Sunday, April 21, 2024

First Responders Rodeo and Wild Game Cook-Off

The First Responders Association of Law Enforcement, Firemen, and EMS held its 15th annual fundraiser last weekend at the Waller County Fairgrounds near Hempstead, Texas.

Several members from our Northwest Houston Photography Club were asked to take photos of the events.

Following are my photos and impressions from the evening's activities.


Rodeo etiquette, leave your work shoes at the front gate,
put on your cowboy boots.

and your Stetson.

You can't have a rodeo without horses, lots of horses.
That is one well-worn saddle for the lead pickup man.
 Note: pickup men have nothing to do with trucks or single bars.

...and that is one tall drink of water.

He is the lead pickup man.
More about them later.

Before the rodeo starts, there are many volunteers busily working
 behind the scenes, preparing for the cook-off.

These ladies are shucking shrimp for gumbo.

For the Ponderosa Firemen, he is busy slicing sausage links and onions.

The hands and knives are faster than the camera...

Small samplers of pork ribs were slow-smoked to perfection.

... the yellow mustard brightens up the hot links on flour tortillas.
That is some good eat'n right there.

Of course, the mounted Sheriff Deputies are here to maintain order.

And no rodeo can be complete without a clown or two...

Participants are starting to line up for the mutton-busting event.


That event pertains to putting a 3 - 7 year-old child on top of a full-grown ewe, 
who doesn't like having anything on its back?

The sheep are led into a chute where the child is placed on its back and told to grip tight and hang on. When the gate opens, the sheep takes off running, trying to unseat whatever is on it. The youngster who hangs on with style, for six seconds or more is named Event Rodeo Champion, winning the traditional silver belt buckle in recognition.

Anxiously waiting for the event to start, are the toddlers and youngsters wanting to see 
if they have the right stuff to be a rodeo champion.

Interestingly, New Zealand has banned this event, 
not to protect the children but for concern that it stresses the sheep.

Here in Texas, there is no shortage of families registering their children to participate. 
They had to limit it to 40 mutton busters.

The youngest rider will be in for a surprise when he sees what he is going to ride. 
Sheep look small until you have to sit one and hang on for what will seem like a very long six seconds.
Riders cannot weight more than 50 lbs, 30-40 is more the norm.

Fitted with a helmet and a protective vest,  the first Bust'r is out of the chute.
Ride'em, cowboy!

Launch time, Pop told me to keep my head down and hang on tight.

Grip tighter son...

Well, this won't go far...

Hug it like it's your favorite teddy bear.
Loves her pink boots!

Mommy, why did you talk me into doing this...

Oh oh, this ewe is going sideways... fast.

I don't want to see where we're going.

Like a rocket sled on ice.. faster, faster, faster

Those that survived, (all forty did) line up to receive their trophy.

Some were ready to go again... but the sheep are now exhausted

And who will be the winner?  

... trophy time. Every rider gets a trophy... and a memory.

Save this sad little girl looking for her boots..

Oops, I was wrong. 

She was called up to receive the Rodeo Champion belt buckle 
for hanging on for the full six seconds and doing it with style.

She's a very happy Champion Mutton Bust'r.
(She did have her boots on when she rode).

Proud Mama shares her joy.


Everyone is then asked to leave the arena as they prepare for the next event, 
Bronco Busting.

No mutton here; it's time for the big boys to show their rodeo skills.

And it's on, the first bronco exits the chute...

Seems simple, right?  Just hang on till the eight-second buzzer sounds. 

Well, there's a little bit more to it than that. The cowboy has to ride for the full eight seconds with one hand on the rein and not touch any part of the horse or themselves with their free hand. They must also keep both feet in the stirrups and have their spurs touching the point of the shoulder when the horse's feet touch the ground on the first jump.

Once the rider is either thrown or slides off the horse, the pickup riders spring into action. Broncos will continue racing wildly around the arena without a rider, until the cinch is loosened. 
The pickup rider's job is to keep the animal from hurting itself while reaching over and loosening the cinch. Then guiding it toward the exit gate without hurting himself or his mount.

Only a well-trained pickup horse will get near a wildly kicking, scared bronco.

Cowboy rides with focus and concentration...
first in color.

Then in Black & White..

The pickup cowboys have to work fast to contain and calm the now riderless bronco.
Broncos are untrained or partially trained horses. They are not accustomed to having riders on them.

Jumping out of the chute springs the next unhappy bronco.

After eight seconds, the rider is to dismount with the help of the pickup man. 
That's how they got their name, pickup men.

However, sometimes, the leather strap the rider uses to tightly tie their hand to the saddle does not loosen. Riders cannot dismount until it loosens. If they fell off, the horse would drag them wildly around the arena. The pickup cowboy's most dangerous job is to help the rider safely dismount by jerking him off of a racing bronco.

This pickup man and one scared rider raced around the arena several times before the strap was loosened enough so the rider could be safely pulled off. It was a tense and dangerous moment for the riders and the animals.

Pickup men are the most talented, experienced cowboys you will ever see in a rodeo. 
Like firemen, their job is to save lives.

With the cowboy out of danger,  it is now time to contain and calm the excited bronco.

After the Bronco Busting, the real cowboys take a break to rest,
 before the next event...


Bull Riding...
If you thought Bronco Busting was wild, 
bulls are even wilder and harder to ride.

Horses tend to buck up and down while racing around the arena.
Not the bulls...

Bulls will wildly twist, spin, up, down, and around, 
often only a few yards out of the chute. They would think nothing of slamming a cowboy 
into the steel railing.

There are no pickup men for Bull Riding. 
Bulls can outweigh a horse and can quickly injure it
 even if the bull's horn tips are removed.

So they have rodeo clowns... 

The clowns help entertain the crowds during any lull in the action inside the arena.
More important is their role in distracting the bull once a rider is thrown.  
Bulls have been known to stomp on, even gore a cowboy when they are on the ground. 

The clowns might look like they are a bit overweight when in reality, 
they wear heavy padding under their costume to protect themselves from angry bulls.

More often than not, most bull riders do not stay on for the full eight seconds.
They fly off to a hard landing... eating dirt. 

Bull - 1, Cowboy - 0.

Touching the bull or themselves with their free hand or failing to reach the eight-second mark results in a zero score. American bullriding has been called the most dangerous eight seconds in sports. 

That was an exciting evening to be up close amongst all the action. 
Has been twenty years since I last photographed a rodeo. 

This was a fantastic adrenaline-packed evening in Hempstead, Texas 
with the cowboys, cowgirls, First Responders, and all the rodeo heroes.
Everyone here helped to raise funds to benefit those 
who put their lives on the line for us.

 Hope you enjoyed seeing a few of the images captured that night 
and reading the story behind the events.

Ride safe and far...



  1. Jan: you got some great shots!

    1. Sorry about the Anonymous posting. Great shots!

    2. Thanks Harry, wish you could have been there. You could have helped me with the camera settings. Next time...

  2. Outstanding action photography CCjon! As to mutton busting, only in America! I saw it at my first rodeo and it was quite entertaining. The kids you captured in the pics looked like they had lots of fun. I wonder how many mothers were in the stands wringing their hands and wondering why they gave permission? :)

    1. This is Texas, Rodeo Mom's were pushing their kids to participate. Tackle foorball is tame compared to rodeo events. One Mutton Buster held on so tight both he and the ewe rolled over in the dirt with the ewe on top of him. The ewe jumped up and stepped of the boy's family jewels... ouch! He cried. and the crowd cried Ow!!!


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