This ain’t his first rodeo

Ellensburg Rodeo

A cowboy does his best to stay on a bucking bronc during the Ellensburg Rodeo on Sept. 6, 2015.

“Robert, I sure like my horse!” ~ Texas

I had the opportunity to spend a day with a cowboy this weekend. He’s a guy I’ve known for a long time, but it wasn’t until yesterday that I got to spend a whole day of 1:1 time with him. Those who know me probably know him, but I’m going to call him “Texas” to protect his privacy.

Texas is from — you guessed it — Texas. His voice is a friendly mix of southern drawl spiced with a whole bunch of Texas twang. I find myself unintentionally drifting into his speech patterns when I spend time around him. It just sounds good, especially when he tells a joke or answers a woman with a “Yes, Mam.”


Texas warms up his horse before a recent team roping competition in Ellensburg, Wash.

Texas and I crossed paths in Ellensburg, Washington this Labor Day weekend. I was riding my motorcycle back from a photo assignment in central Washington, and Texas was in town for a team-roping clinic. He had a couple tickets to the Ellensburg Rodeo. So, I parked my motorcycle at my campsite and he picked me up in his huge pickup. A little while later we were sitting in a sea of cowboy hats, watching horses, cows and cowboys do their thing.

I was a daily newspaper photographer in Wyoming about 25 years ago (I can’t believe it’s been that long). I shot a lot of rodeo pictures back then. In those days I saw rodeo as just a photographic technical challenge. You see, a lot of rodeo takes place indoors in Wyoming because weather conditions are often pretty harsh. Photographing cowboys in dark clothes, sitting on dark horses, in a dark horse barn made for challenging photographic conditions, and I was usually working under a tight deadline, so I didn’t really get the chance to soak it all in back then.

Watching the Ellensburg Rodeo with Texas is probably the first time I’ve been able to simply sit in the stands on a warm day and just watch and listen to a rodeo. Texas and I were sitting in a high foot-traffic area. He is fast with a smile and a handshake, and he greeted a lot of folks who walked by. I got a lot of those handshakes too as Texas introduced me to his friends. Many of those handshakes caused a little wince of pain for me, because cowboys have really strong hands. We ended up sitting near a ranch family he knows pretty well. It was nice to hear them talk about roping, ranching and families.

calf roping

A cowboy dismounts and follows the rope to the calf where he’ll toss the calf down and tie up his legs. The horse keeps the rope tight while the cowboys does his part.

I learned a lot about rodeo from Texas as we sat there. He explained the intricacies of each event. He even knew the histories of many of the professional cowboys, particularly the ones who participate in the roping events. Texas was explaining the job of the horses during the calf roping portion of the rodeo when he stopped, smiled and said, “Robert, I sure like my horse.”

I thought about my motorcycle back at the campsite and replied, “I think I know how you feel.”

There was a surprising amount of political jokes and jabs at the Left during the rodeo. That is something I didn’t notice back in Wyoming. Part of me wanted to be offended, but some of the jokes were kinda funny. Texas, who is an engineer, says he doesn’t like that part very much, and that made me like him even more.

After the rodeo, Texas and I went to get a drink at the rodeo beer garden where we found a band setting up. The sun was gloriously warm on our shoulders as we stood there tapping our toes and sipping beer with tough cowboys and friendly cowgirls. A few folks began to dance as the air got cool and the music got hot. It was a perfect end to a great day.


The band in the rodeo beer garden starts to heat up.

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