In October of 2004, Big & Rich earned their first gold record for “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy). Eighteen years later, the raunchy lyrics are still ringing around in the country music sphere. Even the most anti-country music listener knows the chorus at the very least.
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Upon its release, the song was a bit questionable for the airwaves. The public didn’t seem to mind though as it has sold an excess of 500,000 units. “When your dad’s a preacher and you have a song on the radio called ‘Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy),’ that makes for an interesting conversation,” Rich once joked.
You know the song, but have you ever done an in-depth analysis of the lyrics? You’re about to. Below, we’re going through the meaning behind “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy).” Buckle up.
The Meaning Behind the Lyrics
Big Kenny and John Rich get braggadocious on this one, singing about riding a horse into town and driving all the ladies wild in the process. It’s all very tongue-in-cheek. We’d have liked to be in the room when these two came up with that chorus.
The song starts with a few lines about dropping some major cash in a bar and leaving it different than they found it. By the time the second verse rolls around, the duo has fully taken over this one-horse town and labeled themselves the John Wayne of this here story.
And I buy the bar a double round of Crown
And everybody’s getting down
An’ this town ain’t never gonna be the same
And I wouldn’t trade ol’ Leroy
Or my Chevrolet for your Escalade
Or your freak parade
I’m the only John Wayne left in this town
The real draw of this song is the aforementioned chorus. It is as catchy as it is sordid. I don’t think we need to explain exactly what the chorus means in so many words, do we? If you think about it a little too hard or take it a little too literally, it becomes a head-scratcher. Big & Rich and ole’ Leroy seem a bit mutually exclusive in this scenario but nevertheless, the titular line “save a horse, ride a cowboy” has found its way into common vernacular and, when listening to this track, it’s easy to see why.
Riding up and down Broadway
On my old stud Leroy
And the girls say
Save a horse, ride a cowboy
Save a horse, Ride a cowboy
The Video Shoot “From Hell”
The accompanying video for “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)” sees the duo celebrating with a huge parade on Nashville’s Shelby Street Bridge. Despite being joined by dancers, marching bands, horses (of course), and a few friends like Gretchen Wilson and Cowboy Troy, the shoot wasn’t fun for everyone.
“It was the shoot from hell,” director David Hogan said in his Songfacts interview. “After I did Gretchen Wilson’s video (“Redneck Woman”), Big & Rich wanted me to do the same. They had the same management and they wanted me to do their video. But the downside is they wanted to do it through that production company. So basically the production company people had it in for me because they felt like, I guess, I stole it from their directors or whatever.”
Big & Rich were however a hoot and a holler according to Hogan. He said, “They were real easy to work with, fun guys, and it was fun coming up with it and talking about it with them.”
Perhaps the duo had too much fun given that the shoot caused over $23,000 in damage to the Shelby Street Bridge thanks to the horses damaging the cement. Hogan also said the trucks were too much for the pedestrian bridge, “We had to put the camera and the lights on the back of a semi-truck trailer, and we would drive it around across the other bridge down river and then come around and circle and then start the parade again. That was the only way to do it… It’s a walking bridge, and I’m sure it wasn’t designed to hold a semi.”
A New Kind of Country Song
Though many country songs before “Save a Horse” were about the desire for female companionship, few put it in quite the same way. Instead of intimate seduction, Big & Rich’s sexual energy is something that feels acutely like a public performance.
That same vibe can be found in songs like Luke Bryan’s “Country Girl (Shake It For Me)” or Brantley Gilbert’s “Kick It in the Stick,” Justin Moore’s “Back That Thing Up” and Jason Aldean’s “Hicktown.” These songs, among others, can be considered direct descendants of Big & Rich.
In addition to the lyricism, their influence can also be found in the country sound that has taken over the airwaves these days, which pillages from hip hop or rock and roll. Who would have thought that “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)” would be a watershed moment in country music history?