Flying cowboys

27 Jun 2012 | 05:20

“There’s easier ways to seek your glory than riding a stinking bareback horse,” says Mike “Marlboro Man” Stoddard, 39, getting thrown after 7.3 seconds in the photo to the left. “I remember as I was hitting the dirt with my face, the buzzer going off. But you gotta make it the whole eight seconds, they don’t pay anything for 7.3. I skidded to a stop on my face,” he laughs.

Stoddard, an insurance adjustor in Elizabethtown, PA during the week, has been competing since he was 19. He gave up riding bulls about eight years ago after a couple broken ribs. He had his pelvis broken in four places in 2007 when a horse landed on top of him, an injury that kept him from walking for a year, but he will keep riding bareback until his body tells him in no uncertain terms that it’s had enough.

Sussex Christian School hosted its first pro rodeo in May, selling out the 4,000-seat arena at Sussex County Fairgrounds. The bareback horseback riding opened the event, and the rodeo ended with the even more dangerous bull riding.

It’s a new sight around here, and many who hear about it object on behalf of the animals.

Dirt posed the question to Stoddard: Is a rodeo not inhumane? “It’s way more cruel to the cowboys,” says Stoddard. “That is one of the biggest misconceptions.”

Horses that buck, he explains, are otherwise fated to the slaughterhouse to become horse meat, which is popular in France. The spurs that the cowboys use are blunt, and contrary to popular belief, the flank strap does not go around a horse’s genitals. The horses eat well and only work about eight seconds a week.

Watching bareback riding gives spectators “a big sense of freedom,” he says, and of course an adrenaline rush. “You gotta admit, some of those people – it’s kind of like watching hockey to see the fights or watching car races to see the crashes. They just like watching the bareback rider wipe out. There’s nothing scarier than seeing a bareback rider get hung up in a horse, or a bull rider get hooked by a bull. It can kill you, and you never know when it’s going to happen…

“Whenever I land hard or get thrown up over the fence into the stands, the first thing I do is wiggle my toes, make sure I’m going to be able to walk.”