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Fort Worth
Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Hearts of the Stock Show: Risk-taker embraces steer riding, skydiving and the trombone

Risk-embracing Breana Cowart has a lot of living to do, so it comes as little surprise the 28-year-old California native participated in women’s steer riding, the first of its kind at the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo in about 75 years, one rodeo veteran said.

Rodeo competition, though, is only one sector of Cowart’s diversified, multitasking brand: She plays trombone in bands; conducts the occasional orchestra or band concert;, loves skydiving but can’t afford frequent dives; is now working on a digital game app – and wants badly to win as a rodeo bullrider even if that sometimes means competing on a steer.

No death-wish here, Cowart has too much joy de vivre, drive for perfection in all her ventures. But she confesses to reveling in the camaraderie, challenges and adrenaline-rush that rockets with jumping out of airplanes and riding “rough stock,” as bucking bulls, steers and bareback and saddle-bronc horses are called. Risk-taking, you could say, is her stock and trade.

“It makes life worth living,” Cowart said the day after her Ladies Steer Riding performance ended with a less-than-pro quality ride, aboard for fewer than the targeted 6 seconds, during the Stock Show Rodeo.

She was one of 16 women to compete for a $10,000 pro-rated purse in a “mini rodeo in a rodeo,” a separate add-in event, during the one-day Cowboys of Color Rodeo and the two-night Bulls’ Night Out/PRCA Extreme Bull Riding rodeos during the 23-day Cowtown extravaganza.

“It’s cheaper than skydiving,” Cowart said, adding that she has 45 skydives to her credit, “and harder, yes.”

With skydiving training costing up to $2,000-$3,000 for free-fall lessons, $5,000 for equipment (much cheaper to rent) and $50 per jump (including fee for airplane), Cowart saw the $200 she earned for just competing at the Stock Show Rodeo as looking pretty good.

Besides, it’s often too cold for skydiving this time of year around Denver, where she now resides when not traveling across the nation to play her trombone in bands, conduct bands or an orchestra or ride bulls or steers in training and rodeos. And she obviously doesn’t need a horse.

Cowboys of Color Rodeo founder and managing director Cleo Hearn said he was looking for a way “to freshen up” his Stock Show edition of his rodeo after a “hot” six-year run of his Pony Express Relay Race event.

“I was told that women last rode bulls in the Stock Show Rodeo 75 years ago,” Hearn said, noting that he had previously also invited rough-stock riding women to participate along with the rodeo men performers at his other all-invitational Cowboys of Color Rodeo venues/sites. His first Stock Show rodeo edition – with no women on steers – was in 2010.

Here in this year’s Will Rogers events, including the first Bulls’ Night Out, eight of the women rode steers each of the two first nights, and the four top steer-riders competed on the last Bulls’ Night Out. Hearn said he paid out $3,000 each of the first two nights, with each woman taking $200 whether they were winners or not.

In the third-night finals, first-place overall Jorden Halvorsen of Garner, N.C., got $1,200; second place, Amber Toledo of Goodell, Okla., $800, and third, Karli Livingston of San Tan Valley, Ariz., $600.

Cowart said that in her first and so far only Fort Worth ride, she failed to recall most of the training lessons she had learned, in part at a rodeo riding school.

Veteran rough-stock rider Jan Youren, 72, who last rode a bull in competition in 1998 and last rode a bareback bronc two years ago – not at the Stock Show – said: “It all comes at you in a rush.”

Youren, who helped the 16 women prep for their rides here, said she’s seeing renewed interest among girls and women for riding bulls, steers and broncs.

“Girls contact me every year to teach them to ride,” she said. But “they have practically no place to ride in competition.”

That’s in part due to slackening participation leading to the Women’s Pro Rodeo Association in 2005 dropping the rough-stock riding events from its lineup of WPRA rodeo events, WPRA officials said. WPRA events include barrel racing, calf roping and team roping.

A WPRA regional circuit manager said maybe two-three women had been wanting to ride bulls, steers or broncs in those days.

Fort Worth’s longtime Stockyards Rodeo in Cowtown Coliseum once had women riding rough stock; she last competed there in 2005, said Youren.

She rode bare-back broncs for 51 years and bulls for 38 years before retiring from competition. “The ground was harder than it used to be,” she said.

Cowart said she’s ridden 15 times, including bulls and steers, with seven of those rides in competition – far from sufficient to develop pro-level skills.

Gay rodeos, which have a decades-long U.S. history and since 1985 the International Gay Rodeo Association, have offered the most opportunities, Cowart said, for women to ride rough stock. IGRA men performers also ride in barrel-racing. She has competed in IGRA rodeos in New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado, Cowart said. Even some mainstream performers are entering IGRA rodeos, she said.

Cowart has trained on mechanical bulls, but adds that a friend’s bull-riding simulator – a bucking barrel with giant springs.

“But nothing beats getting on a live animal,” Cowart said, adding that the athlete’s muscle development with upper body strength is critical to the sport.

The risks bring on that addictive adrenaline rush, she agreed, and the steer or bull horns are not the big adrenaline-boosters.

“The horns don’t really matter,” Cowart said. “Falling under the bull or steer and getting stepped on are my biggest concerns.”

Her first ride on a bull came in Arizona; his name was Highlander, a fuzzy/hairy breed.

“He looked like a big gremlin, a fuzzy little guy,” small for a bull, Cowart said. “It was like riding Gizmo.”

Playing trombone – in groups such as Gora Gora Orkestar, Prismati and DeVotchka – remains a passion. She has a solo group, The Pride, in the works and has played solo recitals. She was assistant conductor for the Mile High Freedom Band, and she has played with Joe King from the Frey. Her skydiving is on hold, due to a pocketbooks squeeze, after 45 dives, Cowart said.

Bull riding also remains a passion, and Cowart could be headed back to the Stock Show & Rodeo someday. Hearn says he has gotten some good publicity from the Ladies’ Steer Riding event, along with one naysayer. He plans to feature the event again in Cowboys of Color action, and maybe again at Fort Worth.

For now, Cowart said, most of her time is focused on helping to design and develop an interactive digital app for adapting a board game called Living Starships, which has some similarities to Star Trek games. The goal is to bring the new app to engage players in collaborative fantasy games during this year’s Comic Con in Denver.

Her adopted philosophy is: “Stay Thirsty for Good Times and Adventure.”

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