"There he goes!" Soft dirt kicks up slicing the air and billows down like rain onto the spectators below. There is a maddening tension in the air as spotlights beam down one after another on the sole cowboy. The mustang’s wild swinging keeps the cowboy held in suspension six feet above the ground, his hands latch onto the reins with his bare unyielding drive, he struggles in a futile fight to hold his mount on the bucking mustang.
The duo crashes down spitting dirt in all directions. Four seconds on the clock. The cowboy holds on. Five seconds. The cowboy is violently thrown off the mustang, yet seems to still be holding on as the mustang bucks haphazardly. The colosseum erupts in shrieks of fear and horror while the cowboy is dragged at the mercy of the beast all over the arena.
Located in the heart of Fort Worth Texas is the Stockyard Championship Rodeo where cowboys from all around the world come to prove their skills in speed, dexterity, and courage. The rodeo showcases sports such as barrel riding, bareback mustangs, cattle roping, and their main attraction... bull riding.
Spotlights beam down on the arena floor as Billy Huckaby, the voice of the rodeo, marks the beginning of the night's events. The cowboys and cowgirls ride off at speeds that leave the audience gaping in shock. It is beautiful display of mankind's kinship with nature as man and beast move in tandem, as if one in mind. Each movement garners great coordination, skill and trust, so much that one false move can mean life or death. There is nothing on this great earth that can compare to the wild intensity of a Texan rodeo.
The next event lined up for the evening was bare back mustang riding, an eight second trial of a cowboy keeping his mount on a wild bucking mustang, aiming to score up to 100 points. A classic show of, "I can do it better than you." I watch from above as the first cowboy readies for his ride. He jams his hand into the harness that is wrapped around the mustang. In an attempt to acquire a tight grip, he nods his head and the gate flings open. The mustang falls to the floor then bounds up in a magnificent feat of power, bucking the cowboy up and down like a small ship stuck in a hurricane. Five seconds in and the cowboy falls hard to the dirt, yet somehow he seems to still be moving in tandem with the horse. His hand seems to be pinched into the harness as the mustang pulls him around the stadium. He struggles to release but his desperate attempts are futile. Some patrons in the audience turn their heads while others rush forward pressing their faced against the gate to get a close up view. In what seemed like an eternity, the horrific event lasted only seconds. The cowboy's harness releases, freeing him from the mustang. Applause and shouts of admiration erupt throughout the stadium as he is helped out of the arena by rodeo staff.
"It's a young man's game," said William Downing, a youthful mustang rider who travels the country competing in rodeos. "The older you get, the slower your reaction time gets. I mean you start when you are five years old and you are going to be beaten up by the time you are thirty."
Bull riding is the bold sport that calls for contestants to stay on their bull for a total of eight seconds with one hand in the air and the other firmly grasping the "bull rope" strapped around the massive bull's waist.
The mind of these riders peaked my interest so I ventured to their locker room to obtain a greater understanding of the sport. “Some people play golf, I ride a bull”, says an older cowboy who was helping the younger riders that night. “To me, golf is stressful. The hardest game by far. There are so many clubs that I have broken over my knee, I just can’t take it.” Another cowboy chimes in, “Grew up doing it. you don't have to be raised doing it. The only reason I started doing it was because I hated football. I thought football was too rough of a sport.” The locker room fills with laughter except for one individual. Still in his riding gear, he sat staring aimlessly into nowhere, a true thousand-yard stare. I remember watching his treacherous ride that left audience members breathless. The ride began like any other with rider and bull cramped into the metal cattle shoot readying for the ride. The rider nods his head and the bull shoots out of the gate in a brilliant display of ferocity. The bull dips its head digging its long horns into the soft dirt sending the cowboy flying forward over the bull’s head. The bull rears up and pounces down towards the cowboy. He rolls just in time dodging the massive bull’s attack and runs to the safety of the metal fence line. Back in the locker-room filled with riders young and old talking about the night’s events, our cowboy sits half responsive to my questions so I leave him to relax in peace.
I was fortunate to capture this gentleman's entire ride start to finish. Something must have happened to him while on the ride because once he was back in the locker room he became eerily quiet and seemed to be staring at everything but nothing at the same time. Speaking with the chief medic on staff, I discover that he is exhibiting the first signs of a concussion.
The Stockyards Championship Rodeo in rustic Fort Worth Texas holds events just like this every Friday and Saturday evening all year around. Each show is as exciting as the next leaving spectators wanting more. A true homage to the Roman coliseums of old, it is an evening full of bull riders, roping skills, wild festivities, and live music; an authentic muse to experience the true heart of Texas.
If you found this article a fun read, you must go out and see it live for yourself! Check out the Stock Yards Championship Rode website for tickets and additional information.
We hope you enjoy our photojournalism reads. We are always looking to find exciting events, people, and adventures to cover. If you would like to be featured or know of that perfect place, feel free to send an email our way.
-Kian & Anthony