Rodeo is the Last of the Western Legacy

Updated: Nov 9, 2020



Friday Feature: Rodeo is the Last of the Western Legacy Brought to the Masses


BY: KIMBERLY ZIERLEIN OF FRONTIER FORTITUDE

Rodeo is woven into my DNA. Dad was a professional team roper for 25+ years. Mom was a professional barrel racer for at least 10+ years. Me…Miss Cody Stampede in 2004, ambassador to the masses on the sport of rodeo.

To tell a story of something that is so rich in western heritage can be daunting at times, but very, very rewarding. You must see all the smallness in it to see the grandness of it.



This blog was requested of me by a dear friend, fellow writer, and life enthusiast because she knows that who we are, who we were raised to be, will ultimately be part of the building blocks of who we will become.

So, where was I? Oh yes, telling stories with a passion to share with the world how I see it.


Rodeo Photography


To be successful at rodeo photography, first, you have to have a passion for photography, action photography, event photography in particular. Then, you must decide what story you want to convey.



There is so much going on from the prep of livestock to the contestants, to the workers, to the stock itself, to the entertainers, that you must know the flow of a rodeo. You must first take an all-encompassing approach to order your thoughts to choose your story.


Questions to Ask Yourself:

1. Are you wanting to cover the entire 2-2.5 hours of action and tell an overall story?

2. Do you want to do a portrait study of a certain event or the contestants in general?

3. Do you want close-ups of action or full landscape shots to capture all the activity?

4. Is there good lighting or bad lighting as your story progresses?

5. What angle do you want to convey a certain emotion or reaction?

6. What’s your preference in storytelling overall?


These are just a few questions to ask yourself before really deciding to shoot a rodeo event.


Then there is the checklist of equipment:

1. Camera preferably a DSLR with multiple lens options

2. Lenses both macro and zoomRain covers for equipment

3. Off camera flash if allowed

4. On camera flash if needed for close-ups

5. NotepadTripod/monopodMicrofiber clothes for equipment

6. SD cards

7. Multiple charged batteries.

Note: This is just the basic list and can extend, however, I do LOVE my battery grip that gives me about 5 hours of continuous shooting time 😉


Choosing My Story


Now, just as an example to demonstrate all the above my best attempt at telling a truly intimate, heartfelt story comes from my 2015 season out at the Nite Rodeo and Cody Stampede grounds. There is something that was calling to me about unsung heroes… something about the unseen of humanity staring me in the face at that time in my life.

Maybe because I was unseen. Unheard. What I thought was unappreciated. Unloved.

I want to tell a story of those, that even though humanity refuses to recognize them, I recognize them. I want to scream out…YOU ARE SEEN. You are valued. You are heard. You are an important piece that when taken away the whole tapestry will unravel.



The year 2015 was also notable because of a movement to sing for unsung heroes in the rodeo world.


The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) organization at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR) added the coveted title of Pickup Man of the Year award to their lineup…


FINALLY. We have had horse of the year, announcer, secretary, timer, bucking horses, bulls, etc., but never the men who day in, and day out are the epitome of the western way of life translated into one of America’s heritage sports.


I have to say that my favorite and most memorable season of shooting rodeo was the year I decided to cover the pickup man, which in turn showed to be the year that the PRCA deemed it time to honor these cowboys. It was a story that needed to be told right down to the roots.


Why do you ride for the brand? How do you care for so many animal athletes on so little? What is your mojo that makes you, YOU in the arena? Bridles, saddles, chaps, shin guards, ropes, cinches, tape, knives,…. The list goes on and on.


Two men that were more than generous with their time and their knowledge were amazing eye-openers for me as I wanted to tell of who they were, and why they were. They were not seen or appreciated much for all that they did, but they were vital. Luke Newsam a true horseman, and Dusty Moore a true all-around cowboy.



They shared with me a portion of their passion which is all about who they are as men. This allowed me to open my eyes up to the rodeo arena in a way I never had. I started looking for all the little peripheral details. Can I squeeze in and be a “fly on the wall” per se and get the shot that evokes passion and emotion and a driven mindset to always and forever live…cowboy.


So in light of the 100th year of the Cody Stampede here in Cody, Wyoming, I wanted to share with you a train of thought (accompanied by photos), words of what pickup men do, and who they are so that the next time and maybe even this 4th of July you will look at the rodeo arena in a new light. Turn over that leaf of tradition, and really see life for all its smallness that makes all its grandness.


The Pickup Men

Dawn and Dusk Early mornings and late nights



Mud and Rain Wind and Dust Ropes and Saddles



Bridles and Chaps Black eyes Broken bones Scars Blood and Sweat



Feed and Water Chasers of Chaos Dare Devils in their own right Horse Wrecks