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Cowgirls and Rodeo Clowns

First, let me apologize for not doing a blog last Monday. I made a trip back to Montana to visit family in Butte and my four very best friends in Kalispell. It was an amazing trip but left no time for blogging…sorry!

Then, since I now live in beautiful western Washington, but most of my stock photos used in these weekly blogs are from the Rocky Mountain states, the title “Monday Morning Greeting from God’s Country” has left some folks scratching their heads. I get it. Notice today’s blog is called “Cowgirls and Rodeo Clowns”.

Jill Lynn Hays of Sam Houston State University at the CNFR in Bozeman, Montana

Click to enlarge…

When I lived in the Gallatin Valley near Bozeman, Montana I had the privilege of being the official photographer for the National Miss College Rodeo competition that was held there every year during the College National Finals Rodeo, or CNFR. During my four or five year stint with the CNFR I met many amazing people. Two of these were queen contestant Jill Lynn Hays and Wrangler Bullfight barrelman Jess Franks.

The year I met Jill Lynn Hays I believe there were eighteen queen contestants. After about three days of taking photographs I sat down with the reigning queen to go over the photos and separate them out by name. In the end we only came up with seventeen piles. I was missing Jill Lynn Hays. It turned out that not only was she a contestant for the National Miss College Rodeo title, but had also qualified for three events in the rodeo itself! Because of her rodeo schedule she had missed all of the queen functions for the first three days.

I found Jill and explained the situation and spent most of the fourth day photographing her during rodeo events. This photo of Jill was taken as she was up on her horse, about to turn to gallop into the Montana State University arena during the goat tying event. The rope in her mouth is a “piggin’ string” used to tie up the goat and I’ve always called the photo “The Piggin’ String”.

Jess Franks - Wrangler Barrelman at the CNFR in Bozeman, Montana

Click to enlarge…

Jess Franks is a Hall of Fame rodeo clown and Wrangler bullfighter. When I met Jess he was the barrelman for the bull riding and bull fighting events at the CNFR. In the arena, Jess Franks is the ultimate “funny man” — ten laughs a minute like all rodeo clowns. But down inside these are very serious people who put life and limb at risk every night to entertain the crowd and, more importantly, to give the bull riders a chance to escape the wrath of a very angry 2,000 pound bull who could easily crush them without the clowns distracting their attention. These rodeo clowns are amazing athletes!

As I spent time around the bull riders and the clowns I began to realize that a big part of what they do is mental preparation — psyching themselves up so to speak. Most of them did not want to be bothered before their event as it seemed to break this mental concentration. This serious side of a rodeo clown is what this photo, taken just before Jess entered the arena, is meant to show.

These are my two favorite photos from my rodeo days and both of them currently hang in my office in Olympia, Washington.

Click on the photos to view them at full size… Enjoy!