When longtime professional rodeo competitor Jeff McCloud (Robert Mitchum) is injured by a Brahma bull he was trying to ride, he decides to quit. He hitchhikes to his childhood home, a decrepit place now owned by Jeremiah (Burt Mustin). Run down as it is, it is the dream home for Wes Merritt (Arthur Kennedy) and his wife Louise (Susan Hayward). They are painstakingly saving up the money to buy it from Wes's meager wages as a cowhand. Jeff gets a job at the same ranch.
Wes enters a local rodeo behind his wife's back. When he does well, he decides to join the rodeo circuit, with Jeff as his partner and trainer. Louise is wholeheartedly against the idea, but goes along. She makes her husband promise to quit once they have saved enough for the house.
As Louise becomes acquainted with rodeo life, she becomes more and more disenchanted. Jeff's friend Booker Davis (Arthur Hunnicutt), once a champion competitor himself, is now a crippled old man with little to show for his efforts. When Buster Burgess (Walter Coy) is gored and killed by a bull, leaving a bitter widow (Lorna Thayer), Louise can no longer bear to watch her husband compete. However, Wes is seduced by his great success and the money he is winning. He refuses to quit when they have enough for the house.
Matters come to a head when Babs (Eleanor Todd) invites Wes to a party she is throwing, and makes a play for him. Louise fights back by putting on her only good dress and going to the party with Jeff. She pours a drink on her rival's head before leaving. In the hallway, Jeff asks her if she could love another man, but she is true to Wes. Coming on the tail end of the conversation, Wes tells Jeff that he is tired of taking all the risks and giving him half the prize money.
Jeff decides to go back to the rodeo, despite not being in shape. He gains back Wes's respect by doing well. Then, in the bronc riding event, his foot gets stuck in the stirrup after a successful ride, and he is fatally injured. Seeing this, Wes comes to his senses and quits.