They know what it takes.
Sweat, blood, adrenaline, years of work in brutal conditions, all in pursuit of that winning ride (or wreck), which hopefully is remembered by the ticket-buying public.
The hard-working few who live this reality are rodeo stock contractors. They bring in the rough-stock â those beasts with bad attitudes and worse intentions just itching for an eight-second showdown against men one-tenth their weight. If the attending crowd doesn't wear itself out cheering during a performance, then contractors think they haven't done their jobs. The best ones take it personally.
The most important person at a rodeo is the ticket buyer,"pronounced Hal Burns, his blue eyes intense as he answered questions across the dinner table in his home. The Burns Rodeo Company owner has been a stock contractor for three decades. Since starting with a neighbor's bucking Quarter Horse in the 1970s, he's forged a reputation for supplying some of the toughest bulls in the game, including the renowned "Mr. T,"the first bull inducted into the Cheyenne (Wyoming) Frontier Days Hall of Fame.
While Burns and other top contractors understand their duty to excite rodeo fans, most people have no idea how much effort goes into the product occurring inside the arena, or how tough the job can be. Burns joins several stock contractors and rodeo cowboys in talking about a side of rodeo life the public doesn't often see.
Road Hard and Put Up Wet
"The hardest part is being on the road, away from home,"answered Professional Bull Riders contractor HD Page, a former bull rider. Page is part of D & H Cattle Company, considered by many one of the best contractors on the PBR circuit. He's been involved with contracting since helping his dad at age 13, and the personable Oklahoma cowboy can't get it out of his system. Though he estimates he'll spend approximately 60 hard hours working with his bulls for a single rodeo, Page is a self-described job junkie.
"I do it for the love of the game. I get an adrenaline rush,"he said of watching an animal perform at a high level, especially one he's raised from a calf. "The adrenaline is addicting."
Ike Sankey, a bucking-horse specialist and chief of Sankey Rodeo Company, agreed the travel is the toughest part of the job.
"We leave for up to five or six weeks at a time,"revealed the straight-talking contractor as he described the economics of lining up a number of rodeos in one geographi-cal area.
"We're in the rodeo business,"he explained of his singular focus. "That's all we do 10 to 18 hours a day."
Another Oklahoman provided insight into why hitting the road is necessary. "Well,"began a candid Bennie Beutler, Beutler and Son Rodeo Company, "my dad always said, âIf you're at home, you're in trouble.'"
Beutler ought to know. The 1997 Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Stock Contractor of the Year was raised in a rodeo operation started by his grandfather in 1929. "People don't realize all that goes into the job. Sometimes you get a little âroad-foundered,'"he admitted, relating the condition of a horse coming up lame to the physical, mental and emotional tolls the constant travel exacts. "It helps to have my son working with me. Working with Rhett is fun."
Being on the road is only one aspect of preparing for a rodeo. Other important facets of the business are readying the stock for hauling, and then caring for them once the operation arrives at its destination.
Texas contractor Robbie Herrington shared some of what occurs behind the scenes for his outfit.
"We start getting the bulls ready about three weeks before a scheduled event,"revealed the PBR's 1997 Contractor of the Year. "We work on their diet and exercise, and start grouping the bulls in different pens to make sure they don't hurt each other."
Herrington also described the toil that occurs hours before a rodeo. Every animal needs fresh bedding, grain, water and other necessities to ensure it performs at optimum level for a crowd dropping hard-earned cash on an event.
Burns waxed philosophical regarding the time needed to bring each eight-second showdown before an eager multitude. "It's basically a continuous deal,"offered the man, whose bull, No. 812 (Blenderhead Snuff), contended for 2004's PRCA Bull of the Year award. "We raise our own bulls, and we're hands-on since conception. You can't put a timeline on that. You can't quantify it. We start putting hours into them way before they even get to their first rodeo."
Like Burns, Sankey chose to focus on the big picture of the time expended getting an animal to a rodeo, but needed only three syllables to do it. "A lifetime,"he answered with a laugh. Other colleagues concurred.
"It figures (Burns and Sankey) would take the good answers,"joked Kirsten Vold, the respected 31-year-old general manager of Harry Vold Rodeo Company. Vold assumed the reins of her father's esteemed Colorado business more than four years ago, developing a tough and honest reputation while trailing in the wake of Harry's rock-solid notoriety. "I second the notion."
While the bringers of beasts don't seek affirmation for their efforts in breeding, raising, and delivering top-notch animals to venues across the country, bronc and bull riders are only too happy to provide some anyway.