Over last weekend I got word that four-time and defending bareback champion Bobby Mote would be getting on some practice horses at the Growney ranch. This is one reason why I love rodeo so much, no red tape. One of the biggest names rodeo has ever had, and I just drove up and started shooting.
Mote broke ribs and lacerated his pancreas after getting knocked around in the chute at the Rancho Mission Viejo Rodeo in August, and hasn't been on a bucking horse since. With less than two weeks to go before the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, Mote got on four practice horses including a former WNFR bucker and by the end, looked like he hadn't missed any time at all.
Before Bobby rode, John Growney told me that there was a vet at the ranch to work on a horse who had some hay caught in its throat, and that I should shoot it because "there's more to rodeo than just bucking." Fair enough.
I managed to hold it together even as Dr. Hooton ran a tube down the horse's nose (mostly because I didn't want Bobby, Eric Layton, Dave Murdoch, or Tim Bridwell to see me hurl) and walked back over to the chutes to watch Bobby prepare to ride.
None of the famous Growney stock would be bucking that day, on tap were new purchases and older horses that were coming back from injuries:
I shot Bobby getting ready to ride and then grabbed a couple of longer lenses and staked out a spot to watch the fireworks:
And I made one for all of the rodeo people who complain that I never shoot conventional bucking pictures. FULL EXTENSION! Suck it haters!
After Bobby was done, John and I and my friend Tonya Redamonti drove over to Don Kish's ranch to get pictures of the bulls who were chosen to buck at the WNFR this year. I had never been in a pen with bulls before, and after a few years of seeing what they do to the riders on a regular basis, I wasn't especially eager to step through the fence. But John already teases me for my less-than-cowboy nature, so I figured I would just get in there. So John went around to the left and the bulls started walking right at me. The most awesome thing you can hear someone say when you're in a pen with 5-10 one-ton bucking machines is "Matt, you might be a little too close."
I managed to get pictures of all six of the WNFR bulls without getting gored, and as we were driving out I wanted to get a landscape of Don Kish's ranch, and as I climbed up the fence, a gust of wind blew my cowboy hat off of my head and into the pen.
I've been planning on getting a new cowboy hat, but wasn't going to leave the old one in the pen, so I handed my camera to John, climbed over the fence and grabbed my hat out of the awesome dirt/bull shit mix, and got my ass out of there. John just couldn't resist getting this picture:
Rodeo is a small world, and as an example of that, some of the riders and coaches from the Feather River College rodeo team were at the ranch to buck some of the young horses. One of the coaches is steer wrestler Billy Bugenig, the focus of my assignment at the WNFR:
At actual rodeos, I can't get onto the dirt to shoot, but since this was just practice, I took full advantage and shot my 14-24 from just beside the chutes:
Almost the last thing I ever saw:
And finally, a picture of bullfighter Eric Layton, having a beer after a day of pulling the gate:
Great day of shooting all around. Thanks to John, Tim, Don, Bobby, Eric, Dave, Billy, Mert, and Tonya for a fun time.