There’s no image more iconic than the ‘cowboy,’ or ‘vaquero’ in Texas. Even city luvin’ residents in commerce-driven Houston proudly keep polished cowboy boots and spotless Stetsons stashed away in their closets for each rodeo season. Heck, come late February, Facebook and Instagram begin to flood with pictures of affluent suburbanites in weekend Western wear heading to the Rodeo & Livestock show. But dry-cleaned Wranglers and store-bought silver buckles the size of saucer places don’t make one a cowboy (or cowgirl for that matter). Cowboying is a rough and tumble life. For the past two years, I’ve been photographing and documenting real life buckaroos in the Lone Star state with a focus on bull riding. Part of the allure is the mettle these young riders show in a high adrenaline sport.
Whether it’s some chrome and concrete mega-sports arena in Big City America—where the cash reward includes seven figures and sponsorship opportunities—or some back-country corral, bull riders have one simple goal: stay on that 1,800-pound bucking bull for eight seconds (or at least as long as possible).
But I was drawn to the sport for another reason. Bull riders come in all creeds and races. While post-racial America is a myth, bull riding, however, at a base-level, offers diversity without compromise. When that chute jerks open and the raging bull shoots out, riders are judged on their ability, and not their skin or heritage. That’s not to say there’s no problems in the sport, but as an observer, I’ve been impressed by how riders from all backgrounds treat each other.
This sport is fascinating on so many levels, and it’s just not the bucking. If you sneak a peek behind the chute, you’re bound to see riders helping each other out while they gear up or kneel in prayer. There’s also plenty of good-natured joshing behind the chutes, but its without malice and prejudice.
One other thing I need to mention. Bull buckers rule the roost, but it’s the bullfighters who are the first responders on the scene when a rider either jumps—or is bucked off—a thrashing bull. No coverage of this sport is complete without mentioning them. I’ve seen these quick-on-their-feet individuals jump between an enraged bull and downed rider so that a disoriented cowboy can skedaddle out of harm’s way.
-Tom Darin Liskey
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Tom Darin Liskey spent nearly a decade working as a journalist in Venezuela, Argentina and Brazil. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi. His writing has appeared in the Crime Factory, HeartWood Literary Magazine, Live Nude Poems, Driftwood Press, and Biostories, among others. His photographs have been published in Hobo Camp Review, Blue Hour Magazine, Synesthesia Literary Journal, and Midwestern Gothic. He uses images and words for a monthly narrative photography column at Change Seven. He tells his children that he’s done worse things for less money.