Rodeo star Aaron Hammer was born to ride
If there’s a name that has become synonymous with the Methow Valley Rodeo, it’s Aaron Hammer. Local boy, saddle bronc star, rodeo media darling and movie stunt rider, Aaron Hammer has spent much of his life on horseback, smiling through wild rides that make other mortals queasy.
Hammer, son of Anna and Roger Hammer, is the fourth of five children. (“Technically I’m number four,” he said, “because I was born a few minutes ahead of my twin brother Benjamin.”) Under the guidance of his older brother, Garrett, Hammer learned to ride as a tot and participated in his first Methow Valley Rodeo at the age of 7. After that, said his father, Hammer never missed a local rodeo unless he was injured, and even then he’d come to watch.
“As a kid, I liked the excitement of it,” Hammer said. “As I got older, it became more and more of an adrenaline rush.”
Adrenaline rush, indeed. Some call rodeo “the world’s most dangerous sport.” One of Hammer’s events — saddle bronc — evolved from breaking and training horses to work on cattle ranches and involves a rider trying to stay on the back of a bucking horse while hanging onto a rein with a single hand.
Bronc riding is a thrilling activity, but it’s not for the faint-hearted. Nor is Hammer’s other event: bull riding, which he began at 13. But Hammer said he never really had any fear. “It was always about the challenge for me,” he said. “I never feared death.”
Hammer is, as his mother said, “a God-made natural cowboy.” But it is his fearlessness that seems to have been his secret superpower in his success at rodeo competitions — a promising career that was cut short in 2019 when his horse threw him and then stepped on him at the Sumas Bull-a-Rama, just a week after he finished first in ranch saddle bronc riding and second in bull riding at the Methow Valley Rodeo.
The accident landed Hammer in intensive care, followed by months of hospitalization and treatment, but he pulled through thanks to grit, faith and family support. Soon after returning home, Hammer was back in the saddle, riding and training colts. “I was always going to get back on a horse,” he said. “That shocked a lot of people.”
But having kids — his son Pistol is 5 and his daughter Rhyder is 2— changed Hammer’s perspective on risk. “If I didn’t have kids and if I were younger,” said the 31-year-old Hammer, “I’d go right back to rodeo.”
Hammer’s post-accident lifestyle at his home in the Moses Lake area includes lots of time in the saddle with his kids. “It’s fun to watch them learning to ride,” he said. “If they head to rodeo, that will be their choice. I won’t push them into it, but I’ll support them if they want to go in that direction.”
Hammer’s memories of the Methow Valley Rodeo as a kid influence his perspective on his own children participating in rodeo events. “I like seeing old friends and meeting new people,” he said. “The [Methow Valley] rodeo was always good for that. It was a time to learn by watching, and a time to have fun. It’s a time that the valley comes out and mixes.”
The rodeo memories also influenced Hammer’s decision not to pursue a career as a stunt rider after his lone experience wrangling horses on the set of the film “John Carter of Mars,” which he got involved in when he traveled with Claude Miller’s horses that were leased to the project. “I could have gone in that direction,” Hammer said, “but it would have slowed down my rodeo career. I don’t regret it. The memories I have from rodeo are way better for me, and it made a better life for my kids.”
Now when he’s not training horses, Hammer is working leather, making custom saddles and horse tack for his business, Aaron Hammer’s Custom Leather. He’s self-taught, inspired at a young age to learn leatherworking because he needed to repair his own gear.
“I found out how expensive it was to have other people do it, so I got some guidance from a few saddle makers and learned the art of it,” he said.
You won’t see Hammer riding in the 2021 Methow Valley Rodeo, but he’s often back in the valley. Most recently, he rode with the Ride to Rendezvous, along with his older brother, Garrett.
Hammer’s connection to his childhood home remains strong and he’s still close with family and friends. He has fond feelings for his rodeo days, but no regrets about having moved into a different phase of life. He said, “It’s a lifestyle choice and I’m very happy with it.”