I spent many hours in rodeo arenas during my years as a photojournalist. Today I question the wisdom of being so close and personal with bucking stock weighing 1500 pounds, but back then I was after pictures. Somehow the reward outweighed the risk.
This picture might be from the very first rodeo I shot. Though it may not be my best rodeo photo of all, but there is a subtlety about it that I’ve always liked.
Look at the mouths of the horse and rider. So much the same but for different reasons. The horse is doing what a bucking horse does — everything it can to shed the load from its back. The cowboy hangs on for all he’s worth — hoping to win enough cash to help fund a summer on the road.
I have fond memories of those days. I had full access and saw the rodeo cowboy in a way that was lost on the people in the stands.
One sits atop his saddle, thrusting an arm back and legs forward in rhythm with the horse in his mind. Another has his hat across his chest, head bowed in prayer as the bull he’ll ride that night glares from the pen nearby. A bareback rider climbs over the railings into the chute to straddle the horse he drew to ride. To aid in the effort, he wedges his gloved hand as tightly as possible into the rigging. With every muscle firing and a nod of the head, the gate swings open. It’s game on for eight seconds. If he can stay on that long.
When the horse and rider part ways, it’s for sure the horse will be on a dead run. That means anyone afoot in the arena heads for the fence. Many times I had to make myself part of that fence as the animal grazed my back on its way by.
I finally got my wake-up call one night during the steer wrestling event. The action was over and I turned around to walk out of the arena. It wasn’t until I heard the entire crowd gasp that I realized I wasn’t paying attention.
I looked up to see a horse barreling right at me. I couldn’t react fast enough and found myself, and my cameras, ass over teakettle in the dirt.
Thankfully, the only injury was to my pride.