Introducing “Behind the Chutes”

Photo by matt cohen / cowboy journal

Photo by matt cohen / cowboy journal

We love this life so dearly that we want to leave it in better shape than we found it for future generations.

by Shane Hanchey

We spent our first year at the Cowboy Journal bringing you stories—mostly from the contestants, but also bullfighters, stock contractors and others inside the arena, like announcers, pickup men and judges. Now, we’re pleased to add an opinion column to the mix.

We’ll start by posting a new column once a month. I’ll get things started, but we’ll open the column up to opinion pieces from other rodeo athletes, as well as stock contractors, rodeo personnel, rodeo photographers, CEOs of companies and other important people in the western industry. We’re calling the column “Behind the Chutes.”

Why “Behind the Chutes”? Because that’s where we in the rodeo business get down to brass tacks. Behind the chutes is where we break things down, whether we’re talking about steers and calves, bucking horses and bulls, what kind of start we need or how much rein to give on a saddle bronc. If something happens—good or bad—you hear about it behind the chutes. Things get raw and real. It’s where we ask for advice and give advice when asked. Just the other week during the San Antonio short round, me and Tuf Cooper were behind the chutes watching the guys ahead of us rope. When it was Tuf’s go, he leaned over and said, “What do I need to do?”

“Make sure you have a good feel in the box,” I said, “and that your first swing is down.” Everybody’s got people they listen to a little more than others. When Tuf speaks, I listen.

Trevor Brazile is another one I listen to. Always. And I’m humbled that he listens to me, too. During Round Three at San Antonio, Trevor asked to ride my horse, Bam Bam. Of course, I said yes. We really went in depth behind the chutes then. It had been nearly a year since Trevor rode Bam, and that time it had not gone well. So we talked through what he needed to change. Trevor was the third roper that night, and he was just about up, when he said to me, “Do you have your phone on you?”

“No, I don’t,” I said. “Why?”

He took off his hat and wiped the sweat off his head, because he had just gotten done winning a round in the team roping. “Well, I just want to watch one more video of you and Bam.”

“Trevor,” I said. “Ride him like you rode Tweeter.”

He looked at me and said, “That’s all I need to know.”

Trevor backed into the box, nodded his head and, man, it was poetry in motion. That guy is so full of horsemanship and experience and wisdom. Now that he is semi-retired, we’re looking forward to Trevor sharing his opinions in this column.

Our ultimate goal for “Behind the Chutes” is the same as our goal for the Cowboy Journal—to make rodeo better. Since our December 2017 launch, the stories we’ve posted have brought fans closer to the glorious, gritty reality of life in pro rodeo. We’ve broken down dramatic moments, shared our dreams and doubts and fears, confided our secrets. Most important, we have given rodeo contestants a voice.

Without a voice—a way of being heard by the higher ups—groups of people tend to grumble and gossip among themselves. It’s human nature. But gossip does not make rodeo better. It’s destructive. What will make rodeo better is constructive debate that leads to action. If not action, at least a deeper understanding of different points of view.

I’ll never forget what my roping buddy Blair Burk told me. According to Blair, who joined the PRCA back in 1993 and is a fourteen-time NFR qualifier, once upon a time at the NFR Back Number Ceremony, contestants and committee members from around the country mingled at an open bar. Blair says it was a great opportunity to thank the folks who put on the rodeos. Without fail, committee members would ask, What can we do to improve our rodeo? And contestants were ready with suggestions.

If it was a small, midweek one-header in the Pacific Northwest around the time of one of the larger rodeos, the contestants might recommend the committee make it a two-header in order to draw more contestants. Sometimes it worked, and rodeo got a little better.

These days, there’s still an open bar for contestants on Back Number night, but no one else is allowed in the room. That venue for communication has been lost. I hope this column can help bridge that gap and others.

Any time big money is involved, you get competing interests. Look at how complicated college sports has become. The same is true for pro rodeo, but I like to think rodeo is different. As we all know, rodeo is less a sport than a way of life. Yes, the competition is fierce, but rodeo works best when we’re all behind one another. We don’t always have to agree, but we need to respect one another and try our best to stay on the same page. I think the best way to do that is by keeping communication channels open.

Cowboy Journal will continue to bring you great stories, but this column is where the rubber meets the road. What you read here might open your eyes. You might be irritated by some of the opinions. We may not always be right, but we will always try to be accurate, truthful and respectful. And we will always listen to feedback.

One thing I think most rodeo athletes can agree on is why we do what we do. Whether we’re bareback riders or barrel racers or calf ropers, none of us ever imagined we’d make as much money as Tom Brady or Drew Brees. However, we rodeo for the same reason those guys play football—for the love of the game. We love this life so dearly that we want to leave it in better shape than we found it for future generations.

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