MONTGOMERY, Ala. - What he lacks in size, he more than makes up for in fearlessness.
He is Elijah "Tuff" Pringle, 7, soft-spoken little cowboy and talented rodeo kid. He's spent virtually all of his young life around horses, cows and bulls, helping out at his family's farms in Montgomery and Lowndes counties. His dad, Randall Pringle, figures he put him in his first saddle when he was just 18 months old, when he could barely hold himself up.
When he's not in school at Catoma Elementary, Tuff is often at the Montgomery Stockyard on one of his two horses, helping his dad herd the cattle through the chutes during auctions. He is right at home among the massive animals that weigh hundreds of pounds.
And he has more than earned his name.
Randall recalls the time that Tuff, who hadn't been walking for very long, just walked up to a cow and took a swipe at the cow's leg. "He was bad. He didn't care," Randall laughs.
Tuff easily climbs up the fences in the stockyard, and ends up on the catwalk above the stalls without using the steps. His dad has no idea how he does it.
"I just let him go," Randall said, knowing that he's also under the watchful eyes of the other stockyard workers. "You hear footsteps from one end to the other."
At the stockyard and on the farm, Tuff is rarely out of Randall's sight, and if Randall senses trouble, he's quick to make sure Tuff is out of harm's way. But accidents do happen.
One day when Tuff was just 3, he was following his dad near one of the chutes at the stockyard - but Randall didn't realize Tuff was behind him. A steer with big horns came down one of the alleys and Randall got out of the way, but didn't see Tuff in time.
"That horn (swiped Tuff's face), and pushed his teeth back. Looked like he had swallowed a golf ball and stuck it in his lip."
Both dad and son had a brief moment of panic.
"He was laying there for a minute, he was like, what just happened? I said, 'Son, you just got mowed over. I seen your boots in the air.' He kinda laughed, and when he laughed, his lip moved, and that's when he started looking like, oh, I gotta cry now. I was like, 'no, don't cry!' I finally put him back on his horse and he went back to work. .
"So yeah, he had his first incident."
Especially during the summer, Tuff rarely misses a day of riding, whether for rodeo practice or at work. Randall works at a summer horseback program for the city of Montgomery, giving pony rides to children at the city's community centers. He brings Tuff along.
"He'll help out with the kids. A lot of what he does is motivate - 'if that little boy can do it, I can do it,'" Randall said.
Besides his work at the stockyard and on the farm, Tuff has become a successful - and popular - young performer on the rodeo circuit. He started riding sheep, then moved up to calves, and rides calves and steers now. Randall thinks he may be a trick rider one day.
Joseph Williams, Randall's stepfather and Tuff's grandfather, comes to the stockyard every chance he can to watch Tuff, and he and Randall's mother, Sarah Williams, travel to watch him rodeo. Williams has high hopes for Tuff's rodeo career.
Tuff wins at the smaller rodeos because he's got "style," Randall said. He brings his own bull whip to ride with.
Randall competes in team roping, so coordinating his rodeo schedule with Tuff's can be a challenge. Tuff gets to take one or two big trips a year; in past years, they've gone to Oklahoma and Texas. Last year, it was Colorado.
And the little boy has a following on the circuit.
"We can go in certain spots in Florida and Mississippi, (and people will say), 'ain't that Tuff?' He is known. He is the rodeo man," Randall said.
Young Ala. cowboy enjoys life on farm, rodeos