Cowboys Are My Weakness*

Jeans & Boots, Chaps & Spurs

Jeans & Boots, Chaps & Spurs

One of my projects while I’m here in New Mexico has been to print up a series of my rodeo photos from last summer to show at the Jezebel Gallery in Madrid, NM. I had the prints made at High Desert Arts in Santa Fe (gotta support the locals!). Here is my artist statement for “The Wild Ones: Cowboys, Bulls & Broncs”: 

I’ve always loved the wild ones. The difficult ones, the tempestuous ones, the ornery ones, the rebels. I learned to ride on a wild one: an athletic, explosive buckskin named Dakota. I always said he should have been a bucking horse. He rarely threw me, but he sure as hell tried.

A Long 8 Seconds

A Long 8 Seconds

When I was a teenager, out riding cross-country far from home, Dakota took off bucking and twisting. In less than 8 seconds I hit the ground hard. Some hours later, I awoke alone in a field, with six fractured vertebrae, two herniated discs and two cracked ribs. Dakota was gone. I spent the rest of the day dragging myself home through the longest cornfield of my life.

Cowboys Pray Hard

Cowboys Pray Hard

Recovery took years. I was told to baby my back, to avoid any kind of strain on the damaged discs, shaky vertebrae and seared muscles. As everything weakened, the pain worsened and by my early-20’s I felt intractably broken. Not until my senior year of college when I adopted a young, hyper border collie and started taking long walks every day did I begin to heal. Walking made me stronger. My balance, posture and flexibility improved. Soon I was hiking, then backpacking, then climbing mountains, traveling great distances in search of new terrain. But I stayed away from horses.

They say you aren’t a real rider until you fall off and get back on. Months after my accident, I did get back on Dakota, but our relationship was broken. I didn’t trust him and he didn’t trust me. Heartbroken, I sold him. A year later, another twist of the knife: my first love, my childhood pony Saturday, died in my arms.

Partners

Partners

For years after Dakota and Saturday, I avoided horses. Horses had broken my back and my heart and I could not so much as watch one or touch one without a twinge of pain and the prick of tears. Then, driving cross-country from the Atlantic, to the Gulf, to the desert Southwest, I rolled through Roswell, New Mexico, where a banner stretched across Main Street, declared it Roswell Rodeo Weekend. I have a policy about saying yes to all opportunities, so I went to the rodeo, sat in the stands, clutching my camera, and fell hard all over again.

Bullriders

Bullriders

I loved everything about the rodeo: the Sunday hats, the trophy buckles, the garish chaps, the rubber-banded spurs, the elfin-toed boots, the true grit, the strong handshakes, the dust the mud and the blood. Most of all I loved the wild ones: the cowboys, bulls and broncs. In their soft eyes and wild rides, I saw myself, young, reckless and at one with the bucking beasts. My bitterness at having been broken so young and so dumb was gone. Through my lens, I was elated, elevated, levitated, watching the wild ones.

Small Town Spurs

Small Town Spurs

Of all the things I love to photograph, rodeos quickly became one of my all time favorites. I never tire of trying to capture the crackling, swirling kinetic energy of the rodeo, the power and partnership, the poetry of motion.

Hat Left, Boots Right, Bull Middle

Hat Left, Boots Right, Bull Middle

After Roswell, I quickly figured out you can’t properly shoot a rodeo from the stands. You need to get close enough to the action to get dirt on your lens, to look the wild ones in the eye. Putting on my Australian cowboy hat and my bravest (former) bronc-riding face, I learned to charm my way behind the scenes, into the heart of the action, behind the bull chutes. At most rodeos, I’m the only woman back there. Not once has anybody ever kicked me out of this ultimate boys club. It’s true what they say: cowboys are polite, even as they step onto the back of a bucking bull.

Moment of Truth

Moment of Truth

In fact, as a general rule, rodeo people are great people. For the past five years, I’ve spent my summers touring the back roads of North America, and the number of times I’ve chanced upon small towns on rodeo weekends – Pagosa Springs, Galisteo, Eureka, Quesnel – is enough to make me believe in the magic of road trip serendipity.

In the Bull Chute

In the Bull Chute

When rodeo people hear about my life on the road, they’re intrigued and often downright hospitable. I’ve been invited to barbecues, family dinners, barn dances and trail rides (I always say yes). I hand out business cards, email free photos and donate shots to the organizers. On the sidelines, in the stands, I’m an outsider, an imposter, a spectator at best, but behind the scenes, in the midst of an adrenaline-charged crush of cowboys, bulls and broncs, somehow I belong.

That little girl who loved wild horses still lives in me; I realize now she never left. Not long after I arrived in New Mexico, I got back in the saddle. These days, I ride good-tempered horses, enjoying the kind of partnerships I didn’t appreciate in my hot-horse childhood. I still love the wild ones, but now 31 years old and a dedicated hiker, backpacker, mountaineer and traveler (I hit my 50th state last summer!) I keep my feet on the ground, my eye to the viewfinder and leave the bulls and the broncs to the cowboys, the real wild ones.

My Prints, Ready for Jezebel!

My Prints, Ready for Jezebel!

* This title is borrowed from the gem of a book “Cowboys Are My Weakness” by Pam Houston.

About theblondecoyote

Mary Caperton Morton is a freelance science and travel writer with degrees in biology and geology and a master’s in science writing. A regular contributor to EARTH magazine, where her favorite beat is the Travels in Geology column, she has also written for the anthologies Best Women's Travel Writing 2010 and Best Travel Writing 2011. Mary is currently traveling the backroads from New Mexico to Alaska, writing and living out of a tiny Teardrop camper. When she’s not at the computer she can usually be found outside -- hiking, climbing mountains and taking photographs. Visit her website at www.marycapertonmorton.com.
This entry was posted in Beyond the USA, Cowboys & Horses, Photography, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Cowboys Are My Weakness*

  1. Thanks for these photos. They are wonderful!

  2. Tina says:

    Mary,

    Your pictures, stories and writing is so magical. Loved this!

    Tina

  3. mjspringett says:

    Lovely post, keep up the great work, MJ

  4. Dedra says:

    Beautiful pictures!
    How many days do you spend in your trailer a year? Does the smallest ever get to you?
    Where/how do you get a shower? Thank you for your blog, I really enjoy it.

    • Excellent question! I just did a quick count. In the past year I spent about 183 nights in the Teardrop. So about 6 months. That’s all last summer from April through August, a few fall trips, the road trip up to Vermont and then the road trip to NM in March. No, the smallness never gets to me — I have the whole world for a front porch! All I really do is sleep in it. When I’m working or hanging out, the door’s always open and I’m sitting outside. I think that’s what I love most about living in the Teardrop — I really live outside! As for showering, three winters living off rainwater in the desert has totally recalibrated my need for hot running water. When it’s warm I swim in rivers and soak in hot springs and when it’s cold I heat up some water and take a sponge bath. Once or twice a week I’ll buy a shower at a state park, national park, RV park, YMCA, etc. Every now and then I meet some saint who invites me home for a shower and a meal. It always seems to work out. The longest I went without a shower was 11 days last spring in Utah. That $4 shower at the Lazy Lizard Hostel in Moab was a profound religious experience. Here’s a secret for you: if you want long, thick, healthy hair stop washing it so much! Mine has never been happier.

      • Dedra says:

        Thank you for your answer.
        I just read a month ago, what you said about not washing your hair so much.

  5. bichonpawz says:

    Hi there! Just wanted to let you know that I stumbled across your blog on one of the RV forums and I just love your writing style!! We do some traveling around in our RV but not nearly enough! Ours is a 32 foot and the gas prices can get to be on the expensive side. While perusing through all of uour wonderful posts, I came across a picture of the teardrop parked in front of the Lake Ontario sign. If you look to the left of the driver’s window and way off in the distance…you would see our cottage! We live only about 15 minutes from where you took that picture! It was such a surprise to see that photo! Since I am very interested in your lifestyle and your writing is so fascinating, yours is a new favorite blog! I have added you to my blogroll! One question I do have for you though…don’t you feel a bit scared from time to time..for your safety? I have been in parks where I was not particularly comfortable. Of course, your dogs are MUCH bigger than mine! Take care, and I look forward to reading much more about your adventures on the road! Jeanne

    • Hi Jeanne! I’m glad you found me! Small world! To answer your question about safety: in 7 years (almost 8!) living on the road I’ve met some weird people and some creepy people but nobody has ever actually threatened me. Maybe I’ve just been lucky, but I do think it has a lot to do with the way I carry and present myself. That medieval-looking ice axe hanging on the door of my Teardrop? Yeah, I know how to use that. Plus, I hang out with two big, black, loyal dogs. They are good, sweet boys, but they would never let somebody mess with me or my stuff. Predators prey on the weak. I am a woman, but I’m also a beast flanked by beasts.

  6. amazingved says:

    I like those prints

  7. Susan Britt says:

    wow Cowboys and New Mexico – heart be still. Have you ever photographed the all Indian Rodeo in Gallup. I went many long years ago and thought it was one of the best I had ever seen. But then again, I love anything New Mexico.

  8. These are fabulous ! good luck with your show.

  9. I knew I was going to love this post and have almost been saving it…. my favourite pic – ‘bull riders’ the whole post – brilliant. I want to follow your steps.

  10. wow, you touched a soft spot for me, as well. cowboys and indians from day one, my life…actually lived outside Hot Springs, SD for almost 20 years and played in that world! got bucked off plenty, but still riding – here in Costa Rica now with two very good horses. your photography is awesome, mine is less than…here they ride bulls with no hands, pray alot, and they are just as polite and tough. I have a few pics on my blog…just wanted you to know that our lives certainly parallel in some interesting ways. take care and keep up the good work!

  11. dace2k says:

    Reblogged this on oBSCURA CAMERa and commented:
    For all wild riders :)

  12. Cowboys and rodeos are my weakness too! I’ve enjoyed your posts for the last year or so, and every time you mention New Mexico, I get excited! The place is in my blood, I grew up there, and I call myself a New Mexican, despite the fact that I live in Colorado now. You have a beautiful, wonderful blog and I love your writing and pictures. Good luck with the exhibit! I mentioned your blog as one my favorites in a recent post:

    http://runningintolife.wordpress.com/2013/04/02/spring-reading-blogs-i-love/

  13. Pingback: Mountain Life | Kate's Bookshelf

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