Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Steers and Queers

New Mexico's gay rodeo is bucking the stereotype


In an arena traditionally dominated by white straight men, gay rodeo has broken the mold. Male or female, gay or straight, no matter what your skin color, everyone can compete. It’s also a safe space to meet and share camaraderie with LGBTQ+ community members.

In most hard-core physical sports, you're over the hill at 40. At 69, International Gay Rodeo Hall of Famer, Brian Helander has plans to compete in the Santa Fe Zia Regional Gay Rodeo this August, including wrestling steers to the ground. He started competing at 42.

The Paper. spoke with Helander and got some insider info on the New Mexico Gay Rodeo Association (NMGRA), and how to bring a steer down on foot. New Mexico isn’t a stand alone, gay rodeos are held throughout the United States and Canada. Helander, past president of the International Gay Rodeo Association, is a legend in the sport and holds more awards that we have space to include.

Women can compete alongside men in gay rodeo, “There's no difference between the men and the women doing any event; bull riding, steer riding, steer wrestling, team moping, calf roping, they're not relegated to barrel racing,” Helander said.

Steer Wrestling 

The wrestling begins by running alongside a steer and using a technique to turn the steer on its side. “You get set to bring the steer down in the chute. You grab the right horn with your right hand, you put your left hand over the horn and under the chin,” Helander explained. “You have to use a ‘super-secret’ special technique to sweep the steer off of its feet and place it on the ground.” 

Open to Novice Participants

There are three events where someone who's never been in the arena can see how they are as a cowboy or cowgirl. “They don’t even have to ride a horse. You don't have to look good doing it. You can be silly. You can be whatever,” Helander said.

- Calf Roping on Foot: A calf is released from the chute and the roper tries to rope the calf and then lets the rope go.

- Dressing a Goat: Team of two. Run 50 ft to a tethered goat. One person picks up the back legs; the other person slips a pair of underwear on the goat, then runs back across the 50-ft line. Helander has held the international world record for goat dressing for 15 years - 7.76 seconds.

Steer Decorating: Team of two. The steer is released from the chute. One person holds the end of the rope from the steer and their partner runs from a 50-foot line. They have a ribbon to put on the tail of the steer and run back. Again…there are super-secret ways to do it.

Cowboy Life

Tim Montgomery, a trustee of NMGRA has a ranch three hours north of Albuquerque. His ranching style is as a ‘whisperer’. “We don't push any of the animals. We don’t break horses. We encourage them; they have trust in us. We work on foot, or horse, without four wheelers.”

Montgomery said as owners pass on and family members sell off the family ranch for development, there is now less opportunity to learn the skills needed to compete in a rodeo. He is open to taking on an apprentice that’s interested in learning their ranching lifestyle. Montgomery, his husband, and adopted son will compete in barrel racing at the Santa Fe rodeo.

“People are very accepting of my husband and I; [being LGBTQ] it's really a non-issue. They don't see us as the ‘gay guys’, we're just part of the community,” Montgomery explained. “That's how we live.”

The Santa Fe Zia Regional Gay Rodeo is August 25-27. Get tickets and event schedule at


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