Dear Rodeo Committees
First of all, thank you. We contestants don’t get enough opportunities to show our gratitude for what you do. If it weren’t for y’all, we wouldn’t be showing up in your town or city to showcase our talents in front of the fans. The work you guys put in, not only during the rodeos but also in the weeks and months leading up to them, doesn’t go unnoticed. A lot of that work is unpaid, volunteer work, and we sure do appreciate it.
As I pointed out in my first Behind the Chutes column, over the years an unhealthy gap has grown between rodeo contestants and committee members. We started the Cowboy Journal in part to bridge that gap and other areas of miscommunication, all for the betterment of rodeo.
Which brings me to my current subject—how the added money at rodeos often favors the roughstock events over the timed events. Before I continue, please understand that I am a huge roughstock fan. When I see Virgil is in my perf, I make sure I’m there in time to watch the bareback riding, even if I won’t rope for the next two hours. The same goes for Medicine Woman, Bruiser and other famous bucking stock. Anybody that follows rodeo closely knows that I’m often behind the chutes pulling somebody’s rope. I even pulled Cody DeMoss’s saddle down one year in Fort Madison.
But here’s the deal: We timed-event guys don’t always feel the love. We see these rodeos that are adding double in the roughstock than the timed events and sometimes half of that for each header and heeler. I mean no disrespect to the roughstock guys. A lot of them are good friends of mine. And we’re all trying to earn enough to do what we love and support ourselves and our families.
But take my experience last summer at the rodeo in West Jordan, Utah, for instance. It added $15,000 to each roughstock event but only $7,500 in the steer wrestling and tie-down roping and even less—$3,750 per side—in the team roping. I was entered at West Jordan. It’s close to my buddy Clint Robinson’s place in Spanish Fork, and I figured I might as well. But I was entered on top of the short round at Greeley, and when I made the finals at Greeley, I gladly drew out of West Jordan. I could have easily moved my West Jordan perf to the next day, but I wasn’t excited about the calves or the small purse. If the money had been better, it might have given me the incentive to make it work.
That was my experience, but I don’t think I’m the only timed-event contestant to feel this way. True, we still enter, since we don’t have much of a choice if we want to make the National Finals. But it doesn’t seem fair, especially when you consider how high our expenses are.
About those expenses, let me break them down for you. Horses: You’re not buying a top-tier horse in any of the timed events for less than $50,000. Trucks: you’re not getting into a new truck for less than $50,000, and that’s being generous. Living-quarter trailers: Good luck buying a quality one for less than $100,000. In all, that’s at least $200,000, plus feed, shavings, vet bills and the diesel fuel required to haul all the gear and animals. Man, it adds up quick.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think sometimes y’all add more money to the roughstock purses because membership in those events is down, and y’all want the best of the best to show up at your rodeo. I get it. Y’all deserve Tim O’Connell and Sage Kimzey and the Wrights. They’re amazing. But we have just as many big names on our side of the arena, and we’d like a fair opportunity to run at that kind of money. Since the timed-event guys make up the majority of the PRCA membership, it seems best for the future of rodeo to give us a fair shake.
Now, to the committees that do add equal money in every event, including each side in the team roping, thank you! It doesn’t go unnoticed.
Before you say, You chose this, you should be grateful, look, I’m so humbled that I get to do this for a living. And I’m not complaining just so me and my calf-roping buddies can make more money. I’m trying to raise the issue in the name of fairness and common understanding. I’m sure there are ins and outs that I don’t fully understand, and I welcome you and anyone else reading this to help educate me. This communications bridge we’re trying to build is not a one-way street.
I have a modest idea to get the ball rolling. If you do add double in one or two of the roughstock events, how about you balance that out on the timed-event side? So, instead of double the added money only in the bareback and saddle bronc riding, you could double the money in bareback and steer wrestling—or in the saddle bronc and calf roping. And, yes, there are rodeos—Huntsville, Texas, and San Juan Capistrano, California, come to mind—that add more in the timed events than the roughstock events. I’d be fine if those committees balance things out for the benefit of the roughstock side.
I appreciate everyone who has taken the time to read this letter. I hope it starts a healthy conversation about how we can work together to make rodeo better for everybody involved.