Great State: Blind Bronc Rider Competes With a Different Kind of Courage

SHAWNEE, OKLAHOMA — The crackling voice on the P.A. system, the hum of the crowd, the rattle of a rodeo chute; these are things bareback bronc rider Taylor Howell knows.

“Man, it’s getting my adrenaline going and I’m not even getting on,” he says while rummaging through his equipment bag.

He’s also familiar with the rhythm of rigging up, and of knowing that everything in his gear bag has a place.

“I think everybody has it in their head you want to score 90 points every time you call for that gate,” he continues. But in 7 months of riding broncs he’s never actually seen one.

Howell is profoundly blind.

“It sounds like you don’t let much stop you,” remarks a rodeo visitor.

“Nope,” he responds. “I never have. I wasn’t raised that way.”

A rare form of cancer at the age of 2 robbed all of his sight.

Taylor has no memory of being able to see.

But his family taught him to take on any challenge.

There were horses on his place.

He would learn to ride them even if they bucked.

He says, “I’ve seen a lot of people who can see who don’t do anything like that and there’s no excuse, I don’t think.” Howell looks like any other young cowboy at the International Finals Youth Rodeo.

He’s made friends fast since moving to Oklahoma from California.

“He’s a heckuva guy,” says steer roper Jacob Pothoff. “I like being around him.”

But even his new, rough and tumble, companions can’t figure out how he rides.

“Heck,” says another friend Ben Meeks. “I’ve tried to walk around with my eyes closed and feel around. It’s hard to do.”

“I ain’t going to try it either,” says Pothoff. “I mean power to him for getting on broncs without being able to see but I ain’t about to jump off no horse with my eyes closed.”

Only Taylor himself can put what he does to words.

“Grab a locomotive with a hay hook and let it jerk on your arm;” he says.

It’s an 8 second ride if you’re¬†good enough.

It’s an unbelievable ride if you never open your eyes at all.

Taylor Howell lives in Warner, Oklahoma for the summer.

This fall he’ll join the rodeo team at Conners State College.

As for his performance at the 2014 IFYR, Howell didn’t make the 8 seconds he needed to post a score on either of his go rounds.