story by Catharine Lo
photos by Ann Cecil
The gate opens, and out charges a steer with a pink ribbon stuck to its ‘okole. Alongside the steer gallops the “hazer,” whose job is to drive the steer toward the center of the arena. Astride another horse, a little girl with a blond ponytail tears across the dirt in pursuit. In six seconds (about the time it might take to read this sentence), she catches up with it, reaches down, and yanks the ribbon off its behind. The rider is 10-year-old Lorrie Ann Smith, one of the most promising up-and-comers in women’s rodeo.
What Lorrie Ann is doing is called, aptly, “steer undecorating,” a popular rodeo event for cowgirls that pits the rider against the clock. Racing the clock intensifies the action at Hawai‘i Women’s Rodeo Association-sanctioned rodeos, where many young paniolo first take the reins. But don’t imagine that youth equals inexperience: Teenagers can jump off their horses and tie a goat’s legs in seven seconds. Seven-year-olds can dash across the arena, slalom through six poles, and hustle back to the gate in twenty-five seconds.
The Hawai‘i Women’s Rodeo Association was established in 1992 to preserve the heritage of the Hawaiian paniolo and provide wahine paniolo with a forum for competition. Despite its name, however, the organization is comprised of both women and men—vice president John Teixeira was the first male elected to the board—and the group is really more a family affair than a women’s-only club.
HWRA sponsors six jackpot rodeos on O‘ahu each year, leading up to the annual All-Girls Rodeo; the next one is scheduled for Sept. 8 at Kualoa Ranch on O‘ahu. These rodeos feature the female-friendly events of barrel racing and pole bending, along with various exhibitions like team sorting (in which a pair of riders pull numbered cows out of a herd in numeric sequence) and steer undecorating—which Lorrie Ann has just ably demonstrated.
Lorrie Ann is the oldest of the five children who comprise the Smith cattle-tending family’s fifth generation. Their grandfather, paniolo hall of famer Max Bigler Smith, founded Gunstock Ranch on O‘ahu’s North Shore thirty-five years ago. Their father Greg, who was born and raised on the 300-acre working ranch, now manages the sixty-horse, 300-head cattle operation. Greg and his family are regulars at HWRA rodeos, including today’s event at Diamond J. Ranch in Wai‘anae.
“Rodeo is the fun part of having horses. You get to compete and show off your skills. Otherwise, it would all be work,” says Greg as he watches Lorrie Ann get ready for another run. The events at a rodeo aren’t just artificial games, he points out. They all demonstrate the skills paniolo need to perform their everyday work on a ranch. “Except bull riding—that’s just a bunch of guys getting drunk! Women are usually smarter than that.”