A cowboy-turned-huckster unexpectedly finds love as he tries to regain his self-respect in this romantic comedy drama. Sonny Steele (Robert Redford) is a one-time rodeo star whose career as a cowboy has ground to a halt.
He makes a good living as a spokesman for Ranch Breakfast, a sugar-coated cereal for kids, but he's lost most of his self-respect in the process; his boss, corporate mogul Hunt Sears (John Saxon), considers him a property rather than a human being, and Sonny has developed a serious problem with alcohol.
Sears' cereal company is negotiating a highly profitable merger with another firm and brings Sonny to Las Vegas for a publicity stunt, in which Sonny, wearing a garish cowboy outfit complete with blinking lights, will ride on-stage at Caesar's Palace aboard prize-winning thoroughbred stallion Rising Star.
When Sonny discovers Sears' men have drugged the horse so that it will be able to walk on an injured leg, he's appalled, and he rides Rising Star off the stage at Caesar's and into the Nevada desert, looking for grazing land where he and the horse can heal their wounds.
Sears is shocked to discover that Sonny has run off with a 12 million dollars, and he realizes that Sonny knows enough to make his firm look very bad in the press, potentially scotching the merger.
Sears files charges against Sonny and posts a reward for Rising Star's safe return, though he implies that it wouldn't bother him if Sonny died in the rescue attempt.
Hallie Martin (Jane Fonda), a television journalist covering Sonny's Vegas appearance, is convinced that something is fishy and manages to catch up with him in the desert; as Hallie tries to get Sonny to tell her his story, the has-been cowboy and the city-girl reporter fall in love.