In this neck of the woods, we’ve all spent some time driving down wide open roads. We’ve all travelled many a mile to reach our destinations. So, when I’m anxious to get where I’m going, I’m all alone, and the drive is boring, sometimes the very first beat of a familiar old favorite tune gets me super pumped up. It’s a welcome little surprise to break the monotony. There are just tunes, however lame, that make me giddy every time I hear them. Shall I go ahead and embarrass myself by listing a few? Yes? Okay. Let’s start with Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.” Oh, also, Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” pretty much rocks my world. How about the theme song to The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air? Yeah, I know several of you are totally on board with me, so don’t even deny it.
Anyway, on this particular day, on my way to meet this week’s cowboy, my little nugget of sheer bliss came when the first note of Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” started playing. Yep. I know, I know. I’m not “gangsta.” I’m quite sure I’ve never even been in the vicinity of a real ghetto. But, listen… that song is my jam. Or, at least one of my jams (lest we forget “Billie Jean”).
And, as I’m driving along singing (rapping?) quite loudly, “power and the money, money and the power, minute after minute, hour after hour,” it occurs to me how ridiculous it is that this is what’s playing on my way to meet one of the truest country boys I know. Internally, I decide I will turn it down as I roll onto the property. After all, I wouldn’t want my cowboy to balk at my music choices and be more reserved than he’s already likely to be.
As I drive through the gate, my hand instinctually goes to the volume knob. I pull up and see my cowboy on horseback. Surprise! There are horses involved… A LOT of horses. Mr. Rusty Miller is doing his thing. Over and over again, one single calf is turned out into the arena, and, Rusty is heeling them. (I just learned that term, by the way, so forgive me if I’ve used it incorrectly in this sentence. Ha!) He’s moving really quickly on those horses. Wow. Dirt and dust swirls. I coax myself, “okay, Amy, get out there and get some pictures. It’ll be a-ok!”
Thank goodness Rusty’s wife Rachel is there, and this is all second nature to her. She looks at me, tells me very bluntly that I’ll be cold and did not dress appropriately. “Mmmmkay. Yet another surprise. I’m never dressed appropriately for these things,” I think as she escorts me into the arena. I had come straight from the gym. It’s either wear my running shorts out there or be late. I opted for punctuality instead of warmth.
Rusty rides over to greet me. More internal dialogue courses through my head. “Don’t get too close on that thing, bucko.” Rachel, again, comes to my rescue and reminds him that I’m scared of horses.
“I’m gonna have you riding one of these before you leave,” Rusty retorts and smiles at me. He’s such a nice, nice guy. He’s truly just a genuine, what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of guy. “And, where’s your clothes?!?”
Yeah, yeah… I get it. It’s windy as heck out here and chilly, but it’s too late now.
As Rachel and I talk a bit about what’s happening with all these horses and calves, I notice a puppy with a bit too much energy. Every time Rusty rides by, that puppy is close on his heels. And, every time, Rachel yells, “Izzy, NO,” then resumes her conversation with me. Izzy is really having none of that. Izzy is on a mission. Izzy does not exhibit a single ounce of self-control. And, then? Then Izzy must have gotten tired because Izzy decided to take rest on my feet. Yep. I’m standing in an outdoor arena with dust and dirt swirling about as the very creatures of which I’m terrified are racing right past me over and over again. It’s flippin’ freezing, and my not so smart self is in shorts. So, I’ve got a thin coat of dirt on my skin. And, now, a really adorable, active puppy is sitting on my feet. And, just think… ten minutes prior, I was comfortably driving along in my warm car loudly singing about “gangstas.” Sigh. My how the tides have changed.
Rachel tells me this is what Rusty does for a living. He trains horses to be roping horses. As I’m standing there taking pictures, I find the whole thing really quite beautiful and majestic. Between the two of them (Rusty and the horse – ha!), there is so much power and knowledge and strength and patience. It’s impressive. This cowboy is my first rodeoing cowboy. All the rest have really been more of the day working type. So, this is different and new for me. I’m enjoying it… from a distance.
I’m anxious to talk to Rusty. Rachel and I have grown to be good friends over the past several months, but her husband is a tad elusive. He very much seems the strong, silent type. Probably 95% of what I know about Rusty going into this has been via Rachel. So, I’m excited to hear his words, witness his demeanor, get a glimpse of his soul…
We sit down… me, Rusty, Rachel, and Izzy. (Izzy will not be excluded.) I want to know if this has always been in his blood. I want to know his history. He tells me he was born in El Paso where, evidently, there is a lot of team roping. Evidently, there are also sand dunes.
“At a young age, I opened the chutes for my own dad. But, I was into riding motorcycles, four wheelers, and dirt bikes at the sand dunes.”
So, essentially, he was exposed to it, but he wasn’t terribly interested in it. He preferred motorized vehicles to the four-legged type. He goes on, “dad would say if I could rope the dummy ten times, he’d give me five bucks.” As he’s relaying this story, I can see that he likely could not have cared any less about roping or rodeoing or horses back then. Sure, he’d rope that dummy ten times and collect his money, but then he was on his way to things more interesting.
In 1989, his family moved to May. I could be wrong, but I don’t believe there are sand dunes in May. What May does have in common with El Paso, however, are rodeos. So, what’s a boy to do? I guess a boy’s to start entering junior rodeos. “I won my first buckle in Blanket. Actually, Rees wears it now,” and he waves his hand over his shoulder in the general direction of his five year old son who’s running about and roping the dummy himself.
I think it’s kind of adorable that Rees wears his dad’s buckle. Personally, I’m seeing a little mini Rusty. Rees is obviously very much enjoying life out here at the moment.
We move on. “So, Rusty, why do you love it so much?” (And, by “it,” I mean training horses and rodeoing. You know, things of that nature.)
Without a thought comes his inquisitive, sarcastic reply, “I love it now?” He kind of laughs. Then he gets serious. “It has it’s perks. I love being my own boss. I’ve trained horses that ended up at the NFR. I enjoy seeing my horses there, but I’d prefer it be me.”
Training roping horses seems to be a craft. It seems to take a lot of work, a lot of knowledge, a lot of repetition, and a lot of patience. I can see that Rusty takes pride in his work, as he should. I can see that it’s an accomplishment to see your handiwork at the NFR. But, I can also see that he carries some disappointment in an unfulfilled dream.
“I had a goal in mind… the NFR. I rodeo’d hard in ’02. Most young guys…” And he trails off. The direction shifts gears. “I didn’t do the party scene.” As it turns out, a young, single Rusty devoted every effort to attaining his goal in 2002. He worked hard… so very hard. He never took his eyes off the prize. He had no interest in the party scene, no interest in dating. I can tell that he sacrificed much during that year in an effort to focus on and achieve a goal. It seems he poured his heart and soul into this.
Unfortunately, it did not come to fruition. He returned home emotionally battered and bruised. He had not been able to attain what he’d worked so hard to attain. He had returned home feeling as though he’d failed.
I know that everyone has different interests and passions. But, stick with me on this. Can you imagine essentially training a lifetime and then devoting a YEAR of your life to your passion only to have it squashed? That’s kind of a big deal. No, actually, it’s a really big deal.
So, Rusty (though he never said this specifically) was heartbroken. He was, well… depressed. He went back to training horses. About seven months later, a man “brought a horse for us to breed, and it was like something slapped me upside the head!”
I know you’re wondering what’s so special about this guy. Why is this guy and his horse any different than anyone else? The difference? This guy had a daughter named Rachel. Let’s all say it collectively now. “Awwwww!”
I now know that Rusty claims that meeting Rachel, his future wife, saved him. He’d met his companion, his partner, his helpmate, and it snapped him out of his funk. And, from my friendship with Rachel, I know that she works hard alongside him. I know that she’s getting in there, getting dirty, and it all seems very natural for her. So, I devise my next question mostly because I want to hear him answer it in front of Rachel. (Insert mischievous snickering.)
Me: How much help is Rachel? Did you have to teach her, or did she grow up in this world?
Rusty: I couldn’t do it without her. She’s my secretary, I guess. (He glances over at her in anticipation as he makes the next statement.) But, I had to school her.
Rachel: (Her head spins his direction and she instantly replies.) Shut up! I came equipped!
We all laugh. Well, Rusty and I laugh. Maybe Rachel didn’t find it amusing. Internally, I’m loving the dynamic between this husband and wife.
We talk a bit more. I start to ask him my set list of questions that I ask every cowboy. And, I can see how his answers are a result of 2002. I can see that, while Rachel snapped him out of it, she could not erase its effect on him. I ask him, “how would you feel if your biggest passion in life was taken from you?”
He gets a bit quiet. He’s thinking. He’s slower to respond. (This question usually always elicits something along those lines.) Then he responds, “hmm… it would be a void. I’ve had lows. I’ve hit rock bottom… it’s all how you bounce back.” And, with that, I realize that he did have his biggest passion taken away from him in ’02. I also realize that he has worked hard and bounced back. He’s worked extra hard to be able to continue to work in the world he loves whilst taking care of his wife and children. In his own words, he’s a “hunter/gatherer; a provider.” And, boy, is he ever. I’ve never known someone to work as hard as he does. I’ve always been acutely aware of his deep, deep responsibility and desire to provide for his family.
His next answer absolutely reiterates that. When asked what single piece of advice he’d give to a large group of people, he responded with something that I kind of love. I wasn’t expecting it.
“Everyone says follow your dreams. Blah, blah, blah. But, I say work hard because sometimes your dreams don’t come true.”
I guess that’s why I love asking that question so much. Typically, everyone’s answer is born of their own experiences. Typically, the answer to this question is a summation of their story. It’s telling. I press on.
Me: And, Rusty, what do you think makes a man a truly good man?
Him: A strong work ethic, good morals, values. All that kind of stuff. You do what you say you’re gonna do.
Me: Do you think you’re a good man? (I absolutely knew how he’d answer this question before I asked it.)
Him: A good man? I try. Maybe some days?
His wife sits there silently, and the air feels a little heavy. Like I said before, he’s a quiet kind of guy. He’s not flashy and showy. He’s not looking for anyone to notice him. He’s rockin’ through life loving and providing for his wife and kids. He’s a hard working family man. I would expect nothing but humility from him. So, I look at Rachel. This time, I devise the next question strictly because I want to hear her answer it in front of her dang good man of a husband.
Me: Is he a good man?
Rachel: I think he’s way too hard on himself. Of course he is.
And, she says it with surety. She says it emphatically. She says it like she couldn’t wait to be asked that question. I just love it. At this moment, I’m just feeling all sappy. Love and reassurance and all that sentimental stuff is in the air. It’s all been laid out there. Well, almost all.
I apparently have saved the best question for last. I look at him and say, “Tell me something about you that most people would be surprised to know.” The following dialogue ensues:
Rusty: I’m pretty dull. I’m just an ordinary person, I guess.
Rachel: (She looks at him slightly apprehensively mixed with an OH-MY-GOSH-I-CAN’T-WAIT-TO-SPILL-THE-DIRT-ON-YOU kind of look. She can’t get the words out of her mouth fast enough.) He can rap almost every Eminem and Kid Rock song!!!
Rusty: (With a bright red face and through his laughter, he responds quickly.) I’m a closet rapper.
Well, my, my, my. How the tides have changed yet again. Turns out this very hard working, strong, silent, dedicated country boy would not balk at my music choices after all. As it were, Rusty and I have one thing in common: closet rapping.
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