you get to the rodeo so many times a year! I’ve written about rodeo riders, but being there, in the grandstands is soooo awesome. Real cowboys, real events, and so exciting! You’re hubby looks like he fits right in with the cowboys! Congrats on all your wonderful western books. I love them! And thanks for your great selection of research books!

  8. I have been to several rodeos which are wonderful. The cowboys, the bronco riders and the excitement are unforgettable. and very special. Your books are wonderful. Great photos.

  9. During the summer we attended a rodeo in a rural area which was a really unique experience for me since we lived in a city. This opened up my interest in the West, horses and I try to go to the rodeo each year at the fair.

  10. I live in the middle of Illinois, not sure there is much rodeo around here. I’d love to go at least once and I’m sure I’d be half scared for the competitors and half star struck around all the cowboys or farm boys. We have lots of farm boys around here and I count my sweetie as one, even though we do not farm.

    Thanks for offering the opportunity to win a book.

  11. I am a rodeo fan although I have not been to many. We went to Cheyenne Frontier Days and I fell in love. I had the pleasure of sitting next to a former bull rider who was kind enough to explain the rules and what was going on. I hope to attend more rodeos.

    You are a new author for me so I will be looking forward to reading your books.

  12. I live in rodeo country, where lots of our small rural Kansas towns have annual rodeos, so I grew up going to them with my dad.
    For my 60th birthday last year, I chose to go the National Rodeo Finals, and my husband and I had a blast.
    Thanks for a great post, reminding me of all the times I sat in the bleachers watching a rodeo with my dad.

  13. Hi Jane

    I’ve never been to a rodeo. I grew up in Wisconsin. I’m not sure they have rodeos here.

    I didn’t know Ty was from Texas. Looks like your son loves rodeos too. I think you have to be incredibly brave and maybe a little crazy to go bull riding. Those animals are huge and mean!

    My favorite would be to see the bronc riding cowboys.

    Have fun in Las Vegas!

    I’d love to read SHE’SGONE CONTRY!

  14. I love rodeos! I grew up on a farm and we would go to as many as we could. My brother tried bronco riding for a while, but then stuck with just plain being a cowboy. LOL. I love watching the barrel racing!

  15. I loved the post! I have actually been to more recon than I. An count. Growing up my step dad did team roping. It’s was always so much fun to see all the different events. My favorite part though was getting to warm up the horses before the event for my step dad. Even though I was only a kid then, when I was on top of the horse riding in the arena I felt like I was on top of the world! Great memories!

  16. We have attended several rodeo events. We lived in Colorado Springs, CO for three years and that was our introduction to rodeo. My favorite rode experience was our first rodeo. We attended the Little Britches Rodeo held in conjunction with the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo. Our two girls were the age of many of contestants. It was a great experience for all of us. We had no idea what to expect. Our girls actually participated in chasing the sheep around trying to get the tape strip off. It was a lot of fun and a good introduction to a different way o life. We watched only a bit of the regular rodeo, we also had an infant son with us.

    Since then, we have attended rodeos, mostly in TN where we now live. We are volunteer ushers at the local city venue where the rodeos and PBR events are held. We get to see as many of the events as we wish to work. Unfortunately the rodeo stopped coming a few years ago, but the PBR still comes every year.

    • Oh that’s too bad about the rodeo, Patricia, but at least there’s still the PBR! Something great to look forward to. 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing – and for stopping by!

  17. Sorry for my missed spelled words hahahh that’s what I get for trying to write my comment from my ipad while trying to feed my new little one. 🙂

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