sally bishop trick rider horse cowgirl magazine
Photo courtesy of Sandra Levine.

If you were to run a help-wanted ad for a rodeo trick rider, you might say something like this: Wanted, fearless female who likes to be the center of attention. Must look attractive in spangled jumpsuits. Requires athleticism, gymnastic ability, and the willingness to hang upside down from a horse with your head inches from the ground while running at breakneck speeds. Extensive training involved. Timid girls need not apply…

Sally Bishop answered the call and today earns her living as both a trick rider and Hollywood stuntwoman. Like many rodeo performers, the Toronto native was born into the profession. Her family put on a traveling Wild West show in which the three Bishop kids—Tom Jr., Sally and Sarah—would trick ride, trick rope, throw knives and sharpshoot. Sally learned to drive a horse team when most kids were still learning to drive a car, and the family also provided trained animals for television commercials and movies.

So what does it take to be a trick rider? Well, beside the qualities mentioned in the ad, a rodeo trick rider must be willing to travel extensively. During a summer run, Bishop will perform in dozens of rodeos, sometimes arriving in the wee hours of the morning only to perform later that afternoon. Trick riding also requires bomb-proof horses trained to withstand the noise and stress of performing before large audiences. Risk-taking and injuries, even the risk of death, are ever present. And no matter how you feel, no matter what the weather, the show must go on. Still, for an applause-seeking gal like Bishop, it’s the perfect career.

There is nothing like having your risk rewarded by a cheering crowd,” says Bishop, smiling, “That’s just a great, great feeling.”

Photo courtesy of Sandra Levine.

Needless to say, the job requires fitness. But Bishop says a lot of that comes with the work. Roman riding, for instance, demands that Bishop stand balanced with a foot on two different horses as they circle the arena at a gallop. The energy demand is huge; practice and performing can take the place of long hours in the gym.

“Roman riding keeps me in shape. It is a full body workout,” says the 39-year-old. Still, the rider will hit the gym whenever she can fit it into her busy schedule.    

“I try and do yoga to stay flexible, and that’s especially important as I get older.”

Trick riders have long been employed as stuntmen and stuntwomen in Hollywood, a tradition that dates at least as far back as Shirley and Sharon Lucas, who doubled for such stars as Marilyn Monroe, Lana Turner, Betty Grable and others.

Bishop has done stunts for many actresses, including Julia Roberts, Jane Seymour, and Tia Carrere, and is currently working on the set of ABC’s hit show Once Upon A Time. With seemingly limitless energy, there’s seldom a dull moment in her life; in addition to equine performances, she’s learned to do car stunts and went to school to master motorcycles. While stunt work pays the bills and offers interesting challenges, Bishop feels that trick riding offers even greater rewards.

“Unless and until it puts me in a wheelchair, it is good fun and good money. I’ll do this for as long as I can.”

(Originally published in the November/December 2012 issue of Cowgirl Magazine).