By: Tonya Stevenson
Gingerly settling down on the wild eyed colt, I take a firm hold on both d-rings to keep my rigging centered, nodding for a pull. I check for the balance of tight enough to ride, but not too tight to jerk me forward with two hands down.
“That’s good.” I decide.
Cotton Rosser likes to give us girls his young unproven horses. They might go stark raving mad or hardly buck, my first two weren’t great. One sure thing, you better be careful in the chute, get out quick. They were apt to rare up smashing you or even flip.
Cotton rides up to my chute, looks me straight in the eye and blurts, “This colt is going to stick your head right there.” He points to one chute in front. “No one has covered him yet. ****, no one has kept a rigging on him.” With a cold laugh he rides away.
I instruct the cowboy helping me. “Let’s snug it a little.”
My stepfather, also Cotton’s flank man, steps onto my chute with a challenge. “I don’t care what else you do, but spur this horse.”
He thinks the girls are playing it too safe. That’s poor instructions for me. I have gotten spur crazy causing me to miss horses out. I have rolled horsehair in my rowels to slow me down. A few weeks ago, before I turned nineteen, I won my first World Championships in both bareback and Bull Riding in the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association. After finals a reporter interviewed me. One question she asked, “Why do you ride?” I couldn’t answer, I honestly didn’t know.
San Francisco’s Cow Palace is our second bareback riding that counts for next year. Sliding up on the rigging, I pull my shoulders back, nod. The horse explodes from the chute. I bury my feet in his shoulders. Hold. Hold. His front feet jar the ground. Now rip to the rigging, gap for the shoulders, beat his forefeet to the ground. He’s rapid, doubling toward the chute he sucks back, his hind feet crack the air, throwing me forward hard. I think he’s got me. I drag desperately on my feet while throwing back for all I’m worth, slam for shoulders. The scrappy colt escalates his effort to bury me. Every jump I am thrown, but somehow salvage one more lick. The whistle blows. The frenzied horse flings himself onto the ground, penning my leg under him, as the pickup man’s horse steps on my head. Jerking my hands free, I roll away as my horse scrambles up.
“Whew, I made it.”
As I stand, thousands of people rise with me, exploding into a thunderous roar. Looking around I think …”If I can’t do it again tomorrow I am still nothing, nothing to anyone.”
My score is announced, a 90. I mount the black horse handed to me and dash around the arena behind the flag girl for a victory lap and buckle presentation.
Retiring to the bathroom, I attempt to wash the matted blood from my hair. A prominent singer bursts in grasping my arm, insisting I have a picture taken with her. She brazenly runs over the exiting people while cursing at them. Flabbergasted by her rudeness, I try to apologize, as she drags me through.
Finding a photographer she orders him to take our picture, roundly insulting him when his first flash doesn’t work. Young cowboys swarm, vying google eyed for her highnesses attention. Sickened by it all, first chance I slip away, wondering if the singers crassness is because she has found her much higher mountaintop as empty as mine.
At home the front page story in our states biggest paper is on… me winning my championships. “I ride because I want to be better than anyone else in the world at something,” the paper states. I am aghast. I have never thought that.
Why did I really ride? It was expected, who we were; I rode for the family brand. There came a point it became me…mine. I rode to beat the hellish words seared into my soul, fiery words that condemned me as a despised worthless mistake, to be worthy of love. I paid the high cost, but found it empty vanity. What now? …
Glories not for men to claim;
Chase it not it will bring you shame,
Yet I ride again, though in another name,
Now it’s not I, but JESUS, I proclaim. (Col. 3:23)
Photo credit:Longhorn Dave