John F. Russell: Living by a code in Rodeo | SteamboatToday.com
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John F. Russell: Living by a code in Rodeo

— On Friday night I watched bareback rider Jed Baker take a nasty fall off of a bucking horse named Magic.

After landing on his head, Baker picked himself up off the arena floor, brushed the dust from his clothing and walked away as if it were an everyday occurrence. A few seconds later, he had left the arena and another cowboy was kicking up dust.

Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to spend time with several cowboys, and it didn’t take me long to understand that most of them live by a code that must of us never will understand.



I had the privilege to spend several days on the road with a bull rider a few years ago, and during the trip, he told me the one thing he never wanted was to get hauled out of the arena in an ambulance.

I had finally run into a cowboy who understood the dangers of jumping on a 2,000-pound bull for an eight-second ride. But then he informed me it wasn’t getting injured that he feared; it was the ambulance ride itself. You see, cowboys never get hurt, or at least that’s what he wanted me to believe.



Cowboys would rather stumble out of a rodeo arena with a serious injury than be helped off the floor. It’s a tradition.

We watch cowboys get thrown from horses, hooked by bulls and stepped on by broncs, but we rarely see them get “hurt.”

As a result, many spectators fail to fully understand the dangers cowboys face in the rodeo arena. Sure, we all hold our breath when a cowboy is thrown to the ground, but when you are watching the sport from 100 feet away, it’s hard to sense the pain or impact of a collision. Many times they will pull their aching bodies from the dirt and trot out of the arena as though nothing happened.

That pride and determination to keep going is what makes a cowboy a cowboy. I can only imagine what professional football would be like if rodeo cowboys played. Certainly, a player wouldn’t sit out a game with a twisted ankle.

The truth is that it isn’t always pride, but simple dollars and cents that get cowboys off the floor after being run over by a bull. If a cowboy has to go to the hospital or gives in to pain, he will not get paid.

So, this week, when spectators head to the rodeo to celebrate our Fourth of July heritage, we shouldn’t forget the dangers or pain that rodeo cowboys face every time they compete — no matter how easy they make it look.


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