“Ready or not, rodeo world, I’m back.” Nettie Moser inhaled the smell of rodeo—dust, animal sweat, manure—the scent of pure happiness. She strode to the arena fence near the chutes and climbed onto the top rail to watch the color guard parade the flag. A pretty teenaged cowgirl, long blonde curls bouncing under a white hat, led a group of equally lovely, brightly-clad ladies through their paces. The rodeo queen and her court.
Nettie shook her head. Some like the pomp and falderal, but I’ll take a rangy steer any day. She looked around at the crowd. Wonder where the other women riders are. She hopped down from her perch and headed for the registration booth where Jake already waited in line. “Here I am, ready to ride.”
It had been a long five years since her dear friend Marie Gibson was killed when her bronc collided with the pickup man’s horse. That accident had shattered Nettie’s rodeo dream but she finally overcame her fear with the help of her mentor’s unforgettable advice: Live your life, follow your dream.
“And I’m glad.” Jake pulled her into the circle of one arm. “But did you get a look at those steers, little gal? They look pretty big.” He winked at her.
Nettie took a couple of exaggerated, swaggering steps. “Never met a steer who could get the best of me.” She laughed out loud. It felt so good to be here in Cheyenne. The snorts and squeals and bawls of the rough stock in the pens, the shouts and cheers and curses of the cowboys were music to her ears. Anticipation skittering inside, she could almost feel the steer’s rough hide through her denims. She stuffed her leather gloves into her back pocket and leaned over to check pull the straps on her spurs tighter. She couldn’t wait to be on the back of a bucking, writhing animal, pitting her wiry102 pounds against its half-ton of muscle and bone.
Montana cowgirl Nettie Brady Moser has overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles on the journey toward her dream of being a professional rodeo rider. In the 1920s she struggled against her family’s expectations and social prejudice against rodeo cowgirls. During the Great Depression, marrying Jake Moser and then raising their son took priority over rodeos. And then she was devastated by the death of her friend and mentor in a rodeo accident.
In the spring of 1941, Nettie, now age 36, is regaining her heart and spirit, and she is determined to ride again at an event in Cheyenne, Wyoming. To her dismay, the male-dominated Rodeo Association of America enforces its rule barring women from riding rough stock and denies her the chance to ride. Her fury at the discrimination can’t change things for women—yet.
Based on the life of my grandmother, who rode rough stock in Montana in the 1920s, this rodeo saga parallels the evolution of women’s rodeo from the golden years of the 1920s, producing many world champion riders, and shows its decline, beginning in the 1930s and ending with World War II in 1941.