Each week I will showcase a different image. Something that means something to me and has a story behind it. It may not be the best image I have ever created but rest assured there will be a story.
The cowboy in this image had entered the Bowden Rodeo in Alberta last August. There are probably somewhere between 6 to 8 different rodeo circuits in Alberta. Rodeos are a very big deal here. A successful bronc rider or steer roper can make a pile of money and also become a legend.
For every successful rodeo cowboy there are hundreds of beat up, wounded, lonely and broke ones. They spend their entire summer living out of their pickup truck. If they are lucky they might have a “buckle bunny” latch on to them, rodeo’s version of a groupie. For the most part however they live a very solitary life. Even when they are with their fellow cowboys words are sparse. Cowboys are not into idle chit chat. If you have something to say, well just say it. Taciturn is a word that comes to mind.
The cowboy in this image recognized his day had come and gone. At one time he was sponsored by the likes of car manufacturers and beer companies. Things were glorious and the money, fame and chicks were rolling in. Unfortunately like many rodeo participants he suffered some major injuries. At first he tried to ride through them just like any extreme athlete would. A little extra “chew”, a set jaw and another 8 seconds of torture. The injuries caught up with him. The wins were becoming fewer and fewer. The sponsors a distant memory. The handwriting was not just on the wall, it was deeply etched into the constant pain he suffered. It was time to pack it in. To retire.
A cowboy never just quits. They have that one last ride, pack up the truck and disappear into the dust as they head out of town.
This was my subject’s last ride. We sat and chatted awhile. He relived some of his glory days with me and his eyes shone with the excitement. It was nice to see him perk up as it was very obvious he was depressed about how things turned out for him. His dreams as a young child were dashed. His identity was taken away from him. Well not for one last ride anyway. This was going to be the best one this year he told me and he wanted to make sure I had a great vantage point to watch the action.
Deep down I knew he thought it was a long shot that he would stay on for the entire 8 seconds. I noticed he had packed away all his gear prior to his ride. Most of the cowboys left their gear in the common area used for getting geared up prior to a ride. This area is sacred. Only those with permission are allowed in. If anyone gets a bad vibe from you, you’re out. It’s the cowboy’s form of a sanctuary.
My new friend happened to draw a very good horse. This was going to be a tough ride no doubt about it. His horse began bucking even before the gate was opened. This is a very dangerous position for the cowboy and the handlers to be in as anything could happen. One ton of very pissed off horse crashing and thrashing in a very tiny enclosed space. They were finally able to get the horse settled down enough and the gate was thrown open.
My friend had a great ride and stayed on for the entire 8 seconds! He jumped off the horse once the outriders got there and started to walk back to the stalls. Then it happened. The announcer said he had been disqualified for some bullshit infraction that could have been called on just about any rider that day. You see this cowboy happens to be First Nations. They knew it was going to be his last ride and they weren’t going to give him the satisfaction of walking proud. Maybe he had pissed off some people in his heyday. Maybe his ego was just a tad too big and they figured he needed to be cut down. Or maybe they were just rednecks.
My friend turned never coming back to the staging area. I think he knew something like that was going to happen and that is why he had prepacked his stuff.
All I saw of his departure was the cloud of dust his pickup kicked up as he traveled down that long straight road to cowboy hell. That place none of them want to talk about. The place where there are no sponsors, no buckle bunnies and no 8 seconds of terror.