Wild West Tattoos: Cowboys, Horses, Bulls, and More

Updated on March 16, 2020
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Tom has been an online writer for over seven years. He is enamored with everything related to cowboys, rodeos, and Western history.

CC BY 2.0
CC BY 2.0 | Source

Cowboy tattoos are becoming an increasing part of western culture. They are designed in a multitude of ways according to what a particular person wants to portray.

One of the most popular is the image of a cowboy riding a horse or bull, although there are some that embrace the traditional hat and boots.

There are those that portray a full-blown image of a cowboy, while others show a scene including related wild west elements, and some are simply portraits.

Of course, like most art, there are some that express one's love for another, like a dad or a lost loved one that may have either been a cowboy or lived that lifestyle.

As for words or messages in this type of tattoo, the phrase "cowboy up" is by far the most popular.

Whatever the reason, tattoos are a part of cowboy culture, and there are a number of cool ones we'll look at to see where the art has come to.

Cowboy Portrait
Cowboy Portrait | Source

Portrait Cowboy Tattoos

We'll start off our look at cowboy tattoos with a portrait. There wasn't any further information on who or what this portrait represented, but he looks familiar, although that may just be a coincidence.

Whether it is a well-known cowboy or Hollywood one, it's a very nice design, with the shadow used brilliantly to create the indented hat look, the creases in the forehead, and the wrinkles in the handkerchief around the neck.

Other things I really like are the pieces of hair hanging down from inside the hat, suggesting a hard day at work, along with the shadowy, stubbled beard, which points to being so busy he will eventually have to make time to shave. Great image.

Cowboy Arm Tattoo
Cowboy Arm Tattoo | Source

Ronnie Dunn's 'Cowboy' Tattoo on His Arm

If you just want to declare you're a cowboy through and through, here is a good example of that, with this "cowboy" tattoo on the forearm of Ronnie Dunn.

For the few that may not know who Ronnie Dunn is, he's half of the singing duo Brooks & Dunn, and one of the more successful country entertainers in history.

The tattoo itself is very simple, with basic fonts and a nice, dark color. For what it is, it is very well done.

Cowboy Up Tattoo
Cowboy Up Tattoo | Source

Cowboy on a Bucking Bronco

The next several ones have cowboys riding bulls or horses, as that's the image most people have in mind when thinking about cowboys, even though there is a lot more to the life and lifestyle.

In this first example, we have the tattoo with the term "cowboy up" on it, located near the bottom. The showcase is the cowboy riding the bronco, with his hat soaring off his head as the horse tries to throw him off.

The backdrop design surrounding the scene is a good one.

Bull Rider Tattoo
Bull Rider Tattoo | Source

Riding a Bull

With this next tattoo of a cowboy riding a bull, the decision to show it from the front, rather than the side, was a great one, as you get the feel of the power of the bull as he battles its rider.

The bull is proportioned very well, and the cowboy looks great with his hand held out in an attempt to stay on the huge creature.

I'm not usually a big fan of bright color in tattoo designs, but this one works okay with the cowboy standing out in red, blue and green colors, and the bull almost being used as a dark canvass behind him.

Rodeo Clown Tattoo
Rodeo Clown Tattoo | Source

A Funny Rodeo Example

At first glance I didn't get this tattoo, but I think it's meant to be a bit humorous, poking fun at a rodeo wannabee.

When I first saw it, it appeared to be a cowboy sincerely practicing for the rodeo, but when you look at the scarf over his face and his arm waving as if he's on a real horse or bull, you see it's probably a spoof. Either way, I think it's hilarious.

Having said that, the quality of the artwork of the tattoo is really good. The practice object and legs of the rider look fantastic, and with the face being covered, along with the lighter color of his top, it gives the impression that there is dust being kicked up so it's harder to see that part of his body.

That appears to be part of the humor of the design.


A Sheriff Tattoo

Here we have a great tattoo of a sheriff ready to use his gun on a desperado. The detail is terrific, and the use of shadow and dark lines add to the impression that he's not fooling around.

The waving bandanna makes it appear that the man is actually moving, adding to the impact of the image.

What is weak about the tattoo design is the placement. When you can't see the full scene of a tattoo where it is placed on the body, it always takes something away from it, as it does here by not being able to see the gun or the left arm of the sheriff on the right side of the photo as you look at it.

That's a common mistake that a lot of people make. That is, not taking into account how the image will look when placed where they want it. This one could have been made a little smaller and would have fit okay, but evidently that isn't what the one getting the tattoo wanted.

I'm not 100 percent sure, but this may be an attempt at doing a tattoo of Gary Cooper when he played his major role in the film High Noon.

Hank Williams Sr. and Jr.

While I haven't been able to identify some of the familiar faces included in the tattoos above without having some doubt, the two below aren't hard at all difficult to identify, as they're Hank Williams Sr. on the top and Hank Williams Jr. on the bottom.

Both are good depictions of the two men, although Hank Williams Sr. almost has a wild look to his eyes, his mouth and smile were captured fantastically, as are his hat and ears.

Hank Williams Jr. is also awesome, with his easily identifiable hat, glasses, and cigar. Real fans of the famous country entertainers may think of getting the two inked together. It would be pretty cool.

Click thumbnail to view full-size

Hat and Boots Around Grave Marker

This final cowboy tattoo kind of sums it all up, as all cowboys must go the way of all flesh, and enter our final resting place, which is nicely symbolized in this tattoo of the hat and boots of the fallen cowboy surrounding a grave marker.

Even though the tattoo is simple, its message, including "Among the Willows," is powerful, and it looks pretty good. I would have left off the bright colors, but it is still a very powerful tattoo as it relates to the meaning of life.

Cowboy Grave Tattoo
Cowboy Grave Tattoo | Source

Cowboy and Western Tattoo Meanings

Cowboy and western life is inundated with meanings and symbols, including those who are entertainers, as well as those who entertain us through rodeo and other means. All of this adds together to represent a part of the lifestyle, a life that less and less people really know about or identify with.

That said, the cowboy remains an integral part of societies around the world, as his ever-changing role continues to still catch the gleam in the eye of those who appreciate and understand the importance of this unique people.


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