The Jackson Hole Rodeo is a feast for the senses: the intricate pattern from hooves kicking up dust, the smell of sagebrush and crisp mountain air, the taste of freshly popped popcorn and corndogs, and the unmistakable sound of cheers, hoots and hollers, and laughter.
Chances are the unbridled laughter ringing from the stands is thanks to Trenten Givens, the Jackson Hole rodeo clown.
A rodeo clown’s job is to entertain the crowd during lulls between events and fill time when something minor goes wrong — like a barrier breaking. Then, they’re responsible for getting the rodeo’s momentum moving forward again. A rodeo is dynamic and never quite the same night to night, so the job of rodeo clown hinges on lighthearted improvisation.
The quick-witted Trenten has had a lifetime of education in the art of outlaw entertainment — he grew up listening to the best rodeo announcers in the business and began competing in local rodeo competitions around age 6. By age 13, he was traveling across Wyoming from his home on the Wind River Indian Reservation, eventually landing a bull riding scholar- ship at Central Wyoming College. Rodeo afforded Trenten the opportunity to travel across the country, where, to his surprise and delight, he found the cowboy spirit alive in every state — from California to Louisiana. He says, “The rodeo family is something special.”
When Trenten grew tired of the on-the-go life of a bull rider, he fed his passion starting the colts of cutting horses (a stock horse trained to separate a single cow from a herd of cattle) and announcing for Pinedale, Wyoming’s then-new nightly rodeo. He started working as a rodeo clown for Jackson Hole Rodeo five years ago, a job that allows him to entertain rodeo first-timers from all over the world.
“I love being a part of a kid’s first rodeo,” Trenten says. “Who knows how much longer the tradition will be around.”
For Trenten, mentoring the next generation of ropers and riders is one of the best parts of his job. “I really enjoy being around the kids that have just started roping and riding. We have kids that start at the Jackson Hole Rodeo and end up top 50 in the world; I take a lot of pride in that, in seeing the kids grow and learn. Rodeo teaches you how to win and lose, it teaches you the value of hard work, and it teaches you the meaning of the bond between human and animal.”
Getting to work with animals every day is another reason why Trenten can’t seem to wander far from the rodeo. Since boy- hood, he’s had a unique bond with the horses, dogs, and cattle he grew up with. His parents trained horses, and through this give-and-take training process, Trenten developed a deep empathy.
“I’ve shed more tears over animals than I have over human beings, and I always felt like I could understand an animal more than a human being. They’re more compassionate. How you are in the moment is reflected back in the eyes of the animal,” he says.
Trenten now trains his own horses alongside his wife. And in his free time, he makes a point to get back to his roping and riding roots. He says, “I love to just go be a cowboy — to go move 500 head of yearlings, to ride through the sagebrush and lose all sense of time, to lose myself in my thoughts. It means a lot to me.”