Cowboy with a Mission

“Cowboy with a Mission,” New Era, Sept. 2004, 26

Cowboy with a Mission

Hanging on to a bucking bronco can be tough. Hanging on to what you believe in can be just as hard.

What would it be like to climb atop a 2,000-pound (907 kg), snorting, stomping Brahma bull and try to stay on for an eight-second ride? Just ask Taylor White. That’s what he does, and he does it well. In fact, during his junior year in high school, he did it better than anyone else his age in the United States. Competing in just two roughstock events—saddle bronc and bull riding—he won the National High School Best All-Around Cowboy award at the national high school rodeo championship.

“I’ve put everything I’ve had into rodeo, and that’s why I’ve done what I’ve done,” says Taylor. “And now I’ve done the same thing preparing for a mission. While I’m out in the mission field, I’ll get so much more out of it because I’ve put everything I have into preparing for it.”

Taylor doesn’t seem to do anything halfway. His rodeo successes earned him a scholarship to one of the top rodeo colleges in the U.S., Southwest Oklahoma State University.

It was in Oklahoma that Taylor’s priorities shifted from rodeo to serving the Lord. At college, Taylor found himself immersed among people with different beliefs. It was quite a change from his hometown of Richfield, Utah, where it seemed everyone around him was a member of the Church. “I got to thinking, ‘There’s got to be something about these different religions and beliefs that these people have that makes them believe it’s true.’ And I thought, ‘I’ve got to find out for myself.’”

Just as Joseph Smith did, Taylor turned to the scriptures and prayer to find the truth. “I really started studying the scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon,” Taylor says. “The gospel just made so much sense once I started reading and once I really started focusing and trying to understand what I wanted. It took me going out to Oklahoma and having all those people question my faith. I had to find out for myself.”

Overcoming Fear

So what is it like to ride one of those hulking bulls? “I’m scared every time I get on a bull,” Taylor says. “There’s always that little bit of fear inside of you. But that’s the neat thing—being able to overcome that fear.” And it’s preparation that helps him overcome the fear. Because Taylor has trained since he was only four or five years old, he knows what to do. “Everything happens so fast when you ride,” explains Taylor. “It’s not like when you’re playing football, where you can read what different players are doing and know what to do. I still think when I’m riding, but it’s more of a reaction than it is thinking about what you’re doing.”

Also, there’s never been a time when Taylor has climbed on a bull or a bronco without first saying a prayer. “I put my trust in the Lord,” Taylor says. “Whether it’s at practice or at a rodeo, I’ve always prayed that I’d be safe and that I’d have the Lord’s Spirit with me. God will answer your prayers. He doesn’t guarantee that you’re not going to get hurt, and He doesn’t guarantee that you’re going to ride and win, but He’s always there with you.”

Does Taylor have any fear about going on a mission? “I’m a little nervous,” he says. “I don’t know what it’s going to be like in Cambodia. I don’t know the challenges I’m going to have, but that’s what the Lord has asked me to do. I’ve heard how difficult the language is. And as time draws near, there are a lot of things I think about leaving behind, like rodeo and family. But I know I’m going for the right reason.”

The right reason is the Savior. “Jesus Christ came here and gave His life so we could have eternal life,” Taylor says emphatically. “I could spend every day of my life serving Him, and I still wouldn’t be able to repay Him for all He’s done for me. And all He’s asking is that I live my life right and serve a mission now. And that’s what I’m going to do.”

Taylor hopes the same things that have made him successful in rodeo will help him be a successful missionary: prayer, relying on the Lord, overcoming fears, and not letting anyone discourage him from his goals. He’s already done a lot of things many people have told him he’d never be able to do.

Putting Important Things First

Along with setting goals, it’s important to Taylor to keep his priorities straight. He tells about one of his teachers at school who brought a glass jar to class one day. Taylor explains: “She filled it up with pretty good-sized rocks and held it up and asked, ‘Is this jar full?’ And we all said, ‘Yeah, it’s filled right to the top.’”

The teacher then filled the jar with smaller pebbles, shook it a bit to let them settle, then poured in more pebbles until they filled the jar. Again she asked the class, “Is the jar full?”

They said yes.

She then poured sand into the jar. Letting the sand sift to the bottom, she finally filled the jar to the top. Now it was full.

Her point was that the large rocks are the important things in life; you must put them in first, or they won’t fit. The smaller rocks and the sand—the less important things—can fit around them.

“To me, those important things in life are my family, the gospel, and my friends,” says Taylor. “The smaller ones are still important, like your schooling, your house. If we put the important things into our life first, and that’s our priority, then everything else will fall into place. If we put the other things in first, we won’t have room for the important things in life. And for me right now, the first one is serving a mission and living worthy to serve.”

Taylor’s priorities include serving a mission and one day being sealed in the temple. “I know helping someone understand and accept the gospel will be more exciting than my best rides,” says Taylor. “Serving a faithful mission is my top priority right now. I want to return to school and ride when I get home, but I know the day will come when I’ll need to give up riding and all the time I spend on rodeos. Having a family is more important.”

What would it be like to climb on a bicycle and pedal through the Cambodian countryside, stopping to tell the people there about Jesus Christ, the plan of salvation, and the Restoration of the gospel? Just ask Taylor White when he gets back home in two years. He’ll probably tell you it was the most rewarding ride of his life.

What’s in a Rodeo?

Rodeos have seven events: saddle bronc riding, bull riding, bareback riding, team roping, steer wrestling, calf roping, and barrel racing. Taylor does saddle bronc and bull riding. Saddle bronc cowboys need finesse and a good sense of timing to stay on the horse, while bull riders rely more on strength, balance, and courage to hang on to the bull for eight seconds. In both events, riders hold on to the bucking animal with one hand.

The events are scored by two judges. They rate the animal’s bucking ability and the rider’s skill.

Some people are concerned that rodeo events hurt the animals. Actually, because the animals are so important to their owners, they are well taken care of and usually live longer than most livestock.

Cowboys use spurs, but only for balance. The spurs are small and dull. Sharp spurs are not allowed.

The bulls and broncos buck because a padded strap is placed around their hind quarters just loose enough that they try to buck it off. (See http://rodeo.about.com.)

Photography by Paul VanDenBerghe, except as noted

Rodeo was everything to Taylor White, but he was willing to give it up for two years to serve the Lord. (Rodeo photograph by Hirschman Photos.) At the family ranch (left) in Richfield, Utah, Taylor has climbed off the broncs and bulls to ride a missionary’s bicycle in Cambodia.

Photography courtesy of the White family

Riding a one-ton bull can teach you a lot about yourself. Taylor has also learned about responsibility and caring for animals as he helped raise bulls at his family’s ranch. (Left: photograph by Clark Knight.)

Opposite page: When it comes to important things in life, family has always been at the top of Taylor’s list. At their ranch are (clockwise from top) Taylor’s sister, Maegen; mom, Danielle; Taylor; brother, Chet; and dad, Max. From champion cowboy to dedicated missionary, Elder White knows how important it is to keep the Lord first in everything he does. (Photograph by Christina Smith.)