Light hits every rhinestone on her hips, and her hair swings in time to the click of heels that have never seen dirt. You can’t miss the cut of her jeans or the cinched-on hardware, which looks heavy, real, borrowed. Maybe she won it with her own sweat, but chances are she did what Buckle Bunnies do—charm it off a cowboy.
It’s the second week of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, and I’m bunny hunting. So far, Mustang Sally and her rhinestones are the surest bet, though many women are wearing bigger, shinier belts than you would normally see on a Wednesday, even in Las Vegas.
I spot a platinum blonde taking a long drag on a cigarette, her shimmery lipstick echoing the shine on the buckle she’s wearing. I ask if it’s hers. She laughs. It’s a 1989 International Professional Rodeo Association buckle, the kind you wear when you’re a world champion barrel racer. Connie Cooper is. The 51-year-old Oklahoma native has been riding since she was 5. I ask if she minds the bunny stereotype.
“When is there not some kind of bunny,” Cooper says.
The next buckle I see is on a stylish woman taking a break from the action in one of the arena bars. She has turquoise eye shadow, but doesn’t give off a bunny vibe.
“It’s my son’s,” says 44-year-old Sindi Jandreau, running her fingers over the buckle’s intricate, jeweled inlays. Her husband is a judge tonight. Her son, Dawson, is a saddle bronc rider, and the buckle commemorates his 2009 state championship win for high school rodeo in South Dakota. When I mention bunnies she smirks, tells me they were around when her daddy was in rodeo.
“They want the guy with the buckle on,” Jandreau says. “You can just tell the difference, if they know the game or if they don’t. If they’re wearing funky hats they’re probably not cowgirls.”
Allie Jordan, 18, isn’t wearing a funky hat or her buckle. She’s a barrel racer and goat tier from California, not to mention the daughter of an NFR judge and the girlfriend of a Professional Bull Rider. She says the bunnies are after buckles for bragging rights, though they are much less sacred than a cowboy’s hat.
“You can always get another buckle,” Jordan says. “The hat they won’t even let you touch, unless they’re really intoxicated.”
Brittany Pittman is a bunny by default. The 23-year-old is promoting Jack Daniel’s at the arena tonight, and her sexy chaps draw the eye to a buckle made especially for the brand. The Colorado expat says she has some experience on horseback and is dating a cowboy. She doesn’t wear his buckle, though she says they’re sometimes given like class rings. “You’re saying your girlfriend is your prize, too.”
I ask if she has a real one at home. Without hesitation, she says the only thing that can prove she’s not a bunny: “I haven’t earned one.”