Bill from Eureka, Colorado is wearing a trophy buckle in his hometown rodeo (all images courtesy the author)

DENVER — The National Western Stock Show is the Superbowl of livestock shows, tracing back to 1899 in Denver. Around 700,000 visitors have enjoyed rodeos, a Western art exhibition, and horsemanship showcases for 16 days every January. But one subtler point of attraction are the elaborate belt buckles worn by bronco busters and fairground fashionistas at the show. Historically, the buckles were a trophy — only awarded, rarely bought. The trophy buckle was introduced as an acknowledgment at rodeo championships and gained momentum in the 1920s. These wearable awards exemplify a tradition of ornamental metalworking, often made from sheets of nickel or silver, soldered with gold lettering and engraved details.

Surprisingly, instead of wearing the buckles from their greatest career achievement, most competitors this year chose their earliest acquisition or one of sentimental value. If competitors don’t desire bling at the belt line, on rare occasions, spectacular spurs are awarded, or Miss Rodeo representatives don fantastic tiaras on their Stetson brims. Here are a few of the hits from the hip, no bull.

MacKenzie from Steamboat Springs, Colorado won this buckle in the AQHA Versatility Ranch Horse competition which promotes the athletic ability and versatility of the horse.

Jared from Saskatchewan, Canada won the Glen Keeley Memorial Bull Riding Championship in 2017. Shortly after this photo, Jared rode a bull named Big Iron.

Chuck from Wisconsin

Peyton from Southern Springs, Texas won this buckle riding bareback.

Dan from Colorado Springs, Colorado won this buckle for steer wrestling at a rodeo dedicated to police and firefighting competitors.

Laurie from Colorado Springs is a champion barrel racer, earning this acknowledgement at the Missouri State Rodeo. She noted this is not her only buckle, nor is it her favorite. She rotates her collection of trophies.

Hannah from Sheridan County, Wyoming is the reigning Miss Rodeo Wyoming.

Jake from Brighton, Colorado earned this state champion buckle for steer wrestling.

Grant from Nevada rode a bucking bronco bareback for this win.

Dylan from California was wearing a 2011 bull riding champion buckle he earned because he liked the size. He was calmly drinking coffee when this photo was taken, shortly before he rode a bull.

Chase from Arkansas earned this trophy bull riding at the Ty Pozzobon Invitational, named after his friend killed in the sport.

Dustin from Twin Butte, Alberta, Canada was awarded for Saddle Bronc riding, which means riding a bucking horse.

Brooke from New Cambria Kansas is the current Miss Rodeo Kansas.

Kelli from Beulah, Colorado is Miss Rodeo Colorado, wearing her turquoise crown made in 1973. It is the talk of the venue and envy of rodeo royalty.

The National Western Stock Show continues at the National Western Complex (4655 Humboldt St, Denver) through January 27.

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Kealey Boyd

Kealey Boyd is a writer and art critic. Her writing appears in the LATimes, Art Papers, College Art Association, The Belladonna Comedy, Artillery Magazine and elsewhere. She teaches journalism at University...

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