What’s the Deal with the Horse?

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Growing up in rural Wyoming, you get pretty used to seeing people on horseback. Sometimes clopping their way through town or on a dirt back road. Sometimes you pass by a ranch and see the cowpokes moving the herd to a new pasture. I’ve even seen two folks on horseback go through a McDonald’s Drive through. 

Horses are everywhere in Wyoming, the culture is inextricably written into the state’s culture. If you’re really lucky, like me, you sometimes even get to participate in it all. 

I learned to ride horses on a 3 yo stallion named Mozart. He wasn’t mine, I was a coal miner’s daughter in all ways it counts and we didn’t have enough land for a horse. Mom used to take me to her co-worker’s ranch to help with branding or for a BBQ, and that was always when I got to take Mozart out on an adventure in the pasture. 

In my most vivid memory, I was galloping along and an unexpected bump threw me from the saddle— directly into a cactus patch. It still hurts to think about. 

Copyright University of Wyoming

We’re already a few episodes in, and I realized that I was so excited to tell you the stories, I completely forgot to introduce myself. So, let’s get that out of the way. My name is Debbie Cobb and I grew up in Wyoming. Still live here. Still love it. I went through a phase when I couldn’t wait to get out. Now I understand a little more why so many people love their state. 

I’m a life-long Wyomingite, graduated from a little Wyoming high school and went to a slightly larger Wyoming college. If my voice sounds familiar, I was a radio DJ for 7 years and hosted a morning show in Laramie. My voice is STILL on some of the old ads, so you might even have a chance encounter with me in the wild. If there were a credential requirement for putting a Wyoming based podcast online, I’d have all the boxes checked.

Wyoming is a tight knit community, even with the long roads between towns. We take care of our own here and there’s no better way to show your pride than a rider on a bucking horse. When you’re a little kid growing up in Wyoming, there’s something you learn very early on— That symbol, the bucking horse and rider from the university of Wyoming is absolutely EVERYWHERE. 

Is it because everyone really loves the sports teams out of UW? Well, that’s part of it, but not the whole cigar. 

Today I hope to explain to you why the bucking horse and rider, also known as the steamboat emblem, is so popular in the cowboy state- The answer might surprise you. First thing’s first, very few wyomingites outside of the copyright office call it the Bucking Horse and Rider or BH&R. We mostly call it the Steamboat. 

The first thing I can’t wait to get to is—- Steamboat was a real horse. This emblem of the bucking horse and rider is based on a real photograph captured in the early days of Cheyenne Frontier Days, around 1908. The horse, eponymously named Steamboat, was said to be untamable– unrideable. 

Cheyenne Frontier Days calls itself “The Daddy of Em All,” as one of the oldest rodeos and fairs in the country. Hundreds of thousands of visitors every year come to Cheyenne for the event, and it’s been just as popular since its inception in 1897. 

The earliest known use of the Steamboat emblem was in 1918, about a decade after the photo was captured and used as inspiration.

The original photo the BH&R is based upon

 In 1938, Wyoming applied for a trademark on the emblem to use it on their newly issued license plates that year. Those license plates, still in production today with the emblem in the same place, are considered the longest running license plate motif in the world. 

The emblem has been on everything from football uniforms to business signs, from volleyballs to drinkware. If it exists, there’s probably a version of it with the steamboat symbol on it. 

One of the many origin stories that float around about this emblem, the one many Wyomingites are proudest of, was its inclusion on the insignia and uniforms of WWI battalions from Wyoming. 

The man who was said to be in the original photograph– the cowboy in the bucking horse and cowboy picture, was a man named Clayton Danks. The original photo was taken during his rodeo career, in 1908. Danks was a Wyoming native and passed away in Thermopolis in 1970. 

Steamboat got his name because his nose was injured when he was a foal and it made a high pitched whistling noise when he was galloping, “just like the whistling of a steamboat ship.” 

The university of Wyoming website described the eponymous horse as “Part tornado, part horse, Steamboat was undeniably one of Wyoming’s wildest residents. The 1,100-pound black bronc with three white stockings [was a champion,]” 

The giant bucking bronco was dubbed “The Horse That Couldn’t Be Ridden” was his tagline as one of the toughest horses to face off against in his 1908-1909 season. 

My mother, another lifelong Wyomingite and proud rodeo queen– said that the whole symbol was a way of telling the world that Wyoming is untamable. That those who would try to tame her will end up on their back, like Danks tried himself, just a few seconds after the famous image was captured. 

Steamboat, the horse, was given the greatest honor a horse could get. After his death in 1914, he was buried beneath chute 9 at Cheyenne Frontier Park, where the Cheyenne Frontier Days– the Daddy of them All, is held every year and where Steamboat spent nearly a decade terrorizing cowboys. 

Today the symbol is more than just a horse on a rider– it’s an example of Wyoming’s spirit, from the days when its first iteration graced the shoulders of boys in the military, to wearing the brown and gold for your favorite football team, the steamboat, or the Bucking Horse and Rider as it’s officially called, reminds all of the folks in Wyoming of their wild and rowdy roots and the spirit that makes the Cowboy State special. 

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