With every sunrise, a challenge is issued to the cowboy that’s even more important to meet than the age old commitment to always do the right thing for our animals. Today, that’s no longer enough. Today, there are exponentially more people who truly believe we enjoy being pointedly cruel to rodeo animals than there are those who know the truth. Why do we care about them? Because they hold our future and our animals’ lives in their hands through the power of their vote.
Our community takes deep comfort in providing top care and loving every aspect of owning, caring for or just enjoying bucking horses and bulls when they work in the arena. How do we enlighten those who will otherwise work to end our way of life? Outreach, inclusiveness and transparency. Alice Whaley’s love affair with the bucking horses she originally thought ‘crazy’ and ‘tormented’ started just like that. Here’s her story, as told by Bronc Riding Nation’s Lori O’Harver.
“Writers are a different breed. We’re consumed with a constant curiosity and compelling need to share what we’ve learned. Years ago, at Cheyenne Frontier Days, I met New York Times photographer, Josh Haner and asked him what he was doing at The Daddy. He gave me the dream-come-true answer for a pro bucking horse activist, said that he and Pulitzer Prize winning NYT sports writer, John Branch, were following the Wright boys around for a feature story.
That story led to the must-read book, The Last Cowboys, by Branch that beautifully tells the gritty story of bronc riding, family and ranching in the American West. It also led to a friendship that doesn’t just honor me, but the entire rodeo community. Right before COVID-19 would wreak havoc on rodeo, Branch reached out to introduce Ali Whaley, a brilliant young Cambridge graduate who was touring the globe to learn the inner workings of exotic horse cultures for a book she intends. He thought I’d appreciate her mission and knows our horses and culture need strong voices of truth. As usual, he was right.
A quick conversation with Ali in Uruguay had me dreaming about how I would have loved to be introduced to bronc riding nation; the generosity and visionary natures of Van Flaherty (Hi Lo Pro Rodeo) and Wade Sankey (Sankey Pro Rodeo) locked in Ali’s summer tour. The rest was left to the horses who are always honest about themselves.
The day Ali’s plane touched US tarmac, quarantine began. Southern Arkansas (almost Louisiana) is gorgeous in Spring and her people steeped in old world Southern manners. She was in good hands, surrounded by great horses who were now unemployed. Moving among them gave her a sense of their health, treatment and kind-but-aloof natures, but not of their athletic ability or their response to their 8 second jobs.
When the time came, she packed her one suitcase (the one with gear planned only for her first stop in Argentina) and found a way to the ranch country of Kiowa County, Colorado, to help brand and learn beef cattle. It was there that I picked her up to deliver her to Montana in the wake of her canceled flights. “I’d been vegan in university — more because of my budget than the movement but I’d read about cattle production in the US and wanted to know the truth about that, too,” Ali told me on what would be the most fun 10 hour road trip of my life.
She’d spent long hours in the saddle, got to use the roping skills she’d been taught at Hi Lo, drug calves to the fire, wrestled, branded, vaccinated and castrated — all new skills not required in her early years of hunter ponies in Europe. She visited the huge, local feed lot, asked tough questions of management and used her newfound eye for cattle health and overall well being to judge for herself. We ate steak on our road trip. Rare. We took a moment to thank cattle and cowboys.
Under the backdrop of some of the most delicious eye-candy the West has to offer, 600 miles flew by in spirited talk of horses, the ways of horsemen on other continents, poetic lines from great authors that changed our world views, stunned silences and the rightful awe of God’s children in Wind River Canyon and tales of Ali’s mom (who once found herself, a black horse named Dragon and a big, scared Doberman tucked into a tiny cubbyhole deep in a train tunnel while tons of screaming steel blurred by at a whisker’s length somewhere under a mountain in France.)
I’d learned a lot from the 22 year old sage to include that her work ethic far exceeded my own, so when I left her with Wade Sankey and family to make the lone run back to quarantine, I watched her online platforms carefully. Nothing. The random text from Wade, ‘Ali fell off today. Found her walking and asked if she needed medical attention. When she declined, I told her great. So we can start making fun of you now?’ Of course, she agreed it was indeed that time.
Sankey’s are passing the Summer of 2020 by having drive-in bareback and bronc ridings at their ranch. Ali was about to get up close and personal to what makes us holler — what makes us champions for bucking horses, and I wanted to see it. Ever accommodating, Wade sent a hand to video her reaction from chute side.
Bronc Riding Nation has forever won a piece of Alice Whaley’s massive heart and she’s won ours. Outreach, transparency and inclusiveness. That’s the recipe for winning the understanding and respect among all cultures our horses need to continue bringing the wild into hearts that don’t even know they’re too tame for their own good.”
For more on Ali, visit her social platforms.
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