The Greatest – Jimmy Cleveland

A Pinch of Rodeo

By Joe R. Nichols

The Greatest – Jimmy Cleveland

When rodeo cowboys get together, there’s often a discussion about who is the best ever in a particular event. I have several friends that could be considered the greatest of all time in their event, but for the Bareback Bronc Riding, my vote goes to Jimmy Cleveland from Hollis, Oklahoma.

He was the most analytical person that ever competed in rodeo. He dissected a bareback riggin down to the most minute detail. The angles and geometry were calculated to the last millimeter. The way he strapped his spurs to his boots had a specific effect. He even adjusted the spin of the rowels for each individual horse. On bended knee, he used a screwdriver to loosen or tighten the screw to get the desired drag, spinning the rowel like he was tuning a carburetor. The fit of his glove, the shape of the handhold, the position of how he set the riggin on the horse, everything was done for a purpose, and he wasn’t guessing. He knew more about the science of his event than anybody before or since.

Jimmy rode with more control than anyone I ever saw. He looked like a computerized machine more than a human being. He could ride rank horses flawlessly, and dress up the mediocre ones. He could win on any type bronc. His style was aggressive, yet smooth. He was poetry in motion.

My good friend Dale Hirschman, who is a great rodeo photographer, showed Jimmy a picture he had taken of him. Dale made the comment, “Boy, I don’t how it happens, but every picture I get of you, your eyes are closed.”

Jimmy gave Dale a hesitating stare, “I ride with my eyes closed.”

“What?” Dale replied in disbelief.

“Yeah, I close my eyes when I ride. It helps me feel the horse better with my feet.”

Now, think about that. Would you get on a bucking horse, have them turn him loose, and close your eyes? I’ve shut my eyes when I had been launched toward the fence like a torpedo, but never while I was still trying to stay on. That would take a tremendous amount of confidence. But, you know? He was in such perfect time with those bucking horses, he did ride with his feet.

I guess that’s why he was, and is, the greatest.

 

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