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Horses That Buck

By Margot Kahn
Narrated by Wilford Brimley / 6 hours

When asked in an interview what he most liked about rodeo, three-time world champion saddle-bronc rider “Cody” Bill Smith said simply, “Horses that buck.” Smith redefined the image of America’s iconic cowboy. Determined as a boy to escape a miner’s life in Montana, he fantasized a life in rodeo and went on to earn thirteen trips to the national finals, becoming one of the greatest of all riders.

This biography puts readers in the saddle to experience the life of a champion rider in his quest for the gold buckle. Drawing on interviews with Smith and his family and friends, Margot Kahn recreates the days in the late 1960s and early 1970s when rodeo first became a major sports enterprise. She captures the realities of that world: winning enough money to get to the next competition, and competing even when in pain. She also tells how, in his career’s second phase, Smith married cowgirl Carole O’Rourke and went into business raising horses, gaining notoriety for his gentle hand with animals and winning acclaim for his and Carole’s Circle 7 brand.

Inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in 1979 and the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum’s Rodeo Hall of Fame in 2000, Smith was a legend in his own time. His story is a genuine slice of rodeo life—a life of magic for those good enough to win. This book will delight rodeo and cowboy enthusiasts alike. Original, inspiring, and quietly moving, Horses That Buck is the portrait of a modern man who has helped shape the new American West.

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“In Margot Kahn’s carefully rendered and lovingly told biography of Bill Smith, we find the story of how a talented and determined man forges himself into a champion, both inside the arena and out. Horses That Buck is about family and freedom and, ultimately, how they braid themselves together in the human heart.”

Mark Spragg, author of Where Rivers Change Direction

“The most beautifully written rodeo or human story I have ever read.”

Larry Mahan, six-time World Champion All-Around Cowboy

About the Author

Margot Kahn is co-editor of the anthology This Is the Place: Women Writing About Home and author of the award-winning biography Horses That Buck. Her essays and reviews have appeared in Tablet, River Teeth, High Desert Journal, the Los Angeles Review, Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood and Publishers Weekly, among other places, and have been anthologized in You: An Anthology of Essays Devoted to the Second Person and Pie & Whiskey: Writers Under the Influence of Butter and Booze. She holds an MFA from Columbia University and has received grants and awards from the Ohioana Library Association, the Seattle Mayor’s Office of Arts & Culture and 4Culture. A former program director for Richard Hugo House and Seattle Arts & Lectures, she lives in Seattle with her family.


“A lifetime of great rides unfolds in Margot Kahn’s new book, Horses That Buck: The Story of Champion Bronc Rider Bill Smith. Despite the title, don’t expect just another rodeo story from this read. When you ride with Kahn, as she uncoils 'the story of a man, a life and a period in the American West,' she draws us into the meaning of life from a fresh perspective. A well-researched introspection offers an honest and intriguing look into the culture of Western rodeo as it developed along the timeline of Bill Smith’s life. ”

Big Sky Journal

“Kahn has done an outstanding job of recreating the rural life of Montana and Wyoming, cowboying and ranching. In an opening description of her subject she writes, 'People need animals, he thinks, to keep them human.' Bill Smith is human so deeply he knows a language that speaks to horses, one that most everyone else has forgotten.”

Montana Quarterly

“You don't want to miss this truly inspiring story. ”

The Billings Gazette

“A marvelously told biography... (Kahn's) meticulous effort pays real dividends. ”

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Horses That Buck is a must-have. Smith's accomplishments...are worthy of being celebrated.”

The Western Horseman

Related Reading

Margot Kahn Website

A horse that bucked embodied independence, freedom, and fight. Rodeo, for a cowboy, was that way of life. And it was the way he won. When Bill saw the draw with Bald Hornet's number listed next to his name, he took a deep breath and smiled. "That's just the one I wanted," he said with a cool, off-the-cuff confidence and a strange enthusiasm better suited to someone with more skill. ... Bald Hornet was a horse no one wanted, and as soon as Bill said he wanted him, everyone else took notice. Was it bravado or stupidity, or did he know something that they didn't? "If it doesn't work out between a person and horse, that's the person's fault. It's not the horse's fault; he didn't ask to be there. You are asking him to do something for you, and you have to respect him where he's at." "When I was a boy," (Bill) said, "I thought if you weren't a cowboy you were just underprivileged. I couldn't understand why anyone would want to be anything else."

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