A zebra and tri-color mustangs jump off John Payne the One Arm Bandit’s trailer. The Oklahoma cowboy is the specialty act for this year’s Franklin Rodeo, to be held May 19-21 at the Williamson Co. Ag Expo Park. Photo courtesy John Payne

FRANKLIN, TN — It’s going to be wild and western at this year’s Franklin Rodeo!

Wild animal trainer, outlaw, rancher and rodeo entertainer extraordinaire John Payne, the “One Arm Bandit,” rolls into town for the rodeo May 19-21!

And with him come his animals! Beautiful tri-colored mustangs, straight from the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation in South Dakota, are direct descendants of the horses that escaped from the Spanish conquistadors’ herds and became wild on the continent’s grasslands!

The One Arm Bandit will ride one of mustangs as he drives the herd up a custom-designed ramp to the top of his trailer. Here he asks the mustang to “spin” as he follows the herd up on the ramp. He even cracks a bullwhip, one-handed, with the reins in his mouth!

And he brings a zebra, too! Payne is well-known as a trainer of exotic animals, including the zebra stallion he’ll bring to Franklin. Zebras are notoriously hard to train for a couple of reasons, Payne said. “Their first line of defense is to run, and fast. They live in Africa, where everything is trying to kill them and eat them.” They’re also very agile. “They are the only equine who can run full steam and jump and kick at the same time. A horse, before he kicks, has to slow down. To defend themselves, zebras run and kick.”

The zebra is the alpha male at the Payne ranch; he bosses the horses around, even though he’s half their size. “The zebra is trained to do whatever he wants to do,” Payne jokes.

Payne got his moniker from an electrocution accident which happened 49 years ago, when he was 20 years old. While tearing a house down, he climbed an electric pole to cut down the wires, thinking the power was shut off. He grabbed the wire and 7,200 volts coursed through his body. Payne was dead for a few minutes, before his friend Gary Hughes resuscitated him.

Doctors amputated his right arm below the shoulder; they wanted to amputate his leg, but he said if he couldn’t ride, he didn’t want to live, so they left the leg. But Payne’s grit and humor was intact. After five weeks in the burn center, he told doctors he was leaving the hospital “with no brain damage, but he would be short-handed.”

He jokes that his nickname as the One Arm Bandit is “a really catchy name, and it cost me an arm to get it. It would have cost me an arm and a leg, but I negotiated down to half-price.”

“I have a great time in life,” he said. “I just live life to the fullest. I think it has a lot to do with me getting killed. I was dead, and by the grace of the Lord, I’m here.”

The One Arm Bandit will entertain during each night of the Franklin Rodeo May 19-21 at the Williamson County Ag Expo Park. Performances begin at 7 pm nightly.

Tickets can be purchased online at FranklinRodeo.com and at the gate. All seats are reserved. Adult tickets are $25; children tickets are $12 for ages 12 and under.

For more information, visit the website.