"What would rodeo look like if we took it as a record, not of human triumph and resilience, but of human imperfection and stubbornness?” asks animal historian Susan Nance. Against the backdrop of the larger histories of ranching, cattle, horses, and the environment in the West, this book explores how the evolution of rodeo has reflected rural western beliefs and assumptions about the natural world that have led to environmental crises and served the beef empire. By unearthing behind-the-scenes stories of rodeo animals as diverse individuals, this book lays bare contradictions within rodeo and the rural West.
For almost 150 years, westerners have used rodeo to symbolically reenact their struggles with animals and the land as uniformly progressive and triumphant. Nance upends that view with accounts of individual animals that reveal how diligently rodeo people have worked to make livestock into surrogates for the trials of rural life in the West and the violence in its history. Western horses and cattle were more than just props. Rodeo reclaims their lived history through compelling stories of anonymous roping steers and calves who inspired reform of the sport, such as the famed but abused bucker Steamboat, and the many broncs and bulls, famous or not, who unknowingly built an industry.
Rodeo is a dangerous sport that reveals many westerners as people proudly tolerant of risk and violence, and ready to impose these values on livestock. In Rodeo: An Animal History, Nance pushes past standard histories and the sport’s publicity to show how rodeo was shot through with stubbornness and human failing as much as fortitude and community spirit.