Steer wrestling is a rodeo event that doesn’t have the cache of bull riding or barrel racing, and, despite its seeming invisibility, it’s in every rodeo, is a simple to understand, and harder than hell to do. The wrestler, on horseback, rides after a full-sized steer who has been given a head start. Leaping from his horse, he takes the steer by the horns and, by main strength, forces the animal down to the dirt. In this he is assisted by a “hazer,” a rider on the other side of the steer who works to keep the steer running in a straight line. The event itself is fairly recent, being introduced in the 1930s and credited to a black cowboy, Bill Pickett.
Bull riders tend to be small and wiry, but, as you might expect, steer wrestlers are big men. It takes mass to change a running steer’s mind and take him down. And it takes just a bit of courage to leap from a horse running full out and take hold of a large animal with horns. Cowboys can, and do, get injured at a rate much higher than the animals.1 That doesn’t stop them from reaching out, though.
There’s no way I’ve ever thought of doing anything like this. I’ve always been far too careful of my own skin, but I do enjoy watching others display their skill. I also enjoy photographing the action, although it is one of the most difficult rodeo events to photograph. It seems there’s always a horse in the way, but when I’ve captured a good image, I feel like I’ve managed to reach out to success.
I think reaching out is a good metaphor for growing as a photographer. Someone once said Vivaldi wrote a successful concerto, so he continued to write it for the rest of his life. That is a harsh, though very funny, judgment, and I think it could be applied to a lot of photographers’ work. We keep taking the same picture over and over again; we stop reaching out. We stop growing.
To try something new means that we may fall flat on our faces. It’s certainly unpleasant to leap from our comfort zone and find we’ve missed our target, but when we grab the steer by the horns–oh, the sweet taste of success.
Further, as photographers, if we fail we don’t suffer the possibility of getting stomped on by a large steer. Now that is something to be thankful for.
1A 1994 study by 28 independent veterinarians considered almost 34,000 runs at 28 sanctioned rodeos and found the animal injury rate to be 0.047%. Steer wrestlers are injured at a much higher rate. Maybe PETA should be interested in cruelty to steer wrestlers as well as animal cruelty.