By the time she was 20, Robin Sindorf was a beauty contest winner and had plied the pom-pom trade as a Dallas Cowboy cheerleader. The 5’8″ brunette might well have turned to modeling, but she bypassed the high fashion of Rodeo Drive to become America’s first female rodeo clown.
There is nothing funny, she soon discovered, about the job—and sex discrimination is not the problem. “A mad 1,600-pound bull charging at you doesn’t know the difference,” reasons Robin. “No matter who you are, you better get out of the way.”
Along with her partner (and boyfriend) Doug Wylie, Sindorf works for the Flying U Rodeo, which stages 80 events a year in the Far West. Their task is to distract bulls that have just tossed their riders into the dirt. The “bullfighters,” as Doug and Robin are called, taunt the beasts until they charge them instead of the bucked riders. The clowns’ only protection is a brightly colored barrel which one member of the team (usually Wylie) stands behind while the other hops inside, grabs the straps and holds on for dear life. While Wylie waves a handkerchief to attract the bulls, Sindorf sometimes uses a bra as a gag. If the bulls don’t notice the difference, the audience surely does.
Last November a bull stuck his horns inside Robin’s barrel. “He messed up my arm pretty bad,” she reports. “Luckily, he pulled right out.” Her partner hasn’t been quite so fortunate. He was gored in the chest last year and required 256 stitches.
Aware of some resentment from old-timers, 21-year-old Robin demurs, “I’m not saying I’m as good as any guy. I can’t run as fast. I’m not as strong. I’ll learn to be a bullfighter slow. I’m not going to sacrifice my bod. I don’t ask for any breaks, though—and I don’t get any.”
Breaks were hard to come by in Kingsland, Texas, where Robin’s parents ran a fishing camp. Desperate to escape from “Nowheresville,” Sindorf secretly entered the regional High School Cover Girl contest at 17 and was chosen over 2,000 entries. Prize money from contests like Miss United Teenager and Miss Photogenic helped pay the tuition at Bauder Fashion College in Arlington, Texas, where she studied interior design. In 1978 Robin went to work in a Dallas design studio and moved in with Wylie, now 22, whom she had met at a funeral.
That same year-Sindorf was one of 1,100 girls who tried out for the Dallas Cowboy cheerleading squad and one of the 17 chosen. She quit after one season to take a job with a beauty pageant organizer in Reno. Wylie went with her and signed on with the Flying U, which is one of the country’s largest suppliers of rodeo stock. Then, one night last fall, Doug found himself without a partner because of a scheduling mix-up, and Robin donned the greasepaint.
Sindorf says she and Wylie intend to marry soon. She aspires to be a Hollywood stunt woman, but for now her kicks will come from angry bulls. “A lot of people think rodeo clowns are a bit ding-ey,” Sindorf admits. “But it’s neat to be an original.”