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Cowboy Still Competing at 92

To hear 92-year-old Bob Holder’s secret to leading the good life, his saddle is nothing short of the fountain of youth. For the famed Australian rodeo rider, mixing and mingling with young cowboys around the corral keeps him forever sprightly—beyond just mixing and mingling, the nonagenarian still saddles up and competes, riding and roping head to head with youngsters. Some call Holder the world’s oldest cowboy. Last November, he partook in the rodeo of his hometown, Cootamundra marking nearly 80 years competing in the sport. From age 14, he wanted to be a cowboy and nothing else, Holder said he feels “exactly the same” today. “I just love the rodeo life, I love the rodeo people, I love the bucking stock,” he said. “I love the people all around it, and I love Australia.” Despite developing interstitial lung disease, a scarring of the lungs and nearly ending his life—Holder has made a startling recovery and comeback in competitive rodeo. His doctor, Tara Mackenzie, said that fewer than 1 percent would have survived that at any age, let alone someone in their 90s. He attributes his rebound to having the rugged attitude of a cowboy. “I don’t worry about little things like that,” he said. “If there’s something wrong, get it fixed up and keep going—don’t give up. If you give up, you’re not a cowboy.” Getting back in the saddle was something instilled early in his life—probably because he was raised during the Great Depression when pain was expected and toughness a must for survival. Attending school ever so sparesly, he started working from age 5. Horses and cattle were his education. “I grew up in the Depression and the war years. It was pretty tough going those days,” he said. “I’m the son of a drover.” A drover is someone who drives cattle. “The horses used to buck, so we learned to ride ’em and quiet them down. We became pretty good at it,” he said. “Then the rodeo started up, and we started saying, ‘We want to be cowboys.’” Mr. Holder competed in his first rodeo at age 14 in Tumut, bronc riding, winning a medal and taking home a prize of 3 pounds—about five or six weeks’ worth of wages then. Though the minimum age was 16, his parents forged a letter to fool the organizers. He’s been riding shows ever since. A few broken ribs, a broken wrist, battered fingers, and lung disease over the years have never stopped him from getting back in the saddle. Mr. Holder isn’t a fan of mixing with other 90-somethings bantering about their next operation, so, at 92, he keeps on competing. He’s too old to ride bucking horses and bucking bulls anymore, he admits, so he’s had to settle for team steer roping instead. “If I miss today, I’ll try again tomorrow,” he said, speaking of his successes and failures. “If I miss the next day, I’ll try again next day. “If you want to be a cowboy, never give up.”

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