Hippies On Horseback.

I don't know...

...This looks an awful lot like a horse to me.

In fact, I think there’s some rule that says you can’t hold a rodeo without horses. I think these team ropers would agree.

So would this bronc buster. This cowboy might have been distracted by a different sort of “bust” over there to the right in the white tank top.

Not these team ropers, though. These guys were all business, as were their horses. At one point, I found myself cheering for the horses by name. “Good job, Chief!” or, “Way to go, Goldie!” When the cowgirl in the stands next to me started laughing, I laughed too and said I was more excited to see the horses perform than the cowboys. Nodding knowingly, she replied, “The horses are classier.”

But the Fort Bragg rodeo wasn’t only about the horses. There were bulls, too. This adorable guy dusted his cowboy, then charged horns-first into the gate where I was standing a mere nanosecond after I had snapped this shot. If it wasn’t for my girl M tugging me back, I would have been a Jendocino-kabob. Cool pic, though. Inattentiveness has its rewards. Thanks, M!

When attempting to ride a bucking one-ton animal with horns, a helmet can come in handy. I know it’s not very cool, but I bet about now this dude is really, really happy he has a helmet on his head instead of a Stetson. One of the things I love about this shot is that even though you have four cowboys rushing over to help the guy on the bull, the cowboy closest to the action looks like he just wandered into the arena because he thought he might have left his pickup parked there the night before.

Oakdale Rodeo, Salinas Rodeo, Fort Bragg Rodeo - asses hanging over the rail is universal.

I don’t think Stilts the Clown and Zeus the Wonder Horse are universal, though. This ensemble might be unique to Fort Bragg. Incidentally, I have no idea what this guy’s actual clown name is, but whatever it is, it can’t be funnier than Stilts. And this clown needs all the help he can get, especially when his best joke is about Zeus being unable to address the crowd that day as he normally does because he’s a little hoarse. A little hoarse.

Aside from Stilts the Clown, this cowgirl was a highlight of my day at the Fort Bragg rodeo. She’s a local barrel racer, and what I loved about her was her town pride. She was thrilled that many of the local competitors performed so well because now when anyone called them hippies on horseback, it was with respect.

This girl’s mother had hand-beaded the cuffs of her jeans with coastal wildflowers under a bright sun alongside the blue Pacific.

She told me that even though the current fashion among barrel racers was to have a lot of expensive “bling” on their tack and outfits, she’d rather wear her mother’s needlework out into the arena than have the fanciest rig in the show.

And she wanted abalone and seashells on her bridle. Not silver conchos and a bunch of fringe - but abalone because it’s an enduring symbol of the Northern California coast.

I just loved this cowgirl’s easy appreciation for the simple things that make our little corner of the world wonderful and unique. After all, when the tack is off and the horses are tired, we all need a home to go to that we can be proud of.


  1. I loved this post. Something about someone loving where they live always gets me. This time I had to wipe away a tear. Both the girl and the way your love shown through choked me up.

  2. Love your cowgirl friend. Seems like she's way ahead of her time. Her jeans are to die for. Classy and classic at the same time. A rarity.
    ~karnett :0)

  3. Another poignant post!

    You tell the story, and it's easy listening, while still letting the reader's imagination ride along for the fun.

    Thanks for sharing.

  4. Kym, this young woman really touched me, too. I was very impressed with her genuine appreciation of the things that really matter. Rare in someone so young! Dave, as a writer I work really hard to walk that line between saying too little versus too much. My goal is to say just enough and to let the photo essay have a voice, too, so that the narrative unfolds in a unique way for each individual. Your kind words and encouragement mean a lot to me because it helps me to recognize when I'm successful at accomplishing my goals. Thank you! And K, your comment on this cowgirl being "way ahead of her time" was right on the money. Plus, her jeans are definitely TO DIE for! I am SO going to try this on a pair of my own Levis!

  5. The clown's name is Charlie 'Too Tall' West from Loomis, CA. I have seen him perform at several rodeos. He has also performed at PBR events. The bull that ran near the fence is Rock On, owned bt Jocey Thieman (about 13) from Covelo.

  6. That cowgirls name is Ileah Roquemore, she is from Laytonville but now lives in Cottonwood. Her horses name is DH.