Interview with Ann Kinney

Duncans Mills, California on September 11, 2016 | Interviewer: Rebecca Scofield

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Rebecca Scofield: This is Rebecca Scofield and I am here with Ann Kinney, it's September 11, 2016 and we are at the Rodeo on the River in Duncan Mills, California. Can I ask what year you were born?
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Ann Kinney: 1996, I mean 1961, sorry, there we go. Edit! 1961.
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RS: And where were you born?
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AK: Bowling Green, Ohio.
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RS: Is that where you grew up?
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AK: No. I was only there for about 3 years. My dad sold farm equipment so he would get transferred every 3 years. And we moved to Minnesota, and then about 3 years later we moved to Sacramento, and lived in town for 3 years and then they bought 40 acres. 40 acre ranch in Harold, California and so I from about age 9 to 18 I grew up there.
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RS: And you said there was about 40 acres. Did they do cattle or farming?
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AK: Yeah and we tried our hand at raising some dairy calves and moved on to angus beef.
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RS: Did you work on the farm pretty consistently?
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AK: Oh yeah. Yeah. I had irrigation to do and chores to do before I went to school and when I got home. We had a lot of horses, did a lot of horseback riding and had a pony cart for my little pony. All of my friends and I would tear around the countryside on that.
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RS: Did you have siblings?
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AK: I have a brother who's almost 3 years older than me, and I have an older sister who is about 13 years older than me.
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RS: And when did you first come across the gay rodeo?
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AK: Well my first gay rodeo I went to was when I was living in Dallas, Texas. And went down to the Houston rodeo, and didn't realize then that I could be in it. And then it was '96. 1996 was the year I first got started in the rodeo.
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RS: And had you done any rodeoing before that?
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AK: No, none whatsoever. Did some roping on the ranch but other than that, never. I always wanted to try my hand at bronc riding. That was a thing I had a passion about for some reason, so that's what I was mainly focused on getting in to.
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RS: Had you ever gone and watched a lot of rodeos growing up?
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AK: Oh yeah, went to a lot of rodeos. I had one birthday when I was a teenager that my dad said for your birthday present we're going to go to the Del Rodeo and Comanche Rodeo and all these so every weekend we were going to a rodeo, so that was pretty cool.
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RS: And why were you living in Texas? What had taken you to Texas?
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AK: Had some friends that were going, and I, you know, was pretty young out of high school and just thought why not. So I went to Texas and lived there, I think, about 4 years I lived there.
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RS: So after you saw gay rodeo were you pretty hooked?
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AK: Well like I said I didn't give it much thought when I went to that rodeo 'cause I wasn't really thinking, "I could be in this, I could do this." I would have liked to have started then, 'cause that was probably 1983. I would have liked to have started then. It would have been a little easier on my body then. So that would have been great but like I said I didn't give it a second thought that I could actually be in it.
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RS: When you went to your first one were you out at the time?
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AK: Yeah. Oh yeah.
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RS: Can I ask when you came out?
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AK: Um, gee. I was probably at least 18, I knew I was gay when I was like 11, so before…well, actually before I was 18 because I was going out to bars that I had no business being in. So yeah, before I was 18.
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RS: And did your family react well to that or was it a struggle for them?
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AK: They kind of had denial issues about a lot of things. My parents were older. My mom was 42 when she gave birth to me, and she thought I could do no wrong or, anything that would disappoint her so…it wasn't really talked about…I had a little bit of a drinking issue and I've been clean and sober 26 years now. So even with that, there was denial that there was a problem. But probably in the '90s is when it really became more of an issue and at first my dad really had an issue with it. My mom just kind of went, you know, "it's okay, it's my baby" you know so. And then my dad got over it too. After my mom passed away my dad moved out to California and lived with me for a little over a year and he got a little okay with it.
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RS: So you would have been in your 30s when you really started competing. How was getting into the sport at that age?
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AK: As far as what? Physical fitness?
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RS: Mhm.
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AK: Well, we could always be more physically fit. I don't think I was in bad shape, but I could have been in a whole lot better shape to be doing what I was doing. And then, I think it was in 2000, at finals, that was the first year that I actually qualified in broncs for finals and went to Albuquerque. I made my ride on Saturday and, on Sunday, when I came off the bronc I came off on the left side and landed on my shoulder and I was sick. I had enlarged liver and spleen and had no business being there. So when I came off the bronc, I actually landed on my shoulder and split my spleen in half. I got up and walked out of the arena and I just had all this pain. I didn't know that was internal bleeding. I went over and watched a few more people ride through the re-rides and then when I went over to the other side to pack up my gear. It was Chuck Browning or…anyways I started getting faint, dizzy, and [Chuck] asked me if I needed a medic and I said I need something because I started feeling like I was going to pass out because I didn't realize I was bleeding internally. I spent at least a week in Albuquerque in a hospital. I had to get surgery and get completely cut open and get my spleen removed, so that was exciting. Didn't stop me—that was exciting.
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RS: Have you had other injuries since then?
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AK: Not too many, I don't think. I've had some bad bruises. I don't break real easy so that's pretty good. And actually getting my spleen out helped a lot of my health issues so, I don't know what was going on there, but I mean I've been banged up pretty good but nothing…nothing too bad. Nothing broken--we'll put it that way.
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RS: So, as a woman was it ever frustrating that you couldn't bronc ride at mainstream rodeo?
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AK: I think that had I been younger, I would have been quite frustrated. Ssome of the women I know did ride 'cause there's the Women's Professional Rodeo Association and I know at least one woman who competed with us that also competed in that and it was always kind of my goal to ride as well as her. So, I always liked when she went out on her bronc first and I was like okay I'm going to do it like that. It really helped just, you know, when you watch something that's good and then you go okay that's how it's done. I think if I had been younger it would have been really frustrating, very, very much so. Because it was a lot of fun, and my mom asked me before she passed away to stop. And then after she passed away I started bull riding because she never said don't do that, so I started riding bulls. I didn't do that for very long actually, I don't even know if it was 2 years. So I did that for a little while just kind of to get a feel for it and see what it was like.
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RS: Are you still competing?
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AK: Up until about 5 years ago. I've been off work, I have a bad back and arthritis. I'm trying to get all that healed up, so I've done a little bit of calf roping on foot and some of the easier stuff. As far as any rough stock goes, I'd say those days are pretty well over. I just want to be able to ride my horses at home. I'll be happy doing that.
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RS: And where do you live now?
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AK: Up in Loma Rica, it's above Marysville.
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RS: You mentioned earlier that you were married. Is your wife involved with the rodeo at all?
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AK: Yes, yes, she actually loves it a lot. We have a long history, we actually were together in the beginning. She was 19 and I was 20, and because of my drinking problem that was on and off 3 times. She actually came to Dallas when I lived there, and then we moved back out here. Then, we were apart for probably 20 years and ended up getting back together. That was in 2008 and she jumped right in and she can throw the rope like she was born that way. She, like [in] her second rodeo, she won a buckle so that's really awesome.
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RS: [Coughing] Excuse me. That's amazing.
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AK: Mmhm.
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RS: Do you guys travel to many of the rodeos now?
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AK: No not for the last few years we haven't. We, well, one, I've been disabled and then she-both of us-got in a car wreck in June. Got hit by a guy who fell asleep at the wheel, so she's not here and probably next week she will be a timer--she's not going to do any roping or anything.
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RS: And how did you get involved in the leadership of your local association in Sacramento?
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AK: Cause somebody's gotta do it. You know it's too bad we don't get more participation, volunteers. We usually end up with a lot of volunteers but as far as year-round, some of the people who have been doing it a long time are kind of tired. I can't say that I've actually done a lot. I've volunteered here and there. I was the president one year, I think that was 2000, I don't know what year that was. Maybe 2009 or ’10, I don't know. We need more participation. A lot more people to get involved. We need some younger blood coming into the rodeo so that we can have some bronc riding at our rodeo again 'cause nobody's doing that anymore seems like, so it's very few and far in-between.
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RS: Yeah why do you think that it's such a challenge to get younger people involved?
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AK: I really don't know and I would like to figure that out. It's a rough sport, so I think that if you don't have it some sort of…[if] you're not an adrenaline junky or have some kind of country or farm life in your blood...I don't know. Maybe it's like me, I went to my first rodeo in ‘83 or ‘84 and didn't even realize I could be in it. I think more people need to know they can participate whether they have a horse or not. And really go out and have a good time, you know.
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RS: What are some of the changes you've seen happen from the late '90s ‘til now?
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AK: I think just people getting older. We need some young blood coming in. 'Cause all the people here at this rodeo, the comradery between us is just amazing. And it's been great being friends with them on Facebook and getting to know them better, 'cause we don't always spend a lot of time visiting at rodeos. We spend more time working than playing, than visiting, you know, so that's been really nice too.
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RS: Now as a woman in the association do you feel like it's pretty evenly split between the sexes or is it pretty heavily male-dominated?
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AK: I think it's pretty even. There's a lot of women involved in it. I mean there's probably more men. I don't really know what the numbers are. I haven't really paid attention. There are a lot more men that like rough sports than women do, you know, so that would make a difference. Some of them try chute-dogging and wrestling a steer and go, “Oh God, no, I'm not doing that again.” Or bull riding and bronc riding and they get hurt real bad and go, “I'm not doing that again,” so yeah you know it's a rough sport. Even barrel racing and flag racing, if a horse goes down or something like that I've seen people get hurt pretty bad—so yeah you've got to be up for the challenge.
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RS: When you were competing and winning, were you able to bring home much prize money?
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AK: No. No but then again I've never had a horse that I used in rodeo. I have horses at home now and it's kind of like a "they're ready and I’m not" sort of a thing. So, I've never really gone out for all around cowgirl or anything like that. With bronc riding, when I was mainly doing bronc riding, and chute-dogging and calf-roping, I think the first time I went bronc riding I took home twenty dollars. You know, it wasn't much. If they don't have an added purse of money then you're you know...If there are less contestants in an added event then there's less purse money to take home. So the event, my favorite, always had just you are lucky to have 6 people so you know.
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RS: Were you ever witness to any sort of displays of homophobia at a gay rodeo?
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AK: No, more so the PETA people, witnessed that…them protesting outside of our rodeos but, not too much usually. The people that come to the rodeo...I've never seen anyone protest, let’s put it that way. The people who show up are pretty open to it.
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RS: What about at mainstream rodeos? Any comments you've received or anything like that?
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AK: You mean straight rodeos? No, I haven't. I go to them and watch them, but I haven't been in them. I think probably the one person...there was a stock contractor, his son, and I wasn't there, I can't tell you exactly what was said, but I heard that he made comments about the gay rodeo thing. Yeah, you know it happens.
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RS: Do you think that that sort of homophobia in general is dissipating since the overturn of DOMA and legalization of gay marriage and all of that?
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AK: No, I actually I've been paying a lot more attention to political stuff as of late and I think there is probably a lot more of it actually. But we don't need to get into that. You don't want all my opinions on all of that.
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RS: Well I probably do, but I don't make you I won't make you share.
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AK: We'll talk about it when we we're off the tape. [Laughs]
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RS: Well, what really…was it mainly the ability to compete that drew you to gay rodeo or was it a sense of community? What was it that really drew you in and kept you here for so long?
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AK: Uh, because I've always been a cowgirl. My dad, when I grew up, he was farming on a ranch in Wyoming and my mom was a cook and I had always seen pictures of them doing their cowboy stuff and if there's that one thing that you ever wanted to be in life, that's it for me. So then, coming into this and actually being able to participate in the even that I choose...it's a freedom to fulfill dreams. I'm one of those people that, when I'm old and sitting on the porch, I don't want to be going, "I wish I would have tried that." And I won't be, I will have tried it. If it's something that I wanted to do, I will have tried it. It's the community that keeps you coming back. All those people out there keep you coming back because it's a big family and we're all real tight. You just know that they're there for you.
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RS: What does it mean to you to to be a cowgirl?
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AK: Oh boy, I'd say the first word is down-to-earth, honesty. It's a…it's a noble-ism in a big way to me, because when it comes to history the one thing that I was always drawn to in American history is the frontier. Everything about it. The struggles, the hard work, and I think you either have that in your blood or you don't. I think most cowboys and cowgirls are willing to work hard for everything they want and they are going to be honest about it and probably pretty upfront about what they like and don't like so you don't have to second guess. There are a lot of things [but] that's probably one of my main things in life. What I don't like is meeting someone and if I don't feel like they aren't real, I turn around and walk away real fast. Whether it's from bad relationships or whatever, I know it, I had a lesson. I learned it. So, I just like that the people are good. They're good-hearted.
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RS: Some other people have pointed to you as a person who is willing to teach when someone maybe showed up with less experience that you throw in and help them learn and I was wondering if you could talk a little about those experiences of working with people who maybe didn't have as much experience with stock.
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AK: The experience of working with them, let’s see...if I look back...I'm not sure where to go with that. But it really feels good. I mean, I had people do that for me. I didn't know how to ride a bronc. I had people who took the time to give me tips and show me things, sometimes after the fact. I preferred beforehand. So I've tried to give information beforehand so that they know what's coming. To see them succeed and, you know, jumping up and down I mean it's thrilling. You can't even--unless you've been on a bronc or a bull or something like that--with the adrenaline rush, you can't really explain it. I guess maybe if you’ve jumped out of a plane and you could compare it somehow like that, just what it does for them. Like Joe, he just really dug into it and loved it. He was good at it, and it felt good to be a part of that.
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RS: And were there many people who showed up who were raised in urban areas and had no experience whatsoever who were willing to jump in and learn?
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AK: Usually on a less extreme event you know, which sometimes you go please don't do that but…I had a friend who actually decided to get on broncs and we were actually talking at the time and she decided to do one handed instead of two handed and flew off and broke her arm pretty good, um those are the kind of things you don't want to see happen. Plus another young women that rode broncs and got bucked off over the top of the horse and the horses back feet went into her back and broke her back. I've seen some bad things happen. I think that people maybe don't realize how extreme it can be. So it's much preferred for me to like yesterday we had two of our friends at our hose and we were teaching them how to work. We were practicing how to rope and calf roping--it's good though to, you know, watch them. To pick up the rope and be struggling and struggling and then all the sudden you seem them putting the rope back together and make a loop and know what they are doing. Yeah, I do love to teach and it doesn't really matter what it is--rodeo or not--I like to teach.
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RS: That's great. Is there any other experiences you've had with gay rodeo that you would like to talk about that I haven't asked you about yet?
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AK: [Thinking]…Nothing really off the top of my head. It's fun, whether you're getting drug through the mud or the dirt. It's fun.
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RS: Thank you for talking with me.
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AK: You're welcome.