Art Spur: National Day of the Cowboy

"Shadow Bronc" © 2014, John Michael Reedy,, Obtain permission for any use of this photograph.

It’s been said that a picture is worth a thousand words…we know many that are worthy of a poem or a song. In Art Spur, we invite poets and songwriters to let selections of Western art inspire their poetry and songs.

Our 43rd piece offered to “spur” the imagination is a special National Day of the Cowboy Art Spur, a photograph, “Shadow Bronc,” by songwriter, poet, and photographer John Michael Reedy (,

We asked John Michael Reedy to tell us about the photograph, and he commented:

I made the photograph at the Jefferson County Fair Rodeo in Boulder, Montana. Since most rodeos have photographers dedicated to catching the “action,” my focus tends more towards light, composition, and story. This is our hometown rodeo, a very small-town and (almost) always dry and dusty affair held at the end of August. However, this particular year we experienced absurdly unusual wet and muddy conditions. I felt an urgency to get a good shot on this day, to capture the striking tension between the (still) very clean cowboys and the inevitable mud bath. In this shot, the small-town setting and the prominence of the flag catching the sun at that moment creates a mood, and the classic position of the rider is iconic. Mostly I like the the body language of the horse as he appears to stomp his own shadow in the mud.

Poets are invited to be inspired by the art; a literal representation of the art is not expected.

The Twelfth Annual National Day of the Cowboy is Saturday July 23, 2016. Find more about the organization at and on Facebook.

Selected poems, below, are:

“Someday” by Tom Swearingen
“Broncs, Bruises, and Brawn” by Marleen Bussma
“Counting Down” by Merv Webster
“From Dust to Mud” by Jim Cathey
“Seize the Day” by Jeff Campbell
“Dream Ride” by George Rhoades
“The Shadow Riders”by Jean Mathisen Haugen


by Tom Swearingen

Been years since winning a buckle.
More still since he’s been in his prime.
Tonight, you’d think he was twenty,
Legs churning together in time.

His rowels rake ‘cross the shoulders.
Strong lift of the thick woven reign.
Sweeping to flank with each landing,
Bronc’s efforts to pitch him in vain.

Been to the top of the mountain.
Made Finals three times years ago.
Says he’s just riding for fun now,
But man, he still puts on a show.

Spurs fly like there’s no tomorrow.
He’s fanning and riding for keeps.
Showing his guts and his gristle,
No matter the bucks or the steeps.

He knows he can’t ride forever.
He’ll hang up his war bag someday.
But now he’s right where he should be,
High rolling atop this rank bay.

© 2016, Tom Swearingen
This poem may not be shared without the author’s permission.

by Marleen Bussma

The day’s crowd is loud and restless waiting in the scorching sun.
Hats are lowered for the anthem that is cheered when singing’s done.
The arena holds and gathers brave contenders to this dance.
They will partner with a rank bronc who’ll replace old west’s romance

with reality and raw truth.  “Come on, cowboy, show your stuff.
Can you take the jarring pounding?  Is your spirit tough enough?”
Jackson paces in the background, hears the chute boss bring the news.
It’s his turn to face the devil, time to pay those dancing dues.

Jackson’s fairly green at riding, wears a price tag on his jeans,
but he’s worked at getting better and he hopes that this ride means
he will hear the buzzer’s music, mark a victory for once.
Jackson’s nerves, though taut and troubled, hang on tough as he confronts

what is caged up in the bronc chute agitated, blowing snot.
Pump Jack throws his ornery head back as the cowboy starts to squat.
Jackson gently makes adjustments as he settles on the steed,
gets his chaps arranged and straightened.  Thoughts of what to do stampede

through his head like prairie dogs that see the shadow of a hawk.
He feels cautious, careful, cold, and hopes his courage does not walk.
“Don’t forget to mark the horse out.  How much buck rein should you give?”
Laundry lists of what to do portend mistakes that don’t forgive.

“Keep your chin down on your chest and have those big toes pointed out.
Lift the buck rein for your balance, stay alert,” his instincts shout.
Jackson pulls his hat down tightly, nods his head to start the dream.
If he sticks like glue to Pump Jack it will help his self-esteem.

Pump Jack rises on his hind feet as he leaps out of the chute.
Jackson’s left hand fans the air as he clings bravely to the brute.
He can feel his fortune slipping like the buck rein in his hand.
The intensity is frantic, nothing like what he had planned.

When you talk about a bronc ride, Casey Tibbs once gave this pearl,
“You just fall into a rhythm.  It’s like dancing with a girl.”
Jackson’s rhythm leaves the dance floor as he flirts with a dismount.
Fresh air swells above his saddle like a sly thief’s bank account.

His intentions are unfastened as he flops like fish on shore.
Bouncing wildly in the saddle, he forgets about a score.
The eight-second clock is ticking.  Does he have time to regroup?
The arena floor now greets him and he doesn’t have to stoop.

With the grace of a flat tire he is finished for the day.
Just his pride is pained and pounding as he grimly limps away.
Though rejected like a wallflower waiting with a wish to dance,
the next town puts on a rodeo and he’ll get another chance.

As he thinks about his last ride, what went right and what went wrong,
he concedes he needs the basics to help make his riding strong.
It will take a lot more practice while he learns to do what’s smart,
but for now he knows his hat stayed on and, pardner, that’s a start.

© 2016, Marleen Bussma
This poem may not be shared without the author’s permission.

by Merv Webster

It’s been a life I don’t regret and looking back I’m proud
of all the rides and challenges played out before a crowd.
Eight seconds might not seem that long but on a bronc from hell
you have to know it’s every move or you won’t score that well.

I’d made a promise to my wife that this was my last ride
as she had shared my childhood dream and I look back with pride
on how she’d thrown her full support behind me all the way
but sensed she longed to settle down and call it quits today.

I knew the bronc between my chaps, I’d ridden him before,
but if it had its way at all he’d dump me that’s for sure.
The Chute Boss called, “Let’s have him out!” and did that horse perform
though all who’d hung up on his back knew that was just the norm.

Eight seconds were now counting down, I’d marked out clean enough,
but this bronc sure would see if I was made of sterner stuff.
He knew the game and loved it too and had a bag of tricks
and it would try near everyone that it had in its mix.

Six seconds now and counting down, so what now lies ahead?
I swear its gonna prop and buck and sure to drop its head.
It’s eyeing off that shadow there and knew it’s in its blood
to want to see me on the ground and sprawled out in the mud.

Four seconds left and I’ve survived but man my back near broke
while all the pain that wracked my frame was way beyond a joke.
Just rake and watch for his next move was what raced through my mind
and just a few secs longer and we’ll put all this behind.

Two seconds left but man he showed no sign of tiring out
then arched his back and screamed out loud and I was in no doubt
he’d give it all he had and  try in one last desp’rate buck
to do his best and give his all to see me come unstuck.

I knew there for a moment there was air below my seat
and wondered would I stay with him or did he  have me beat.
But then I felt his back again and heard the siren blow
well knowing I had ridden time and we’d put on a show.

To go out on a ride like that was pleasing to the soul
and mighty glad the bronc I drew had surely played its role.
The broncs I ride these days are tame but every now and then
I break a lively youngster and I count down time agen.

© 2016,  Merv Webster
This poem may not be shared without the author’s permission.

by Jim Cathey

Dang Gramps! I ain’t too shore about this weather,
That ol’ muddy ground shore spooks me.
I seen them ol’ boys grabbin’ fer leather,
an’ their ol’ broncs seemed sorta goofy.

Most times its purty dry come buckin’ time,
‘course, I reckon you’ve seen it all.
But I just wondered, back in yore prime,
If you’d ever seen sich a squall.

Yeah, I seen it muddy like this, back in ought nine,
When Dick Stanley rode Ol’ Steamboat.
Lookin’ back, we shoulda took it as a sign,
All the chutes was purt near a float.

Cheyenne it was, a fancy gig back then,
Folks had came from all around,
All that stock was bad an’ so was the men,
‘course Frontier days was renowned.

Some said that Steamboat would never be rode!
That he’d go down in hist’ry.
Now Dick Stanley, well, he ain’t never been thowed!
But his past was a myst’ry.

He knowed all about this bronc he was on,
‘Twas a good bronc riders job.
Lottery said he drawed the devil’s spawn,
An’ he knowed he’d shore played hob.

The night’s rain turned hard dirt into a mud,
Ma Nature had made her play.
That bronc was snortin’ an’ lookin’ for blood,
But this cowboy planned to stay.

He’d marked ‘em good, comin’ outta the chute,
His fist drawed  into a knot.
But, that  bronc was learnin’ the ways of the brute,
An’ he’d give more than he got.

He quit the gate an’ was goin’ on high,
An’ he showed that he warn’t slow,
He’d come poundin’ down, then go on the fly,
Twistin’ ‘til his belly would show!

That cowboy stuck tighter than a Texas tick,
While that bronc was  asplashin’ mud.
An’ he squalled an’ snorted  with every kick,
smashin’  the ground with a thud.

But this day would not be kind to Ol’ Steamboat,
Mayhaps the mud slowed him down.
Steamboat whistled, but that was all she wrote,
‘cuz Dick Stanley had won the crown!

Now you drawed good an’ you shore got the skill,
That bronc will be okay, like as not.
An’ he’ll shore ‘nuff try to give you a spill,
So son, just give ‘r all you’ve got!

Yeah! I seen it muddy like this… back in ought nine.

© 2016,  Jim Cathey
This poem may not be shared without the author’s permission.

by Jeff Campbell

Four A.M. the thunder booms
As the gushing rain cascades
Easy just to stay right here
The coffee and couch persuades

It’s just a small town rodeo
A winding one hundred mile trip
But he hates the thought of missing
As he takes one final sip

Dodges puddles out to the truck
Turns the key and the radio on
As an old Corb Lund song ends
A forecast of blue skies by dawn

Does it matter if he wins?
Or lands with a humbling thud
When that whirling shadow stomper
Baptizes him in the mud

It’s about the thrill and focus
The feeling of being alive
To have something to live for
A goal and a will to strive

One day out on life’s highway
As he glances in his rear view
He will not regret things tried
Just the ones he did not do

© 2016,  Jeff Campbell
This poem may not be shared without the author’s permission.

by George Rhoades

The old cowboy sat in the chair,
A blanket across his lap,
On the patio of the rest home,
Wakin’ from his nap.

I did ’em all, he said,
Ridin’ and ropin’ at the rodeo
All up and down the line,
Calgary to Cheyenne to El Paso.

Now I’m crippled up and stuck
With caretakers and fadin’ memory,
Thinkin’ back on the past,
Gone forever now for me.

But when I sleep I dream
That I’m buckin’ once again,
A small town, flags aflyin’,
Tryin’ my best to win.

Corrals, horses, pickup trucks,
Spurs, buckles, chaps and ropes,
Arenas, bulls, barrel racers,
Livin’ on dreams and hopes.

Travelin’ from town to town,
Wantin’ to make the short go,
To get the cash and the glory;
Hard life, not much to show.

Comin’ outta the chute,
One arm up, under stormy sky,
Hat pulled low, holdin’ tight,
Pickup man waitin’ nearby.

I’ve drawn a good one,
Bronc with lots of fire,
High-kickin’ and high-jumpin’,
I’m ridin’ ‘im higher and higher.

Settlin’ into the rhythm,
Day money’s gonna be mine,
Spurrin’ on a high roller,
Pains forgotten, feelin’ fine.

The roar from the crowd,
Ride ’em cowboy, comes the cry,
The cheers urge me on
As I grab for the sky.

Then I hear the buzzer,
Eight-second ride and top score;
My dream comes to an end
‘Til I dream it all once more.

© 2016, George Rhoades
This poem may not be shared without the author’s permission.

by Jean Mathisen Haugen

Those rodeo grounds are in rough shape,
they date back over eighty years.
Though the rodeo dates back to 1894
and many a’ cowboy has bruised his rear.

The CCC built this one for town
a’ way up on the highest hill,
with a full view of the mountains,
and wild horse races still cause a thrill.

A few years ago they planned to move the grounds—
but that idea did not go over well.
The folks here liked it just where it was—
for there were many stories to tell

of when Indians danced in the ring there
or a bull dumped a cowboy or two;
the time old Checkers climbed the stand
from the back to get a good view.

Come the 4th of July, Pioneer Days
has folks coming here back home
to see the parade and the rodeo,
for they never wanted to roam

out of the valley to somewhere else.
This valley catches your heart
and the old rodeo brings ’em home
from way back in1894 at it’s start.

Now I’m sitting here in this grandstand
and it seems to me that I see
some shadow riders in the ring—
and they’re not just seen by me!

Stub Farlow and his brother Jules,
Clayton Danks, a well known rider.
A lady rider who once rode the circuit
and her second horse is right beside her.

Phantom horses and phantom bulls
and ghosts of cowboys long gone—
join us here at the rodeo grounds—
Let her buck and let’s get on

with having a regular big to-do
for the day is blue sky and prime
and the shadow riders are back here too—
to enjoy the fun one more time!

© 2016, Jean Mathisen Haugen
This poem may not be shared without the author’s permission.