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Women's History Month: Back in the Saddle

Updated: Feb 15, 2023

It was 1917 and Fox Hastings was riding a bronco at the Kansas City Roundup. On this day, the horse bucked four times and finally fell, landing right on top of Fox. The horse struggled to get up twice, but Fox was tangled up in the rigging and each time, the horse fell back down on her. The crowd was silent and filled with dread as Fox lay twisted under the horse. Rescuers ran to free her, and she was carried out of the arena in silence. Everyone feared the worst.

In the early 1900’s Fox was part of a group of daring young women known as Rodeo Cowgirls. From around 1900 to the 1930’s, the Rodeo Cowgirls joined the Wild West shows, which showcased the bold and sometimes reckless spirit of the vanishing frontier.

The shows were elaborate and exciting and made the cowgirl a heroine. Trick riding was a key competitive event among these women. While the horse ran full speed around the arena, the cowgirls hung upside down off the back of the horse, stood on two galloping horses, vaulted over objects and performed any other tricks they were brave enough to do. Being competitive, they were always trying to make up new stunts to outdo each other. They also competed in bronc riding, roping steers and bulldogging (steer wrestling) side-by-side with the men, and gave the audience one thrill after another

These Cowgirls were the first women in professional sports, and sometimes competed directly with men, grabbing the prize money. They dazzled all America and were as widely recognized as today’s Hollywood stars.

About 15 minutes after Fox was taken away and just as people were beginning to gain composure after this horrible event, an open car, top down, appeared in the arena with Fox waving to the crowd! Shock waves and cheer raced through the onlookers. She stepped up and asked for a re-ride, which the judges granted. She rode beautifully, and gave the crowd a gracious dismount.

But, this was not the end of the story. Foghorn Clancy, a rodeo publicist who knew Fox, said:

"The crowd never knew that Fox Hastings collapsed just a few minutes later and that she was in agony for days afterward. They did not know that they had seen an incredible display of sheer nerve, of courage that would have stacked up well against the courage of the pioneer women who trekked West with their husbands." The Cowgirls, by Joyce Gibson Roach

In honor of Women’s History Month (March), I want to acknowledge these daring women who, before women could even vote, aimed high, had guts, bucked the rules of the day, and always got back in the saddle. Lessons for us all!

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