American Spirit in Cowboy/Cowgirl at Rodeo

American Spirit in Cowboy/Cowgirl at Rodeo

By Karyn Sealy Bland

All writers in Op Ed are here to inform and acknowledge issues of importance to our communities, however these writings represent the views  and opinions of the authors and not necessarily of The Advertiser. 

The recent Sandy Oaks Pro Rodeo celebrated the American Spirit, particularly the cowboy/cowgirl. Sitting in the stands this past weekend I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the patriotic spirit vigorously on display. This was the America I remember as a child. Not the America I see now day to day, especially not the America I have been shown through media this year, with fear and hate threatening to overwhelm society. The rodeo was about the heart of mankind, bringing the spectator down to his or her roots of a hard day’s work being celebrated surrounded with loving family or friends. This wholesome image of the cowboy embodies the American spirit of liberty, hard work and a certain tenacity. Imagine for a moment the image that comes to mind when we think of a quintessential cowboy, a lone rider in an expansive landscape out West, a vision of limitless possibilities and adventure! The cowboys and cowgirls this weekend approached their sport with a powerful perspective that looks fearlessly at challenges as adventures towards a goal. Each task is taken in stride. A popular term “grit” describes this perseverance of character. Why did this wonderful weekend of rodeo inspire me so much, I wondered? 

During the COVID-19 challenges of 2020, all of us have hit unforeseen obstacles. What have I seen so many friends and neighbors do under this pressure? They rose to meet the fear, relying on their inner spirit to persevere – to keep riding through this. Some have lost loved ones, others, income, security; for all a change of the perspective of what is normal. How might it feel to miss lassoing your steer in front of hundreds of onlookers? What about knocking over a barrel during the barrel race? Not being able to stay on the bull for the full 8 second ride? Perhaps even slipping off the mechanical bull in front of your friends? The cowboy spirit reminds us of the grit inside the heart of the human that allows us to dust ourselves off, laugh and get back on for another round. 

Tenacity builds this life up. The book of Romans in the Bible repeats this ageless truth that hardship builds character, and hope. Take that hope and combine it with grit and you have something beautiful to watch. Think of the barrel racer who circles fearlessly and skillfully around the barrels and combines this with the final gallop back through the gate; both sweating and excited at the combination of hard work and the thrill of the run! The ride may not go well, a barrel may fall, the horse may trip, your time may not win you the money! I watched rider after rider of the two nights face these fears with bravery and accepting the mistakes, knowing that they will try again next time! They keep going, with an indominable spirit. The audience cheered and clapped for all contestants no matter their mistakes, we are human, we all can relate to failure. The cowboy accepts the mistakes, or accidents, gets back up, dusts off and gets back on the horse for another ride. 

There are intellectual cowboy and cowgirl examples all around us. Stop and think of someone you know that is steadfast and hopeful. They have a certain look, like the sky is the limit. I know people that have the same grin and twinkle in the eye representing the spirit that says “go for it”, full heartedly – give it a try; conquer fear, set a new goal, challenge yourself and find strength to risk failure. Without trying, we already fail. The cowboy reminds us to challenge ourselves to push to the horizon of the unknown, the untapped potential we see as a dream, change the world at present into something better, that currently does not exist. We have examples of those individuals in our communities, why not emulate that strength too? Live fully, with heart and grit aiming for something greater than where you are now.  

The cowboy prepares for challenges hoping for a clean run a good day’s work. Even prepared, with a good hat, tough boots, comfortable jeans, and a strong horse at his command – the cowboy never knows what unique challenges the ride will bring. He shows up anyways. Are you going to be the top team roper first time out of the gate? Not right away. Accomplishing a goal takes and showing up again and again keeping in mind the goal. Just as a student or professional shows up for school or work, the cowboy continues taking on the challenges. Bring this into your own scope: you show up for your challenges at work, home, family, only with what you are given. However, remind yourself that you are the cowboy – what you are given is everything you need. Go ahead and imagine taking hold of the reins, feel the heart beating faster, adjust that ‘hat’ and go confidently against the elements to tackle that next challenge with full gallop; fearlessly pursue the life you want and make your heart glad in the pursuit, knowing you gave it your best, because now is all you have….that calf is running, will you lasso it in time? No matter what, enjoy the ride for all that it teaches you.

Let’s keep ‘riding’ and embracing the American spirit of the cowboy as we ride out 2020, yes, it will hurt at times, we might get a little dirty too, however, as long we are moving forward towards what is next and for better days the ride is worth taking – we can’t even imagine the stories we will have to tell from the next adventure!

5 Responses to "American Spirit in Cowboy/Cowgirl at Rodeo"

  1. Elaine Livesey-Fassel   September 3, 2020 at 1:34 pm

    If the ‘American Spirit’ is harming and even killing calves, cows, bulls, horses then I condemn it as unworthy of our country. While I admire all those persons who valiantly journeyed West on wagon trains and braved so many natural obstacles and made lives for themselves and their families,I have never endorsed cruelty to or the exploitation of animals in any form of ENTERTAINMENT which regrettably for the victims RODEO is just that! PLEASE do not foster cruelty to ANIMALS who have NO voice in their role in this entertainment. Thank you!

  2. Peggy Larson   September 3, 2020 at 1:04 pm

    Animals should not be injured or killed for entertainment and that is what rodeo is. It bears no resemblance to ranching. I grew up on a cattle ranch in North Dakota and spent 8 years as a ranch veterinarian there. My ranch clients did not ride bulls, speed rope calves or make their expensive horses buck. Rodeo is not American “tradition”.

    As a former bareback bronc rider, pathologist and large animal veterinarian, I have both the experience and autopsy proof that rodeo injures and kills animals. Dr. Robert Bay from Colorado autopsied roping calves and found hemorrhages, torn muscles, torn ligaments, damage to the trachea, damage to the throat and damage to the thyroid. These calves never get a chance to heal before they are used again. Meat inspectors processing rodeo animals found broken bones, ruptured internal organs, massive amounts of blood in the abdomen from ruptured blood vessels and damage to the ligamentum nuchae that holds the neck to the rest of the spinal column. As a former criminal lawyer, children that are exposed to and participate in animal abuse often grow up to abuse humans. I have seen children cry at rodeos when the calves are roped and slammed to the ground. It is time for this archaic rodeo “entertainment” to end.

  3. Eric Mills   September 2, 2020 at 11:57 pm

    Be aware that EVERY animal welfare organization in North America condemns
    rodeo due to its inherent cruelty. Injuries and deaths are commonplace,
    veterinary care rare. The PRCA has required on-site vets only since 1995,
    after FIVE animals were killed at the California Rodeo/Salinas that
    year.Most of rodeo is bogus from the git-go. REAL working cowboys/girls
    never routinely rode bulls, or wrestled steers, or rode bareback, or
    barrel raced, or practiced calf roping as a timed event. And they
    certainly did not put flank straps on the animals, or work them over with
    “hotshots,” kicks and slaps in the holding chutes. Some “sport”!

    Indeed, rodeo is not a “sport” at all. That term denotes willing,
    evenly-matched participants. Rodeo does not qualify. Rather, it’s a macho exercise in
    DOMINATION, and should be outlawed. Legislation is in order: local, state,
    federal. The United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales) banned rodeos back
    in 1934. Can the U.S. and Canada be far behind?

  4. Eric Mills   September 2, 2020 at 1:49 pm

    “Wholesome image of the cowboy….”? Consider the following:

    “Despite their apparent warmth and social graces, ranchers seem to have a special hardness expressed as a diminished regard for life, creatures, and the designs of nature. A willingness to resort to violence–bare knuckles, vigilante-type actions, and the use of weapons–is shallowly concealed and easily set in motion. The rodeo, with its violence, physical abuses, and man-over-beast theme, seems to be a manifestation of this attitude toward surroundings. Force has always been a way of life among cattlemen.” (–from “Sacred Cows at the Public Trough,” by Denzel & Nancy Ferguson, Maverick Publications, 1983)

    Be aware that EVERY animal welfare organization in North America condemns rodeo due to its inherent cruelty. For most of these exploited and abused animals, the rodeo arena is merely a detour en route to the slaughterhouse. The United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales) outlawed rodeos back in 1934. Can the U.S. be far behind? Rodeo is not a “sport”–it’s a macho exercise in DOMINATION. Legislation is in order: local, state, federal. BOYCOTT ALL RODEOS AND THEIR SPONSORS/ADVERTISERS.

    See link to new, prize-winning rodeo documentary short, “BUCKING TRADITION” –

  5. Betty Sakers   September 1, 2020 at 9:11 pm

    Great article, Karen! Truly lovely.