16 Rodeo Riders

Audio

  • Warm-up, California Rodeo. Salinas, Monterey County.

  • The first time I went backstage at a rodeo, I was reminded of Hollywood—not the bright lights, but rather the struggle and desire.

    The young men who ride bulls and bucking horses follow an almost daily migration from one event to the next, carrying no more than a duffel bag filled with the necessary ropes and chaps; the lucky ones have trucks, the rest hitch rides. They drive four/eight/twelve hours, cram into a hotel room or sleep in a trailer, wake up only to wait around all day in the dust and hot sun. Finally, their reward is to climb onto the back of a bull or a thrashing bronco, and either ride it for the required eight seconds or get dumped in the dirt after one second, or four, or the excruciating seven-and-a-half. Without ceremony, they then pack everything back into the duffel and do it all again.

    And they pay for the privilege. Any money won goes mostly into entry fees for the next few events. Aside from being a world champion, the only way to come out with a few dollars is to find a sponsor. So between shows these guys are courting sports agents and making promotional DVDs and writing letters to DeWalt Power Tools or Red Bull, asking for the opportunity to wear a patch with the company’s logo on their vest. “It’s not so much that you’re riding for them, you’re selling their product,” one bull rider told me. “You are a walking billboard.”

    Then you hit thirty years old. Unless you’ve hit the big time, you’re more or less finished.

    From the outside it seems like a rough life, hardly one that you’d choose. But maybe that’s because the rest of us don’t know the rush that is getting on top of that pissed off, one-ton bull, and trying to find its rhythm. “If it was easy everybody could do it,” another bull rider explained.  “I just love it. It’s my passion. I'd say it's like a drug addiction for me—I’d probably spend my last dime to ride bulls.”

  • Grand National Rodeo. Daly City, San Mateo County.

  • Bull rider Keith Roquemore, Grand National Rodeo. Daly City, San Mateo County.

  • California Rodeo. Salinas, Monterey County.

  • Bull rider Kenneth Restani, Red Bluff Roundup. Red Bluff, Tehama County.

  • Behind the chutes, Mendocino County Fair Rodeo. Boonville, Mendocino County.

  • Warm-up, Grand National Rodeo. Daly City, San Mateo County.

  • Mendocino County Fair Rodeo. Boonville, Mendocino County.

  • Grand National Rodeo. Daly City, San Mateo County.

  • California Rodeo. Salinas, Monterey County.

  • Grand National Rodeo. Daly City, San Mateo County.

  • Saddle bronc rider Delano Kjos, Grand National Rodeo. Daly City, San Mateo County.