Rodeo Americana

This 4th of July I didn’t see a single firework, but I did go to the Red Ryder Roundup Rodeo in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. There’s nothing more American than a good old fashioned rodeo!

I love the rodeo for the skill of the riders, the raw animal athleticism and the obvious bond between cowboys and their horses. Rodeos are also among my favorite events to photograph. I race the shutter and often catch some amazing stills:

Rough dismount/ Lucky shot. He lost his boot!

Out West, many of the participants are real cowboys who earn their living on ranches and come in from the range with their working mounts just for the rodeo. In Pagosa, everybody really looked the part of the classic American cowboy:

Real Cowboys, Real Cowhorses

Jean & Boots, Chaps & Spurs

Rodeos evolved out of ranch work and most of the events, with the adrenaline-soaked exception of bull riding, can be traced to animal husbandry practices still in use today. Traditional rodeos consist of seven events that are always presented in the same order: bareback riding, steer wrestling, team roping, saddle bronc, tie-down roping, barrel racing and bull riding.

Steer Wrestling

Team Roping

The Pagosa Rodeo was an exceptionally awesome experience because my cousin got us right behind the bull chutes for the bull riding. The energy back there was unbelievable! Most of the bull riders were just kids –teenagers – and they amped themselves and each other up for their rides by yelling, jumping around and slapping their own faces and thighs. One kid looked at me and grinned and all his front teeth were missing. The testosterone and comraderie between the cowboys was palpable, with everybody cheering on everybody else.

Behind the Bull Chutes

As for the bulls, I was struck by how calm they were in the chutes in the midst of all that commotion. They didn’t get riled up until the cowboys climbed over the gate and onto their backs. I got the feeling these aren’t crazed animals and they know exactly what their job is: to buck those boys off in spectacular fashion.

Big Bull, Soft Eye

Bull Handle

Soft eye or not, there’s no way I’d climb onto one of those beasts. Standing behind the chutes when the bulls exploded out of the gate into the arena was thrilling enough. The power of those animals is incredible. Being close to a bucking bull is like standing next to a derailing freight train. Who needs fireworks with this kind of action!

Snot- Slinging Bucking Bull in Full Force

I love the rodeo, but there are those who find it impossible to watch without seeing animal cruelty, probably due to misconceptions about how rodeo stock are trained to buck. Bucking horses and bulls are both bred for brio and trained to respond explosively under a rider. These are valuable animals – a good bucking horse can be worth 10 grand and a champion bucking bull ten times that – and they are treated well.

In any crowd there will be a few nasty apples, but overall, I think ranchers and rodeo-ers respect their animals in the kind of abiding ways that come from working with intelligent creatures day in and out. Having looked a bucking bull in the eye, I know there’s more to that animal than meat, hooves and horns. I’m sure the cowboys do too.

Click here for more photos from the Pagosa Rodeo here for pix from the Galisteo Rodeo in New Mexico and here for pix from a cowboy polo match!

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 based in western Colorado. When she’s not at the computer she can usually be found outside -- hiking, skiing, climbing mountains and taking photographs. Visit her website at
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83 Responses to Rodeo Americana

  1. Great reflection and photos on a fun country pasttime.

  2. We have a pretty famous rodeo here in town — the Reno Rodeo — and I’ve been a few times. It’s crazy how athletic these people are…you’d never expect if you didn’t see it in person!

    Great post — incredibly cool pix.


  3. Looks like an All-American fourth. Great pictures. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed.

  4. I am so glad to see you got a Snot photo – beautiful pics. Congrats on being FP!

  5. Order of Sort says:

    I wish it was cool to wear a cowboy hat where I live.

  6. That was some really cool shots!

  7. Wow, great pictures! Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed.

  8. neocrunch says:

    Great photographs. My wife & I just went to the rodeo in Cody, WY last month on our honeymoon.

  9. I clicked on your post from Freshly Pressed. I glanced at the first picture and started scanning the pictures (I tend to do this before I actually read a blog). I did a double take. Is that the Red Ryder Roundup Arena in Pagosa Springs? I started scanning and saw that I was right. I recognized the mountain in the back of the first picture. I grew up spending my summers just outside of Pagosa (about half ways to Treasure Falls). I went to the Red Ryder Roundup and the Fourth of July Parade every year! I have so many memories there. You mentioned that the people there were looked like real cowboys, and you’re correct. I worked on a ranch up there. If you’re in the area more often, I’d encourage you to go to the Pagosa Night Rodeo (every Thursday evening). This is not a circuit rodeo, but it’s done for the locals. It’s a great time to see everyone who lives in the area (and occasionally someone passing through) doing there thing and having fun.

    Thank you for sharing the photos of a place I love.


    • Thanks Kristi. Great eye! The Pagosa rodeo grounds must have one of the most beautiful backdrops in the country! I live in New Mexico, but get up to Colorado as often as I can.

  10. What a great way to celebrate freedom and American old traditions. Nothing can speak more of independence, being in one with the great outdoors and being true to oneself than a cowboy can. The photos are remarkable.

  11. jsh0608 says:

    Great photos. Real cowboys are very handsome. :0) Oh congrats on being FP!! :0)

  12. Hi,
    found your blog on wordpress, and just wanted to tip you off about my own blog. I´m in Wolf Point right now, shooting pictures of the stampede here, possibly to do a story on it back in Sweden where I come from. You´ll find it at

  13. harpersfarm says:

    Great pictures! Looks like a fun time! I love a good rodeo.

  14. I wish I could pull off a cowboy hat too. I miss rodeos, they’ve died out in my area (western Appalachians). I want to see a real Western one too, like you’ve described. I love the barrel racing!

  15. Go Send or Disobey says:

    Having been to my first rodeo in many, many years this past weekend I really enjoyed your post. And you’re pictures are absolutely amazing. Congrats on being fresh pressed!

  16. Thomas says:

    No drugstore cowboys here. I have never had a desire to mount a bull and your photos illustrate why. I don’t think the bulls like having a cowboy on their back. 🙂

  17. gigi says:

    Wow, congratulations for being Freshly Pressed on contributing to cruelty to animals.

  18. Thanks everybody! I just started this blog and I’m so glad so many people are enjoying it! I’ve been having fun writing these posts, as you can probably tell. I’ve gotten a lot of great feedback on Rodeo Americana as well as a few negative comments about rodeos and animal cruelty:

    I am an animal lover; I grew up with dogs and horses and have soft-spots for almost everything else (including rattlesnakes). I don’t think the rodeo life is all fun and games and carrots and kind words for all participants all the time. Absolutely, rodeos can sometimes be tough places to make a living for animals and humans alike. But that’s kind of the way of the world: If you’re a stock animal, working at a rodeo is probably preferable to working at a feedlot. And if you’re a cowboy, working at a rodeo (or on a ranch where all the skills of the rodeo ring are used on a daily basis; they’re not just for show) is probably preferable to working for The Man. Don’t you think?

    • gigi says:

      What a coward you are not to print that.

      • Gigi, I won’t have nastiness on my blog. I will address the constructive parts of your comment this evening when I get back from the Galisteo Rodeo, where I will watch for the myriad atrocities you list. I’d also be interested to hear your solutions to the feral horse problem we have here in New Mexico. There are no easy answers. This has been my experience:
        Please keep it constructive, civil and clean! Thanks!

      • gigi says:

        A published writer that deletes criticism?

        You asked a question right after I posted and I responded, giving factual information. I’m calling you a “coward” b/c, as a published writer, you know better than to delete criticism and you deleted that 2nd post. I’m standing by my call. If you don’t like criticism, don’t publish a blog. It’s par for the course.

        Your entire post on rodeos is nastiness –nastiness toward animals that have no way of defending themselves.

        Now go ahead and delete this post, too, and pretend that I’m being nasty b/c I’m calling you a “coward” for deleting my 2nd post and b/c I called your actions cruel and exploitative. Or, be a true professional and allow your readers and you to comment.


        electric prods
        sharpened sticks
        flank straps
        anything that causes an animal to react violently

        bull riding
        bronco riding
        steer roping
        calf roping
        wild horse racing
        chuck wagon racing
        steer tailing
        horse tripping

  19. The rough dismount looks painful…

  20. interesting though not sure why would i do tht!

  21. sheokhanda says:

    cow boy stuff… nice to it…. !

  22. tbelcheva says:

    Loved the pics!

  23. Hiit says:

    Amazing photos and congrats!

  24. As long as the animals are loved and looked after properly, how could we bare being without Rodeo and all its exciting trappings. The USA and Canada just could not do without Rodeo. Look what has happened to England since they banned Fox Hunting. At least Fox hunting was cruel, but now England is flooded with foxes, never mind foxes are a joy to see.
    Well sorry for my ambivalence.

  25. Eva McCane says:

    fabulous photos! there’s something about a rugged cowboy. hot.

  26. Colorado is one of my favorite places! Need to add a rodeo there to the list!

  27. Fabulous photos!!! Congrats on FP!

  28. gaycarboys says:

    Fantastic pics/

  29. Bill Chance says:

    Great Photos! We used to live in Mesquite, TX and would (and still) go to the rodeo there. It’s a bit different than the one in Pagosa Springs… it’s enclosed, air conditioned, and with a row of luxury suite boxes. A real Dallas kind of rodeo. Still a lot of fun… pretty serious stuff.

    I remember Pagosa Springs pretty well – for decades my family used to go to Platoro for summer vacation, back when people were able to take summer vacations.

    • I was just in Platoro last weekend! I stayed at Stunner Campground for two nights and climbed nearby Summit Peak. I went to the cafe in Platoro for dinner after the mountain. Great place! Hope you make it back there.

  30. Great photographs. My wife & I just went to the rodeo in Cody, WY last month on our honeymoon.

  31. angelique523 says:

    This blog is wonderful! I have done this in my lifetime and the photo of the boot flying through the air is CLASSIC! Thank you for bringing wonderful memories back to life for me with you blog. Don’t stop. Your doing a fantastic job!

  32. jatimlex says:

    I grew up in Arizona a going to the Rodeo was an event to look forward to. Now we live in Michigan and tractor pulls are more popular. I miss the Rodeo. Fantastic pics by the way.

  33. Heidi Nicole says:

    Amazing photos. I’ve only been to a few rodeos so far but they are insanely exciting!

    I don’t think rodeos are a setting that promote animal cruelty. I believe that the cowboys truly understand how valuable the animals are to them and treat them as such. A bucking bull is not uncommon. Ever got near a pissed off bull?! Yah, I’ve been there but didn’t stay long! I wasn’t doing anything to provoke the bull, it wasn’t necessary! There is not real cruelty that goes into getting a bull to buck – just plop a cowboy down and it’s back and you’ve got bucking! I think that is pretty obvious from your photo of the very calm bull waiting it’s turn to do it’s job – buck off a cowboy.

    Again, great photos and great writing – we juts moved out to CO and this post has real western rodeos on my mind!

    • gigi says:

      You say you don’t think rodeos are cruel. I can appreciate that we do not agree. But biologically, horses and cattle and humans have one thing in common –we are mammals and we experience fear and pain. So do you mind clarifying your point of view… Do you think any of the following used on an adult or a child would be considered cruel?

      -a child or adult poked with a cattle prod
      -a child or adult poked with a ‘sharp stick’
      -a child or adult having metal spurs rubbing against their skin
      -a child or adult having a flank strap placed around their abdomen and groin
      -a child or adult being roped
      -a child or adult being flogged to the ground

      Thank You

      • Gigi I think it’s safe to say you are a proponent of animal rights, which holds that people and animals should enjoy equal rights. A very noble point of view, if somewhat unrealistic in practice. It seems most of my readers subscribe to the tenants of animal welfare, which hold that people have the right to use animals for food, clothing and entertainment, but that we are obligated to treat them humanely. It’s clear you are very passionate about your views and I respect that. This world needs all the passion it can get.

  34. Very beautiful thank you for this wonderful offering

  35. voyagerlibre says:

    It sounds to be amazing !

  36. Karen says:

    Being from NY, I know NOTHING about the rodeo. Thanks. Beautiful pictures!!

  37. Many rodeos are too careless with animals for me to support them. Rodeos injure animals and people, and it’s my opinion that we don’t need to be entertained in this manner. A sport with this frequency of deaths is not, in my opinion, American at all.

  38. mkeeffer says:

    Your photos capture a vanishing part of the West. I do think rodeo was better as ranch work – too rough on both animals and people for a sport.

  39. parentsfisher says:

    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed! Great rodeo photos!!

  40. Beautiful photos! as for the treatments of the animals, there is one solution:
    SAVE A HORSE ….RIDE A COWBOY!……those boys are too sexy for their shirts.

  41. Pingback: Rodeo Americana: Part 2 « Travels with the Blonde Coyote

  42. PorcelinaTweets says:

    Great photos!! I LOVE the rodeo, my husband and I try and makesure our annual vacation involves a little rodeo fun, unfortunately we don’t see so much of it over here in the UK! Oh well, makes it even more special and exciting when we get over to the States or Canada!

    The photos really capture the essence of rodeo, thanks for sharing!

  43. i don’t like this game

  44. Hej from Sweden,

    As an American living in Sweden, I must say I do miss some of our American traditions. My 4th of July I cooked a delicious meal of fried chicken, potato salad and deviled eggs, all of which are American and still new to my Swedish husband. We raised a beautiful American flag to replace our Swedish flag on the front of our farm.

    As an animal lover, I am not so thrilled about some of the rodeo practices and find them to be cruel to animals. As an avid photographer however, I must congratulate you on some very stunning photos.

    You are very welcome to visit my little blog;

  45. Congrats on being FP! You really made me miss CO. Great shots 🙂

  46. Your picture caught my eye as I was logging in. My boys were in their first mutton bustin’ this weekend. Quite the experience. My little one was a born cowboy. He loves the pictures you took, so do I.

    • Haha that’s great. Mutton busting is such a riot! None of the kids at the Pagosa Rodeo lasted for more than a second or two but the Galisteo Rodeo had several 6 second rides! Maybe New Mexican kids are more cowboy??

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  48. Thanks for showcasing a sport that is near and dear to my heart in a beautiful and energetic light. I used to compete in high school rodeos here in ND, barrels, poles and goats. Around here I love going to the rodeos because you get a chance to watch your friends and neighbors in action. Wonderful captures and descriptions…I felt like I was behind the chutes with you!

  49. sick blog
    check out “learntolive101” and post a comment

  50. leonore strauss says:

    does anyone know who Rebecca Keeney is?

  51. Air Max 2011 says:

    It’s crazy how athletic these people are…you’d never expect if you didn’t see it in person! I love the rodeo for the skill of the riders

  52. kipie99 says:

    really. no fireworks? well i saw a lot and let me say i have always been interested in cowboys and ranches. have always wanted to be in a rodeo… well not anymore but you get the idea. visit my site i need comments

  53. where her favorite beat is the Travels in Geology column, she has also written for High Country News, Climbing, Smithsonian and the anthologies Best W omen’s Travel Writing 2010 and Best Travel Writing 2011. Mary is currently working on a collection of stories about care taking an off-the-grid solar Earth ship in rural New Mexico

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  55. Great photos, and it’s awesome to see Pagosa being Freshly Pressed! 🙂 I live here but unfortunately missed the rodeo this year… had too much going on all weekend. It’s probably for the best though, as I’m a little ambivalent about rodeos (I posted recently about my own experience at a smaller rodeo here in Pagosa a few weeks ago). On the one hand, I appreciate the skill, the heritage, the working ranch practices… the whole experience. On the other, I think there’s too much emphasis placed on being a cowboy instead of a horseman, and particularly at the smaller rodeos, the animals aren’t always treated well…. nor are they always valuable animals bred for the job. I certainly don’t think we need to abolish rodeo, but we could do a better job of making sure the animals get a fair shake, as with any other equine sport.

    • Thanks! Pagosa is amazing. I too have some mixed feelings about rodeos so I did some research into humane practices and was heartened by how much the PRCA has done to try and ensure animal welfare at rodeos in the US. I wrote up another post after attending the Galisteo Rodeo here in New Mexico on Saturday. Check it out: Of course, not everybody goes by the rules and there will always be bad apples who don’t respect the animals, but I’d like to think most participants do. Between the two rodeos I saw a heck of a lot of good horsemen!

  56. davidpitt says:

    great pic and this blog is really very entering…

  57. abhidworx says:

    thank you for acquainting us with the rodeo spirit.

  58. says:

    Great story, I have never been to a live rodeo but I sure do enjoy the bull riding on TV. Nice job and congrats on being freshly pressed.

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