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Courage of a Cowboy

Do you have it? As the daughter of a Bull Rider, I don’t know that I’ve ever really FELT brave, but I have had a lot of opportunities to practice.

My folks met in Rodeo Club in college. Dad rode bulls and broncs (that’s a horse) and bareback (a horse without a saddle). Mom raced pole bending, barrels and served as Rodeo Queen. It’s not exactly like prom queen, more like a hostess of the event, but as a child I imagined this was a pretty big deal.

This story should come with a warning: Don’t try this at home!

In the course of his tenure as a rodeo competitor, my dad broke his wrist (he still competed using his other hand!). He was “stepped” on by a bull (and still competed), broke his leg, and then on his way to a rodeo (though he wasn’t competing in this one), his cast got stuck on the accelerator, he smashed his face into his steering wheel! Today, his nose is a bit crooked and his left cheek is a little lower than the right. Regardless of the accuracy of these tales, as a child hearing his stories, I learned the definition of courage!

Here’s the background:

It takes courage to strap yourself onto a bull!

  1. The goal of bull riding? Stay on for 8 seconds. That may not seem like a long time. But have you ever been tied to a bull wearing a flank strap (that’s the strap attached to the lower half of the bull to encourage kicking)? 8 seconds is nothing unless you’re on a bull, a bucking bronco, or in fear for your life.
  2. To begin your ride, it’s not enough to climb into the stall and onto the penned beast. It’s NOT enough to strap yourself with a tight knot of a bull rope (the primary piece of equipment that attaches rider to the bull). Oh no, after you’ve done these two scary things, you have to actively, visibly, nod to the gate keeper, the guy who pulls open the shoot to release you and the bull into the arena. That’s THREE consecutive affirmations to accept the ride of your life! Yes. Yes! YES!

I like to think my Dad got smarter through his education in College and consciously chose to leave the hazardous sport behind when he married my Mom and started raising a family. However, I have no evidence to support or deny that claim of his increased competency! By the time I was born, as the 4th of 7, Dad’s rodeo days were done. After all, who (in their right mind) chooses to have 7 children? By the time I was born, as the 4th of 7, Dad’s rodeo days were done. But before you think my Dad was a super hero (or a complete idiot), bull riding today is a totally different endeavor! My Dad and my much younger cousin, who competes professionally in the rodeo circuit, confirmed this assessment.

Bull-Rider Courage

Riding a bull requires a courage I’m not sure I have, let alone do I even begin to understand how one builds the kind of courage required. My guess is: you practice doing it.

That reminds of the quote from journalist Flora Rheta Schreiber. She said, “You’re never ready for what you have to do. You just do it. That makes you ready.”

The truth is I don’t know a lot about rodeos or bull riding, despite my childhood participation in 4-H Play Day rodeos and my genetic disposition. I am the granddaughter of a South Dakota Beef Rancher, and the daughter of a bull rider and rodeo queen. But I have learned a thing or two about courage (I have 5 brothers!) and learning to be brave when I just don’t wanna!

Courage like a Cowboy

My parents have a love rooted in respect and duty, collaboration and cooperation. And get this, they even planned to have a rodeo team of children. That’s 3 boys and 2 girls… As “good” Irish Catholics, they ended up with an extra two boys, but we still love them. LOL! Next month, we’ll celebrate my parent’s 56th anniversary. This is courage as I understand it today.

One of the stories my dad likes to tell is about how he is NOT responsible for my parents’ marriage because he was on strong pain pills at the time of the proposal. As he tells it, he was literally, “Out of his mind.” But the truth is, my parents met, fell in love and went on to raise a family.

For me courage is choosing to act bravely. It takes courage to nod, to say, “YES!” to what life is offering. In other words, courage might be enough to get me to the rodeo, but it’s the act of bravery to climb on and nod to say, “I’m ready” that makes the cowboy.

Courage to be Authentic

It takes a lot of courage to show up for life. Showing up as an authentic, vulnerable, and imperfect human requires the most courage I’ve ever had to muster. At this point, I’ve been thrown, stepped on, and even finished a few rides. I’ve had a lot of practice getting comfortable with my own imperfection!

As Brene Brown says, “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.” So I hope you show up!

Now, as a parent myself, I’m not sure if marriage or parenting is any safer than bull riding! Whether it’s marriage or parenting or “just” learning to live authentically, this adventure might very well be the ride of our life!