I’ll be honest. I’m a city girl — always have been, and likely always will be. So my knowledge of rough ridin’ cowboys ends at Hollywood Westerns and clichéd Clint Eastwood lines.
It’s safe to say that I didn’t even actually think true, genuine cowboys existed anymore. So when I heard the roughest, toughest rodeo was headed to the St. Paul Xcel Energy Center with authentic, real-life cowboys, I was more than curious.
And to find out more about these true southern gentlemen, I went to the toughest one out there. Bandy Murphy has won the title of “Toughest Cowboy” two out of the three years the competition has been in existence. He was raised on a ranch in Okeechobee, Florida — yes, Florida — and has been riding for most of his life, starting with rodeo school at 9 years old.
With a name like Bandy Murphy and a conversation where I was referred to as “ma’am” more times in my entire life, it seems I’ve gone to the perfect source.
So what does it mean to you to be a professional cowboy?
Bandy Murphy: It’s the only thing I ever wanted to do since I was real little. You know, I didn’t know all the particulars on everything I just knew I liked being around the rodeo. I wanted to be like all the cowboys I saw on TV or at the local pro rodeos. That’s kind of what I set my dreams and goals on. I’ve got a brother that’s a lawyer and sister that’s a chemical engineer, so it’s not exactly something that we were definitely made sure to do as we got older. We all got a chance to partake in it when we were younger.
Did you always grow up in the country or on a ranch?
Murphy: Yes, ma’am. Believe it or not but it was in West Florida. I was about 30 minutes, easily 30 minutes, from any store. I was seven miles down a dirt road, on a pretty good sized ranch out there. My father rodeoed right on up through high school, maybe a little later, but then he got my oldest brother on the way, and he decided he better hang it up and try something a little more safe.
You started when you were only 9 years old? How long did it take for you to get your bearings?
Murphy: I still don’t have them. In my opinion, there’s always room for improvement, I don’t care who you are.
You’ve been named the toughest cowboy champion two out of the three years that its been in existence. What does it mean to be the toughest cowboy?
Murphy: The title itself doesn’t do much for me, but the knowledge of what it took to obtain that title and as far as being a three-event rough stock rider, and being the best in the world at it, that to me means the most.
Your bio says your preferred event is bull riding, is there an event that’s your least favorite?
Murphy: No, ma’am, it’s truly not my most preferred. There’s a lot of stuff that gets mixed up in translation, I suppose. But they kept picking a (favorite) event and I don’t really have one. I like them all the same. I guess, pretty much my answer used to be, and I guess it still is, whatever one I can win the most money in. After giving an answer so often it became well, which one do you win the most money in? And that’s bull riding. But bare back riding is probably one that I don’t really enjoy and love to do all the time. Certain animals really make it fun but that’s just the way it is with all the events.
How much work does it take to prepare for a competition? And how much training do you do? When does it start?
Murphy: I’ve been living and breathing it everyday since I was about 6 or 7.
What’s the worst injury you’ve ever had from a competition?
Murphy: I just sustained it and it was at the Heartland finals in Waco, Texas. It was my fault, my mistake but I got hit with a bull’s horn on the left side of my face and it pretty much did away with my left cheek bone, it’s pretty much all metal now. It broke my eye socket, broke the bones behind my eye. I still have a hole on the left side of my nose, as far as the bone is concerned. That’s probably the most extensive. I’ve had other scrapes, bumps and bruises, a little broken finger and toe, nothing major. I’ve been super fortunate as far as all things considered.
Do injuries like that scare you at all or make you hesitant to get back at it?
Murphy: For me, I guess it gives me a reason to live. It lets you know you’re alive. But you can’t be at a level that we’re at, the guys that I compete with, unless you learn how to control certain things that are out of your control. You can’t control the animal hardly whatsoever. You can do certain things that may manipulate them a little bit, but not totally. If you can’t overcome death, the Marine theory on it, it’s not going to work out too well for you. But as far as the injuries and stuff, I don’t give them a second thought. I just went to my first couple of rodeos after this face injury and picked up some money, so it’s like I never stopped it, it’s completely out of my mind.
I hear you’re hoping to retire in a few years? That would make you a roughly 30-year-old retiree.
Murphy: I’m hoping to, I’m shooting for it. If I could get enough money to do whatever it is that I want to do, whatever that may be, after rodeo, that would suit me just fine. I’ve done more than I’ve ever dreamed I could. All my goals have been spent and anything here on out is just a bonus for me. I’ve made a good living. I’ve seen this part of the world, met a lot of good people. Had a lot of experiences. Done a lot of living, I guess.
What will you do after you retire?
Murphy: Right now, I work in remodeling and construction and different things for myself and for another guy, there’s that option. I really enjoy building different things, furniture and houses, but any cowboy’s dream would be to have a ranch. If I could ever get it and get enough to sustain itself and my family, that would be just right for me.
Any location in mind?
Murphy: I really like where I live now, Stevenville, Texas. Stevenville is considered, at least as far as the rodeo world is considered, as the cowboy capital of the world. I never believed it was true, until I actually went there. If it’s not, I’d like to see what was.
Are true cowboys a thing of the past or are they still around, like you?
Murphy: There’s a lot of guys, in my opinion, there’s rodeo cowboys and then there’s cowboys. And me myself, I was fortunate enough to be a cowboy, growing up and dabble in rodeo. And now I’m a full-time rodeo cowboy. It’s not a thing of the past. As soon as it becomes a thing of the past, we’ll all have to eat chicken. There’s a lot of guys that really emphasize being able to rope or being able to ride, as far as the rodeo world’s considered. I think a cowboy oughta be able to do all of it.
And not only be competitive in the arena, if that’s what he so chooses, but if he calls himself a cowboy, be able to work across his cattle, and train horses and different things like that. It would be everything and the above. Having said all that, if someone’s truly a cowboy is few and far in between.
What advice would you give to little kids that will be watching you at the Xcel Center at the end of the month and who might think, ‘Man, I want to be like him someday?’
Murphy: I’d tell them the pay gets better everyday. And that TV and all the things that you hear about with the bad, the broken, the busted, that happens, but that happens in any sport. If it’s something that you truly want to do, and want to see what you’re made out of, it would definitely be rodeo. Rodeo would be the choice. I’ve done a lot of other sports and the one that I’ve never, ever gotten bored with is rodeo.
Everyday is a new challenge, every time, if you don’t give it 100 percent, you’re not going to do well. I don’t really like how some, even rodeo people, try to tell how tough it is and everything else because there’s so many levels of it, there’s amateur levels, your mid rank level and your professional level. For whomever wants to try it, if they could just find a niche, it’ll be there for them. It’s not that scary all the time. It might be that 1 percent of the time and the other 99 percent of the time, you’ll have nothing but great things to say about it.
What’s one thing about being a cowboy that most people wouldn’t know?
Murphy: That you’re not going to recognize one every time you see one. They’re not always going to be in a hat, and boots and buckles, spittin’ and talkin’ like a backwards hick. But they all, always, should be polite, as far as I’m concerned. That might be the one way you could spot one, but other than that you’re not always going to be able to pick them out of the crowd.
The World’s Toughest Rodeo heads to the Xcel on Jan. 29-30. What should people know about this rodeo and what would you say to encourage them to check it out?
Murphy: This is supposed to be the greatest live show they’ll ever go to.