The big animal lurches, bolts from the rodeo chute and hauls the rider on a bucking ride across the brown dirt ring in front of 2,000 people. But it can't knock him off and he rides it to the fence.
The crown roars. The cowboy grins, tosses his white cowboy hat to the sky and runs back to the handshakes and hugs of his friends. The 31-year-old Portland, Ore., horse trainer, leads his event even though he hasn't competed in a rodeo in 18 years. But then, neither have most of his competitors.
"There's not many cowboys that are gay," he notes.
The Reno Gay Rodeo, a charity fund-raising event which concludes today, "is the only gay rodeo in the world so far," said its organizer. The four-year-old event has grown out of exhibition halls and into the main arena of the Washoe County Fairgrounds. And it drew a crowd from all over the West.
The organizer says he hopes someday there will be gay rodeos across the West, with a championship in Reno. But for now, it's strictly an amature affair."I just though it would be a good way to show that the gays arn't strictly stereotypes as limp wrists or diesel dykes." he said.
The cowboys, and much of the audience, would easily blend in on any rural Nevada ranch with their weathered faces and dirty levis. But there were signs this rodeo was different.
The Oregon horse trainer's ride came on a cow. While there was bull riding, most of the inexperienced riders were dumped to the dirt as soon as they left the chute.
First-time ropers had trouble snaring calves which were chased back by comic drag queens, one in a silver glitter bra and a wig which slipped off the short hair beneath.
Homosexuality is a low-key, often hidden affair in conservative Nevada. But during frequent breaks in the rodeo action, the stands shook as a Texas-based county band played rollicking Hank Williams. Men danced with men and women with women.
Outside the gate, one of the buses which brought spectators from California was labelled "Gay Line Tours."