Women and horses have a complicated relationship: Women both identify with horses emotionally—connecting with the freedom they represent—and gain power from their ability to control them. One compelling example of this paradoxical relationship in women’s involvement in Wild West shows and the American rodeo.
Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West show, founded in 1883, featured pragmatic cowboy skill paired with romanticized and largely inaccurate depictions of life in the American West. Cody was a showman through and through, offering a certain amount of flamboyance and flair to the decidedly unglamorous, and often harsh, history of the cowboy and the frontier. Cody’s show included American Indians, however they were exoticized and portrayed as violent and aggressive, reinforcing problematic ideas held by many white Americans.
There was some truth to Cody’s Wild West show, though. Skilled performers, including women like sharp-shooter Annie Oakley (at right) and real-life cowboys exhibited their undisputable talents, making way for our modern rodeo competitions.