A conversation between tie-down roper Shane Hanchey and bull rider Sage Kimzey
SHANE: Last week, after I posted my “Behind the Chutes” column about the difference in added money, I knew we needed to hear from a roughstock guy. The last thing I wanted was for the guys on that end of the arena to feel blindsided. So I was glad to get a text from my buddy Sage, with his response to my column. “Until they give us unlimited entries and let us run slack at every rodeo,” Sage texted, “even money is not even money.”
He has a point.
I’ve always liked and admired Sage. At rodeos, I sometimes stick around and help him pull his rope. But I never really took the time to learn much about what it’s like to make a living on the roughstock side. To be honest, I never really wanted to educate myself. But it’s time that changed.
The day after Sage texted me, we got on the phone to discuss the added-money issue. I learned a lot, and I think he did, too. Here are the highlights:
SAGE: I texted you, Hanchey, because I knew you wouldn’t take it the wrong way and think that I was just complaining, because that wasn’t my intention at all. There’s a lot of stuff about the timed-event side that I don’t know about, and I consider myself pretty knowledgeable. If I can’t understand something, how in the world are people outside the arena going to understand it? The same is true for the roughstock side of things.
SHANE: You’re right. A lot of what happens on the roughstock end of the arena is misinterpreted by guys on the timed-event side. I grew up hearing timed-event guys complaining that we have less added money than the roughstock events, even though the PRCA is supposed to be a member-driven organization and we double their membership.
SAGE: The numbers are way bigger in timed events than they are in the roughstock, no doubt. But the roughstock guys have a limited number of entries at all rodeos, which limits the payout. Take Cheyenne, for instance. I think it takes 96 guys, which is one of the biggest number of bull riders accepted into a rodeo. Hanch, do you know the numbers on the calf ropers for Cheyenne?
SHANE: It used to be unlimited. They would get 300 entries. But they started limiting it to 150 now that they let us prepare the calves beforehand.
SAGE: Right. So what that means for us cowboys is there are only 96 guys putting their $300 entry fee in the pot for the bull riding, and there are 150 guys putting $300 in the pot for calf roping. That’s less than half the prize money on the bull-riding side. That’s where the added-money deal comes in for us.
SHANE: Didn’t they used to have a slack for the bull riding?
SAGE: They started doing away with the roughstock slacks towards the end of the 1980s early ’90s. It’s a bigger undertaking on the roughstock side. It’s not just your timer and announcer and a couple guys to untie calves for us. It’s judges and pick-up men and bullfighters. A lot more contract personnel have to be there.
They used to have an 8:00 a.m. slack where they’d buck 60 head of bulls. To get enough bulls to buck in those slacks, they’d go to the local sale barn and just bring herd bulls to buck at the rodeo. Today, bull riding is much more of a specialized business. The stock has gotten way better, and so has the level of competitor. You have to be able to do it at that specialized level to win but also not to put yourself in serious harm.
SHANE: I can see how if you’re a bull rider, you might not have 25 local guys on their permit who enter a rodeo. If you’re a tie-down roper on your permit, you might have a chance to win a little money at a rodeo. There are ropers around Oklahoma and south Texas that don’t rodeo for a living, but if you show up in, say, Woodward, Oklahoma, they’ll take your money. If you’re a permit guy in the bull riding, and you enter a rodeo where a bunch of the top bull riders are entered, you’re probably not going to win a dollar.
SAGE: Right. There are calf ropers you or I have never heard of, but on any given day can go out and be 7.0 flat and win first, for sure. There aren’t many local bull riders who can do the same. In the bull riding, the jump from being a really good high school or college competitor to being an NFR-caliber bull rider is huge. But if you can go be 7.0 flat in the calf roping, whether you’re 13 years old or 43, it really doesn’t matter. Seven flat is seven flat. Obviously, it depends somewhat on the quality of your calves, but at the end of the day, if you can be fast, you can be fast, whereas if you’re a local bull rider who’s really good at riding 78-to-80-point bulls, it doesn’t do a whole lot for you in the pro race. It’s livestock driven, because as far as the contractors and rodeos are concerned, it costs a lot of money to get good quality bulls everywhere.
SHANE: I agree 100 percent. Like you say, Sage, the 220-pound calf is gonna be at the pro rodeo or the amateur rodeo on any given day. But you ain’t getting on Bruiser at a frickin’ amateur rodeo!
SAGE: It’s the same for bucking horses. There’s a big difference between being decent at it and good enough to win at the pro level. I was a pretty decent saddle bronc rider in high school. A couple years ago, I decided I was going to make a run for the all-around. I got on three horses and got wrecked out on all three. I was, like, No, never again. There’s a big gap there for sure.
My view is that at the end of the day we’re all paid entertainers. If we’re not selling tickets, none of this matters. If Trevor Brazile or Shane Hanchey or any other top athlete goes to a slack at a rodeo, it does nothing for the rodeo or that community. It would be the same if I was riding at a slack. The revenue stream does not come in if you’re not in front of the crowd.
SHANE: Actually, the slack does bring in revenue. When we show up three days before the rodeo starts, and we’ve got our rigs, and we’re hanging out for the slacks, and we’re eating in their town and spending money at their hardware store fixing our damn generator, there’s some revenue there. When the timed-event guys show up, they usually have their families or hauling partners. They spend quite bit of money in town.
SAGE: That’s a fair point, for sure. I also understand the point that the PRCA is member-driven. I get that one hundred percent. But at the end of the day, the bull riding is what sells the most tickets. Regardless of the membership issue, without bull riding I don’t know where rodeo would be. I don’t know if you could make the same statement about any other event. That point, to me, makes the bull riding the most valuable. It might be a selfish way of thinking about it, but that’s the way that I feel.
SHANE: We can agree to disagree. I think bull riding is badass, though.
This kind of back-and-forth is a step in the right direction towards closing the gap between both sides of the arena and getting rodeo guys to stick together. At the end of the day, we don’t have a union, but if we did, we could get a lot done. What do you think?
SAGE: I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s two different worlds, man, even though it’s the same sport. There’s ignorance on both sides—not knowing what each other wants, needs or feels. But rodeo needs both of us, and we need each other.
There are guys I really like on both ends of the arena and guys I don’t much care for on both ends. When I show up, I know everybody for the most part. But the majority of bull riders don’t know a single roper, and the majority of ropers don’t know any bull riders. That’s mind-blowing to me. We’re in this small, tight-knit community—what should be a tight-knit community—and we’re all divided into our own little worlds. It’s crazy. I talk to everybody. I’ll say hello to a roper, and one of my bull-rider buddies will say, Who’s that? And I’ll go, Oh, he’s just a ten-time NFR qualifier.
That’s why I appreciated your letter to the rodeo committees. Most committee members are farmers and ranchers who dedicate their time and money to putting on these rodeos for us to come to. It’s huge to be able to open up at least a little communication, if for no other reason to thank them.
SHANE: I’m the same way. That’s why you and I are close. We can talk to one another pretty easily, and we both have similar values and goals.
SAGE: We also know that a difference of opinion is not going to end the world, either.
SHANE: Aw, hell no!