True Grit

The Houston Rodeo's cowboys and cowgirls hang tough and keep on riding.

Backstage at hay-strewn Reliant Stadium, there isn't a trace of nerves among the world's best cowboys and cowgirls. It's nobody's first rodeo. They've come to Houston from all over the world to ride the longest, the fastest, the best — or fall off trying.

Volunteer doctors stand by, ready to heal those horned by a bull or bucked from a bronc. But as far as athletes go, these are some of the toughest. When Bobby Mote split his abs bareback riding, a few Ibuprofens did the trick. Kicked testicles couldn't keep Clayton Savage off a bull. Not even a battle with cancer would stop barrel racer Jill Moody from roping in $260,000 last year. Bottom line: These athletes only get paid when they're on top of an animal, and there's nowhere else they'd rather be.

For as rough as they are, the old world charms of cowboy culture still reign supreme. Flannel is tucked into starched jeans, cowboy hats are politely tipped at the sight of a female, and Southern drawls remain thick. In spite of technological advances, most cowboys and cowgirls still call the open road home, trailering from town to town, rodeo to rodeo. Big-city traffic still makes Isaac Diaz of Davie, Florida, uncomfortable. And nothing will strip bullfighter Dusty Tuckness of his traditional makeup.

Tana Renick of Kingston, Oklahoma, is a hairdresser by day and cowgirl by night.
Mandy Oaklander
Tana Renick of Kingston, Oklahoma, is a hairdresser by day and cowgirl by night.
At 21, Steven Peebles from Redmond, Oregon, is one of the rodeo’s youngest cowboys. He’s already broken both of his legs and an elbow.
Mandy Oaklander
At 21, Steven Peebles from Redmond, Oregon, is one of the rodeo’s youngest cowboys. He’s already broken both of his legs and an elbow.
Although many bullfighters no longer wear makeup, Dusty Tuckness of Meeteetse, Wyoming, cakes his face in the name of rodeo tradition.
Mandy Oaklander
Although many bullfighters no longer wear makeup, Dusty Tuckness of Meeteetse, Wyoming, cakes his face in the name of rodeo tradition.
Clayton Savage of Casper, Wyoming, has been kicked in the head, horned in the face and trampled by bulls. He plans to ride them until he’s 60.
Mandy Oaklander
Clayton Savage of Casper, Wyoming, has been kicked in the head, horned in the face and trampled by bulls. He plans to ride them until he’s 60.
“Big bottle, big pills, big results,” says 34-year-old Bobby Mote of Portland, Oregon. He ripped the abdominal muscles off of his pelvis recently, but nothing stops him from riding.
Mandy Oaklander
“Big bottle, big pills, big results,” says 34-year-old Bobby Mote of Portland, Oregon. He ripped the abdominal muscles off of his pelvis recently, but nothing stops him from riding.
Jill Moody of Letcher, South Dakota, bested a barrel-racing record that had lasted more than 25 years. She also beat cervical cancer.
Mandy Oaklander
Jill Moody of Letcher, South Dakota, bested a barrel-racing record that had lasted more than 25 years. She also beat cervical cancer.
Mote and Jason Havens stretch before bareback riding.
Mandy Oaklander
Mote and Jason Havens stretch before bareback riding.
Legendary Leon Coffee doesn’t tell anyone his age. But he’s been fighting bulls for more than 40 years and is in the Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame.
Mandy Oaklander
Legendary Leon Coffee doesn’t tell anyone his age. But he’s been fighting bulls for more than 40 years and is in the Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame.
Jace Garrett, a saddle bronc rider from Alliance, Nebraska, got whiskey-drunk at the rodeo and lost his car — only to find it in the morning with the keys on top.
Mandy Oaklander
Jace Garrett, a saddle bronc rider from Alliance, Nebraska, got whiskey-drunk at the rodeo and lost his car — only to find it in the morning with the keys on top.

Each spring, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo reminds us that where every highway turns into a dirt road, there's a toddler-sized Tyson Durfey, roping calves his father drugged to make them slow enough for a four-year-old to catch. There's a young Jace Garrett learning saddle bronc riding in the footsteps of his family. And if we wait around for a few years, one of the little britches getting his autograph book signed by one of the bull riders may one day grow up to be Houston's next rodeo champ.

 
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