Bustin’ Broncs and Other Ways of Having Fun Just a Cowboy at Heart
Every story has a beginning.
Mine starts in north-central Texas. I grew up in small towns where I
learned the importance of family and traditional values, like
patriotism, self-reliance, and watching out for your family and
neighbors. I’m proud to say that I still try to live my life according
to those values. I have a strong sense of justice.
It’s pretty much black-and-white. I don’t see too much gray. I think
it’s important to protect others. I don’t mind hard work. At the
same time, I like to have fun. Life’s too short not to.
I was raised with, and still believe in, the Christian faith. If I had
to order my priorities, they would be God, Country, Family.
There might be some debate on where those last two fall—these days
I’ve come around to believing that Family may, under some
circumstances, outrank Country. But it’s a close race.
I’ve always loved guns, always loved hunting, and in a way I guess you
could say I’ve always been a cowboy. I was riding horses from the time
I could walk. I wouldn’t call myself a true cowboy today, because
it’s been a long time since I’ve worked a ranch, and I’ve probably
lost a lot of what I had in the saddle. Still, in my heart if I’m not
a SEAL I’m a cowboy, or should be. Problem is, it’s a hard way to
make a living when you have a family.
I don’t remember when I started hunting, but it would have been when I
was very young. My family had a deer lease a few miles from our house,
and we would hunt every winter. (For you Yankees: a deer lease is a
property where the owner rents or leases hunting rights out for a
certain amount of time; you pay your money and you get the right to go
out and hunt. Y’all probably have different arrangements where you
live, but this one is pretty common down here.) Besides deer, we’d
hunt turkey, doves, quail—whatever was in season. “We” meant my
mom, my dad, and my brother, who’s four years younger than me. We’d
spend the weekends in an old RV trailer. It wasn’t very big, but we
were a tight little family and we had a lot of fun.
My father worked for Southwestern Bell and AT&T—they split and then
came back together over the length of his career. He was a manager, and
as he’d get promoted we’d have to move every few years. So in a way
I was raised all over Texas.
Even though he was successful, my father hated his job. Not the work,
really, but what went along with it. The bureaucracy. The fact that he
had to work in an office. He really hated having to wear a suit and tie
“I don’t care how much money you get,” my dad used to tell me.
“It’s not worth it if you’re not happy.” That’s the most
valuable piece of advice he ever gave me: Do what you want in life. To
this day I’ve tried to follow that philosophy.
In a lot of ways my father was my best friend growing up, but he was
able at the same time to combine that with a good dose of fatherly
discipline. There was a line and I never wanted to cross it.
I got my share of whuppin’s (you Yankees will call ’em spankings)
when I deserved it, but not to excess and never in anger. If my dad was
mad, he’d give himself a few minutes to calm down before administering
a controlled whuppin’—followed by a hug.
To hear my brother tell it, he and I were at each others throats most of
the time. I don’t know if that’s true, but we did have our share of
tussles. He was younger and smaller than me, but he could give as good
he got, and he’d never give up. He’s a tough character and one of my
closest friends to this day. We gave each other hell, but we also had a
lot of fun and always knew we had each others back.
Our high school used to have a statue of a panther in the front lobby.
We had a tradition each year where seniors would try and put incoming
freshmen on the panther as a hazing ritual. Freshmen, naturally,
resisted. I had graduated when my brother became a freshman, but I came
back on his first day of school and offered a hundred dollars to anyone
who could sit him on that statue.
I still have that hundred dollars.
While I got into a lot of fights, I didn’t start most of them. My dad
made it clear I’d get a whuppin’ if he found out I started a fight.
We were supposed to be above that.
Defending myself was a different story. Protecting my brother was even
better—if someone tried to pick on him, I’d lay them out.
I was the only one allowed to whip him.
Somewhere along the way, I started sticking up for younger kids who were
getting picked on. I felt I had to look out for them. It became my duty.
Maybe it began because I was looking for an excuse to fight without
getting into trouble. I think there was more to it than that; I think my
father’s sense of justice and fair play influenced me more than I knew
at the time, and even more than I can say as an adult.
But whatever the reason, it sure gave me plenty of opportunities for
getting into scrapes.
My family had a deep faith in God. My dad was a deacon, and my mom
taught Sunday school. I remember a stretch when I was young when we
would go to church every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday
evening. Still, we didn’t consider ourselves overly religious, just
good people who believed in God and were involved in our church. Truth
is, back then I didn’t like going a lot of the time.
My dad worked hard. I suspect it was in his blood—his father was a
Kansas farmer, and those people worked hard. One job was never enough
for my dad—he had a feed store for a bit when I was growing up, and we
had a pretty modest-sized ranch we all worked to keep going. He’s
retired now, officially, but you can still find him working for a local
veterinarian when he’s not tending to things on his small ranch.
My mother was also a really hard worker. When my brother and I were old
enough to be on our own, she went to work as a counselor at a juvenile
detention center. It was a rough job, dealing with difficult kids all
day long, and eventually she moved on. She’s retired now, too, though
she keeps herself busy with part-time work and her grandchildren.
Ranching helped fill out my school days. My brother and I would have our
different chores after school and on the weekends: feed and look after
the horses, ride through the cattle, inspect the fences.
Cattle always give you problems. I’ve been kicked in the leg, kicked
in the chest, and yes, kicked where the sun doesn’t shine. Never been
kicked in the head, though. That might have set me straight.
Growing up, I raised steers and heifers for FFA, Future Farmers of
America. (The name is now officially The National FFA Organization.) I
loved FFA and spent a lot of time grooming and showing cattle, even
though dealing with the animals could be frustrating. I’d get pissed
off at them and think I was king of the world. When all else failed, I
was known to whack ’em upside their huge hard heads to knock some
sense into them. Twice I broke my hand.
Like I said, getting hit in the skull may have set me straight. I kept
my head when it came to guns, but I was still passionate about them.
Like a lot of boys, my first “weapon” was a Daisy multi-pump BB
rifle—the more you pumped, the more powerful your shot. Later on, I
had a CO2-powered revolver that looked like the old 1860 Peacemaker Colt
model. I’ve been partial to Old West firearms ever since, and after
getting out of the Navy, I’ve started collecting some very
fine-looking replicas. My favorite is an 1861 Colt Navy Revolver replica
manufactured on the old lathes.
I got my first real rifle when I was seven or eight years old. It was a
bolt-action 30-06. It was a solid gun—so “grown-up” that it scared
me to shoot at first. I came to love that gun, but as I recall what I
really lusted after was my brother’s Marlin 30-30. It was lever
Yes, there was a theme there.
You’re not a cowboy until you can break a horse. I started learning
when I was in high school; at first, I didn’t know a whole heck of a
lot. It was just: Hop on them and ride until they quit bucking. Do your
best to stay on.
I learned much more as I got older, but most of my early education came
on the job—or on the horse, so to speak. The horse would do something,
and I would do something. Together, we came to an understanding.
Probably the most important lesson was patience. I wasn’t a patient
person by nature. I had to develop that talent working with horses; it
would end up being extremely valuable when I became a sniper—and even
when I was courting my wife.
Unlike cattle, I never found a reason to smack a horse. Ride them till I
wore them out, sure. Stay on them till they realized who was boss,
absolutely. But hit a horse? Never saw a reason good enough. Horses are
smarter than cattle. You can work a horse into cooperating if you give
it enough time and patience.
I don’t know if I exactly had a talent for breaking horses or not, but
being around them fed my appetite for all things cowboy. So, looking
back, it isn’t very surprising that I got involved in rodeo
competitions while still in school. I played sports in high school—
baseball and football—but nothing compared with the excitement of the
Every high school has its different cliques: jocks, nerds, and so on.
The crew I was hanging out with were the “ropers.” We had the boots
and jeans, and in general looked and acted like cowboys.
I wasn’t a real roper—I couldn’t have lassoed a calf worth a lick
at that point—but that didn’t stop me from getting involved in
rodeos around age sixteen.
I started out by riding bulls and horses at a small local place where
you paid twenty bucks to ride as long as you could stay on.
You would have to supply your own gear—spurs, chaps, your rigging.
There was nothing fancy about it: you got on and fell off, and got on
again. Gradually, I stayed on longer and longer, and finally got to the
point where I felt confident enough to enter some small local rodeos.
Bustin’ a bull is a little different than taming a horse. They buck
forward, but their skin is so loose that when they’re going forward,
you not only go forward but you slip side to side. And bulls can really
spin. Let me put it this way: staying on top of a bull is not an easy
I rode bulls for about a year, without a ton of success. Wising up, I
went to horses and ended up trying saddle bronc bustin’. This is the
classic event where you not only have to stay on the horse for eight
seconds, but also do so with style and finesse. For some reason, I did a
lot better in this event than the others, and so I kept with it for
quite a while, winning my share of belt buckles and more than one fancy
saddle. Not that I was a champion, mind you, but I did well enough to
spread some prize money around the bar.
I also got some attention from the buckle bunnies, rodeo’s version of
female groupies. It was all good. I enjoyed going from city to city,
traveling, partying, and riding.
Call it the cowboy lifestyle.
I continued riding after I graduated high school in 1992 and started
going to college at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas.
For those of you who don’t know it, Tarleton was founded in 1899 and
joined the Texas A&M University system in 1917. They’re the third
largest non-land-grant agriculture university in the country. The school
has a reputation for turning out excellent ranch and farm managers as
well as agricultural education teachers.
At the time, I was interested in becoming a ranch manager.
Before enrolling, though, I had given some thought to the military.
My mom’s dad had been an Army Air Force pilot, and for a while I
thought of becoming an aviator. Then I considered becoming a Marine—I
wanted to see real action. I liked the idea of fighting. I also heard a
bit about special operations, and thought about joining Marine Recon,
which is the Corps’ elite special warfare unit.
But my family, Mom especially, wanted me to go to college. Eventually, I
saw it their way: I decided I would go to school first, then join the
military. Heck, the way I looked at it, doing that meant I could party
for a while before getting down to business.
I was still doing rodeo, and getting fairly good at it. But my career
ended abruptly around the end of my freshman year, when a bronco flipped
over on me in a chute at a competition in Rendon, Texas. The guys
watching me couldn’t open up the chute because of the way the horse
came down, so they had to pull him back over on top of me. I still had
one foot in the stirrup, and was dragged and kicked so hard I lost
consciousness. I woke up in a life-flight helicopter flying to the
hospital. I ended up with pins in my wrists, a dislocated shoulder,
broken ribs, and a bruised lung and kidney.
Probably the worst part of the recovery was the dang pins. They were
actually big screws about a quarter-inch thick.
Excerpted from "American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History" by Chris Kyle. Copyright © 0 by Chris Kyle. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.