Tucson Rodeo Sixth Performance Finals

Bobby Mote won the buckle for the rodeo overall, winning money in two events, bareback and team roping.

Today wrapped the 2010 Tucson Rodeo.It was a sell-out crowd with eleven thousand fans out in the stands. This years numbers are proof that the tradition of rodeo is anything but dead.

All things considered it was a hot day in southern Arizona. Empty water bottles littered the gathering area behind the bucking chutes while the cowboys dusted their hands with baby powder and stretched their legs. Folks in the grandstand fanned themselves with event programs, occasionally seeking refuge beneath the west end stands to take in the shade and shop at the four dozen vendors tents. The relentless sun didn’t seem to matter, though. Enough excitement in the arena, a few pretty ladies in the barrel races, and a tall measure of cheep cold beer always promises to keep spirits high.

Today’s final round brought the top competitors from the week into the arena for a single performance. The aggregate scores for all the timed events were close – usually within a few tenths of a second apart.

– – –

In the eight full days of rodeo this year, there were 635 competitors and $430,000.00 in prize money awarded. The overall winner at this years’ rodeo was Bobby Mote who, while not qualifying in today’s bareback ride, took home money in two separate events: team roping and bareback.

– – –

More of the rundown when I do the numbers.

Seven Down – One to Go

Luke Gee on Bull No. 804 takes 86 points, the top score at today's performance.

– – –

It was a hot day and the stands were full – ten thousand in attendance. With highs in the 80’s on a February afternoon in Tucson, the soil was dry and the rough-stock knocked around more than those daring & crazy enough to ride ’em. Mounds of dust made for an interesting experience on the ground. Agitated broncos rushed the “photo pit,” a caged-off area opposite the bucking chutes, covering all of us in a thin veil of powdered earth.

No injuries today save for the usual black & blue, the occasional pulled-muscle or sprain. From what I can tell, the only real victim was pride during today’s performance; a lot of cowboys were knocked out of the running with only a handful of qualified rides on the rough-stock. Of sixteen total bull rides – a  serious amount for this event – only five cowboys took home a score. It was a Montana boy who took today’s best score – Luke Gee, of Stanford, Montana, took an 84 point score on Red Dog.

The bronc riders took a few more scores today. In fact, looking over the score-sheet, it appears that every last bareback rider took a score today. An Arizona cowboy – Shon Gibon from a town called Taylor – brought the only score to break 80 points in the bareback event on a stunning beast named, simply and accurately, Rage. In the traditional rodeo event – Saddle Bronc – Justin Berg won the day on an exceptional ride on Ravishing Ruby, taking 82 points and a victory lap to a thundering crowd.

– – –

The roping events haven’t changed pace. The team ropers have been struggling this year and only three rides qualified today with a top score of 5.7 seconds. It was a great run by Levi Lewis & Brent Tryon, two Arizona cowboys. And even though it may not seem like much, it’s a hell of a distance – the arena record in this event – made in 2008 and tied in 2011 –  is 4.9 seconds.

In tie-down roping, Jake Hannum of Plain City, Utah brought in an 11.7 second run. The arena record for this event is 7.7 seconds, set in 1993 by Jim C. Smith of Del Rio, Texas.

– – –

The heat’s on and tomorrow’s the last day. It’s going to be a good one.

Penultimate Performance at the 87th Annual Tucson Rodeo

Jet Price scores 77 points on a horse appropriately named Mucho Motion

– – –

I woke up this morning fully clothed, eyes sticky with dust. The fifth performance won’t begin until this afternoon and I’d hoped that maybe I would be able to sleep through most of the morning. I’m excited, though, and I’ve already begun my equipment check – swabbing lenses with optical cleaning wipes, blowing dust out of the rear elements, charging batteries, and formatting memory cards.

Yesterday was hard on the performers and there were a lot of turn-outs (rodeo lingo for no-shows). Compared to last weekend, the timed events weren’t enough to keep most of the guys in the running, and that disappointment hung in the air for a long time while the crowd cheered through the settling dust. Up in the stands, most of them haven’t been following the aggregate, so when a mud-dogger broke ten seconds people went nuts.

It’s nice to see a good run, but those of us covering the event already knew that most of these boys were out of the running before the sun even came up yesterday morning.

– – –

It’s going to be an interesting day. So far as I’m aware, there’s going to be a brief memorial for legendary rodeo photographer Louise Serpa, who passed away in January at the age of 86. She’s often lauded as the “Ansel Adams of rodeo photography.” Her accomplishments include being the first Pro Rodeo Cowboy Association-sanctioned woman to work the arena as a photographer and, as it turns out, the first woman inducted into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame.

This would have been her fiftieth year at the Tucson Rodeo. The last couple of years were difficult for her, but as long as she drew breath, she was in her usual seat, located just behind the “photo pit,” camera in hand. We’re all going to miss her and the decision was made to keep her seat open. Louise’s daughter, Mia Larocque, has been at the rodeo photographing with me for the past three years; her advice, and the quick wit of her mother, have left an indelible mark on my life as a photographer.

I’m not entirely sure what to expect in the arena today. We’re anticipating a sold-out crowd of eleven-thousand, which would keep in lock-step with this years’ record-breaking attendance. I know which riders I’ll be keeping my eyes on, and we’ll see who makes it to tomorrow – check back later for today’s rundown.

– – –

And, since I couldn’t possibly say it better myself, I’ll leave you with some of Louise Serpa’s words, published in “Rodeo,” an Aperture publication of her photographs.

“Rodeo is fueled by adrenaline; it is geared by athletic ability and heart. The odds of winning are not high, and the pay is the lowest of any sport. Constant traveling, lack of sleep, and physical soreness make some men burn out early…Rodeo is the great equalizer – there’s no room for braggarts, bullies, or the fainthearted. No guts, no glory.”

Excitement in the Arena – Bull Rider Stomped

Marcus Michaelis is stepped on after being thrown from Danny Boy

– – –

Nine-thousand five-hundred in attendance with an expected sell-out tomorrow afternoon. From the crow’s nest I could hear wild cackles and beer-fueled banter across the earthen arena. Primal yells issued from the grandstands along with howls from the bucking chutes as the cowboy cheered on their fellow riders. The smell of blood must have been in the air – the outlaw stock were not to be trifled with. As it turns out, today’s livestock has been determined to be the most vicious so far; it’s no wonder that the day’s roster was marked to hell with turn-outs. I hadn’t given it much thought, but I suppose it makes sense. These guys have to take into account future events before making the hard decision to risk life and limb – mostly limb. An early injury can put a competitor out for the whole season, not just one rodeo.

Of thirteen bareback bronc riders slated to perform, only nine took the plunge. Of the fourteen saddle-bronc riders, only seven saddled up.

Today was a day for the bulls. Literally.

Of more than a dozen rides, only seven boys made the eight seconds. And with two injuries to report, it could have been a better day for the bipeds.

– – –

Marcus Michaelis of Caldwell, Idaho had a run of sorry luck today. Not only was he thrown headlong from a sizable piece of beef named Danny Boy, but the 33-year-old southpaw was stepped on, then nearly railroaded, as the bull-fighters (rodeo clowns) tried to steer the bull toward the pen on the north end of the arena. Most of these guys wear helmets for a reason – today it likely saved Marcus’ life. Danny Boy’s hind leg came down with crushing force on Marcus’ head before stepping on his sternum; he’s lucky the impact didn’t stop his heart.

After lying motionless in the dirt for several moments, the announcers up in the booth were able to see that he was conscious and talking. Paramedics helped him to his feet and he left the arena upright.

According to Rick Foster of Justin Sports Medicine, Michaelis has a concussion but no indication of any neurological problems. With a few minor cuts and some monster bruises, he’s expected to be just fine, although he’ll be sore as hell come sunrise tomorrow. While putting his boots on in the trailer, Marcus was heard saying, “I guess I’ll just have to tough it out.”

Ye gods. That’s a healthy attitude after being nearly trampled to death.

Third Performance Down at the Rodeo Grounds

Tyler Scales of Severance, Colorado on Pocahontas - 79 Points

– – –

Nine -thousand spectators arrived today, just shy of the arena’s eleven-thousand limit. And you could tell.

Boots rattled the aluminum grandstands and hats flew. Agreeable weather and the promise of pretty cowgirls, whiskey, and an arena full of talented cowboys & expensive livestock conspired to make this one of the better-attended rodeo events I’ve ever been to.

– – –

Today’s Rundown

The rough-stock was good, but I’d be shocked to see a better showing than last weekend – those beasts were big. Hooves were pounding in the chutes – angry shotgun kicks – before today’s bareback event, and that only served to drum up animated folks in the stands. Tyler Scales of Severance, Colorado took home a 79 point ride on a bucking horse named Pocahontas. In the traditional rodeo event – saddle bronc – Bradley Harter fetched 82 points on a horse named Buckskin Bill.

– – –

The biggest draw, across the board, is always the bull riding. Most folks agree that the bull-riding roster is populated by madmen. You’d have to be to consider sitting your ass on an seething mound of angry beef ten times your size. It’s my humble opinion that, at the end of the day, it takes an unusual combination of absolute lunacy and skill-tempered bravery to ride one of these monsters. But then, as the danger is ratcheted up – that and the promise of possible injury – it’s hard to un-stick our eyes from the rattling cage before the chute doors swing open. I don’t want to downplay how strictly regulated these events are – but the danger is real. And hell, there’s something about a wind-burned crowd, stomping their feet on the floorboards, huddled beneath the shade of their hats, quietly praying for blood.

Nobody ever enjoys seeing another person severely injured, but they all love to tell a story. I’ve seen enough rodeo injuries in my time, though, and I’m glad we didn’t see any serious ones today. Buck Moon almost got killed riding bull number 604, named Silver Sport, after a no score ride. The bullfighters seemed to have the situation under control, but Silver Sport charged and threw Buck into the gate beside the bucking chutes. He was upright but didn’t do a terrible lot of walking – EMT’s were on the seen to make sure none of his injuries were life-threatening.

– – –

Shane Proctor is built like a bar fighter, muscled & lean.  His left forearm is tattooed with a reasonable enough motto: “keep it simple.” This professional, 26-year-old bull rider from Grand Coulee, Washington, took 88 points on an 1,800 pound bull named Coffee Break. Coffee-colored and designed to break men, I imagine Shane feels lucky enough to walk away with today’s top score and no broken bones.

Tom Lewis of Lehi, Utah was the best time today in Steer Wresting by a margin of one whole second, clocking in at 5.6 seconds.

Today was measurably more kind to the ropers. Low winds and a cheering crowd probably didn’t hurt. Cimarron Boardman won the day at 10.4 seconds in the tie-down event. He may well be in the running against the overall tie-down competitor, Cody Owens, whose aggregate score is 43.1 over three rides (that’s an average of 14.4 seconds per ride).

Team roping didn’t change it’s shape this go around – it’s been a tight run for all of the competitors this year. The top three times today were 7.6 seconds, 7.5 seconds, and 7.4 seconds – I suppose it always is more fun when the race is tight, and we definitely got that today. Drew Horner & Buddy Hawkins got to run a victory lap today with their impressive 7.4 second run.

– – –

There’s still more to come – three more days’ worth, in fact. If you get the chance, I’d recommend coming out – it’s been one hell of a year.


Rodeo Ethics

A.J Hamre from Chico, CA, tumbles off Spotted Phantom - 71 point ride

– – –

The American cowboy is often revered as the epitome of manly virtue.

The American cowboy is the symbol of red-blooded American values – whatever that might mean. He’s a figure tied to the earth – humble, respectful, fearless, and no stranger to hard work. The legends of the wild west permeate our cultural landscape, and while many pulp novels and Hollywood films are weighed-down by ridiculous (and often comedic) anachronisms, it would be a mistake to neglect the American preoccupation with cowboys.

A great deal has changed since the push west. The ranching lifestyle that initially gave rise to rodeo is disappearing. Despite the decline of the rancher and the disappearance of the range, the image of the cowboy – hat, lasso, chaps and spurs – hasn’t lost it’s potency. The cowboy’s courage and skill illustrate man’s ability to conquer the wilderness; he accomplishes this by pursuing, confronting, and subduing outlaw stock. There’s another side to this public celebration of determination and bravery. Criticisms and condemnations of rodeo usually revolve around the ethical treatment of animals. What a lot of folks don’t realize is that this controversy is almost as old as the cowboy myth itself.

The earliest protests regarding animal welfare date as far back as the mid-1870s.

I’m no stranger to criticisms of the modern rodeo myself. I live in a reasonably liberal community and work closely with several vegans. Hell, even my girlfriend’s a vegetarian. I’m lambasted by criticisms simply for photographing rodeo events, let alone participating directly in them. Initially, I had to admit a relative ignorance regarding animal treatment at rodeo. My family ate steak at the dinner table, we took field-trips to the Kansas City Royal Rodeo in elementary school, and we watched John Wayne classics like ‘The Cowboys.’ That’s just how it was, and I didn’t ask questions.

My present interest in rodeo photography is, more than anything, born out of a desire to understand my own country. This, I know, hinges on the cliché – but that being said, I honestly believe that there’s value in the investigation of our own origin myths. My intent isn’t to build-up or to knock-down, to celebrate or to dispel. Taking a closer look at this subject matter simply makes sense to me, especially when taking into account the politically fractious time in which we live.

One thing is certain – I’m not interested in glorifying some epic form of animal cruelty or sadism. I’m interested  the Old West, writ large on the marquee. I’m interested in the ranching lifestyle, where it began and why it’s disappearing. I’m interested in the representation of the rancher, the cowboy, and the western folk hero in popular media. And while I do this, I get to add to the pantheon of media images that illustrate the extreme danger, occasional madness, and remarkable talent of these rodeo cowboys.

– – –

Up next, a few statistic regarding animal treatment, injuries, and PRCA regulations.


Sunday at the Rodeo Grounds

Cody Samora's 90-point ride on a bull named Gangbuster

– – –

Yesterday was, hands down, the perfect day for rodeo – clear skies, low winds, and warm weather. Today took a windy turn, but it seemed to only affect the performers. Seven-thousand spectators descended on the Tucson Rodeo Grounds and the atmosphere was affable. It was a family event with a whiskey polish. Folks walked along the rows, buying everything from kettle-corn & toy guns to belt buckles & whiskey shots. It was a tough day for today’s athletes, though – especially during the roping events – and the wind, most likely, was a factor.

Of eight tie down runs there were only two qualified rides. Seth Hall, heralding from Albuquerque, New Mexico, led the pack, scoring only three-tenths of a second ahead of P.J. Spencer of Collinsville, Oklahoma. Seth and P.J. scored at 13.4 seconds and 13.7 seconds, respectively.

The real show-stopper was in the finale. After a series of ‘no score’ rides, Cody Samora had the closest thing to a perfect ride thus far. The bull, Gangbuster, broke wide and spun fast, but Cody managed to hang on and take home the only 90 point ride of the day, more than enough to carry him into the next round.

– – –

Yesterday’s nameless bull – carrying Chandler Bownds onward with an 86 point ride – has been, as of five o’clock this evening, officially named. As things turned out, Joan Liess – media coordinator for the Tucson Rodeo – decided to have a little fun with this one. Via the ‘Fiesta de los Vaqueros’ Facebook Page, it was decided that the public would decide what we’d be calling this up-and-coming slab of fury. After posting a request for name suggestions yesterday afternoon, it’s been decided that bull number 781 will be known from here on in, simply, as ‘Facebook.’

Slack events will be running through Wednesday next week. Full performances will begin again at two o’clock Thursday afternoon, after the celebrated non-motorized parade earlier that day. Until then, I have images to sort through, which I intend to post periodically throughout the course of the next few days.

I hope you enjoy ’em.

The 87th Fiesta de los Vaqueros

Your Photographer At The End Of The Day

To view some of my archived rodeo images: click here

– – –

The fury of hair & spittle, rattling teeth & hard hooves thumping the arena floor, is over – well, at least for today.

I remember somebody once saying that life is a random lottery of meaningless tragedies and near-misses – the words ring true at rodeo. Thankfully, no serious injuries today, but there were some breath-stopping moments. The exhilaration of a crowd relieved is difficult to explain, when a potentially injured cowboy stands up, dusts off his ass, and gives an enthusiastic thumbs up – even if his ride didn’t qualify.

It was a perfect, warm Tucson day out at the rodeo grounds, and attendance is up. Over five-thousand people descended on the arena, unencumbered by inclement weather. The rough-stock were in rare form, thick winter coats  increasing their perceived size and demeanor. There were several talented performers in the dirt today, but the boy who stole the show was a young bull rider from Lubbock, Texas. Chandler Bounds – a twenty-year-old who’s deceptively gentle features & lean build might place him somewhere near fifteen – stole the show with an eighty-six point ride.

Out of sixteen furious bulls, only four cowboys were able to hang on for eight seconds; that’s four qualified rides in sixteen. You know it’s a tough sport when – at an event that draws the best talent from around the country – only twenty-five percent make it to the next round.

– – –

I’ve done my edits for the day and it’s time for food and sleep before the next round.

I’ll show you some great images of all the action, including Chandler’s ride. It’s time to finish my coffee and get back out there.

Go Time

Hell Horse

– – –

More rodeo images can be seen at my website: click here

It’s quiet & crisp winter morning in Tucson; everything outside is perfectly still. I know it’s just my own anticipation, but it’s that kind of calm that promises action, just around the corner.

Sitting in my friend’s kitchen, my brain feels swollen after a night of story-telling & whiskey. I can taste sour hops on my tongue, and there’s a dull pain at the base of my neck. There’s something refreshing about walking right up to the edge – that is, of being a down-right parody of oneself – only to then stretch the old arms and call it a night.

This is my third time at The Fiesta de los Vaqueros. After enough time spent down in the mud with the rest of the competitors – hands freezing, chilled to the bone, camera equipment douched in mud – I’ve come to love this job, unapologetically. The crude, early morning light spills into the parking lot as it slowly fills, predictably, with pick-up trucks and livestock trailers, white dust hanging in the air, catching the orange light. A couple of retired bull riders, on their perch in the press box, survey the bucking chutes beneath them while rodeo officials pour into the announcer’s booth and begin unraveling mic cords and assembling a row of folding chairs. My good friend & fellow photographer, Will Seberger – we’ve come to jokingly revere our hangovers as just another part of the job.

I’ve done my equipment check, and I feel prepared – but I imagine I’m quite the sight. Hair skewed, glasses crooked, sitting in my socks & underwear in this otherwise pristine, tile-floored kitchen in Midtown Tucson. Hangover, indeed.

And you know – I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything in the world.

– – –

This is challenging work and there are stories to tell, but that’ll have to come later. Wish me luck.

It’s ‘go’ time.

Adolescent Dreams

The Lingering Seduction

The dead. They’re all around us – beneath every cobblestone, on the surface of every building. They’re a healthy preoccupation, representing everything that we can’t ever know.

We carry the burden of their memory with us and write poetry. We paint them. We discuss them lovingly with friends, saving our tears for the bedroom.

– – –

I’ve begun to grow tired of artists discussing how their environment – the region they were raised, the religion inflicted upon them – as the root of their artistic creativity. Visual culture has evolved so radically – projecting her images so far and wide – the artist is less and less limited by their circumstance, household, state, race, or creed. Creative influences abound, and our styles need not be discussed in sweeping statements.

Images of the world are beamed into our homes. We’re exposed to distant cultures, wild ideas, foreign belief systems and unusual forms of expression. Books and magazines, television images, billboard advertisements and the cinema – they permeate our lives. To insist that one is a ‘Southwest’ artist or an ‘expressionist’ – an ‘avant-garde’ artist or a ‘colorist’ – has become, to me, an increasingly absurd notion. These don’t describe a method, nor do they reveal any individually developed style – labels like this serve only to express the manner in which contemporary artists are willing to limit themselves.

We are citizens of a world that continues to grow smaller.

– – –

This image is the stuff of crudely lit dreams.

This is the stuff of a confused adolescence. Of desire, frustration, and fear.

It’s meaning continues to evolve – the work is incomplete, and I don’t expect to feel the same about it when I’m finished.