Rodeo riders have to love what they do because they sure aren’t in it for the money. Except for those who make it to the top (to the National Final Rodeo) a rough stock rodeo rider often pays out more than he wins.
First there are entrance fees that can run a $100 or more, depending on the level of the rodeo and competition. A few years ago, that’s what cowboys competed for—a chance for a piece of the purse they all paid into. Now, most of the larger rodeos, at least, supplement the purse, some to a significant degree now that there are national sponsors.
Then there is all that gear they need to buy. My character, Clay Tanner in Re-ride at the Rodeo, is a saddle bronc rider. Rough stock riders, as those that ride bulls, bareback, and saddle bronc are called, may not have to haul around or feed and board horses like those in timed events, but they still have equipment needs.
In saddle bronc they supply their own saddle. New, it can run anywhere from $1300 to $2200. Then if they want a vest to protect them, that can be another $200 to $300. Bareback riders don’t have a saddle, of course, but they do have a rigging that goes for about $100 or so and their vest includes a neck brace so its pricier, running about $300 to $400. A bull rider might choose to wear a helmet which will set him back a little under a hundred and a vest that will cost $200-$300.
Then the cowboy has to look the part. Those Stetson hats that we writers like our heroes to wear cost generally between $150 and $200 though you can get a wool one for a lot less and a fancy beaver one for a lot more. Boots? A good set of croc boots could set you back over $400—and they laugh at city women and their Jimmy Choos! Then you’ve got to add spurs which can go from $35 upwards, depending on how fancy you want to get. I already discussed chaps a few blogs ago but that can add another $300 more or less. Cowboys may laugh at women for the price they’ll pay for a pair of designer jeans and high heels, but cowboys know a thing or two about what it costs to look good .
Travel expenses are added on top of all this. And they are extensive and getting more expensive with each fill at the gas pump. Rodeo cowboys can travel over 100,000 miles in a year if they are covering the National circuit (instead of a regional circuit). Most travel is by car or truck. To save on gas, cowboys carpooled usually two or three to a car. With gas prices going so crazy, it’s now more like four or six if they can all cram in. Then there’s the issue of sleep, if you aren’t driving all night to the next rodeo. This is when it’s good to have friends in a town but if not, you’ve got to spring for a hotel room which you’ll generally share with those same guys you car pooled with. Now you know why rodeo riders are a tight knit group. In close quarters like this there’s no room for quarreling.
Those that are well-heeled often fly to the big rodeos but that is the exception rather than the rule. And consider the expenses of those in the timed events where they need to haul their horse with them. Even for the top-earner of 2007, Trevor Brazile, expenses can significantly eat into winnings. A recent New York Times article, July 5, 20008, A Sport on the Move, a Rider Who Never Stops, listed Trevor’s income and expenses as follows:
Though Brazile earned more than $400,000 in P.R.C.A. events last year and another $150,000 in unsanctioned events, he pays a lot up front. He spent $65,000 in event fees, which was his top expense. At almost every rodeo, cowboys pay a fee for each event they enter. They need to perform well to make their money back.
Fuel costs him $31,000. Horse feed another $15,000.
This year, with diesel fuel at almost $5 a gallon, Brazile says he expects that to become his top expense. To keep those costs down, he stopped using one of his two trailers and began traveling more with his team roping partner, Patrick Smith. (Brazile also travels with his wife, Shada, and 7-month-old son, Treston.)
Brazile and Smith arrived in Santa Fe pulling Smith’s silver, four-horse Elite trailer behind a white Dodge truck that gets 8.5 miles a gallon.
And then there is the schedule they have to handle. In the New York Times article, Brazile outlined his schedule for this past 4th of July holiday period, known as Cowboy Christmas because of all the rodeos with big prize money that are around:
"Well, start with the 30th [of June]. I’m at Greeley, Colorado, that morning and that night, and then I’ll drive to Cody, Wyoming, that night. I’m there the morning of the first [of July], at Livingston, Montana, the afternoon of the first at three, and back to Cody the morning of the second. Red Lodge, Montana, the night of the second. We’ll get on a private plane from Red Lodge to Prescott, Arizona. I’ll be at Prescott the morning of the third and the night of the third.”
Then Brazile will get on another plane and fly to back to Greeley. “Or, if we didn’t make the finals at Greeley,” he said, “we’ve got a backup plan to go to St. Paul, Oregon, on the fourth and Molalla, Oregon, on the fifth.”
Brazile said he expected to have only four days off from competition this month. He will fight fatigue and injury.
That's what Brazile has to do to maintain his top earner status; that and competing in three to four events per rodeo! Being a top competitor has its rewards though. According to RodeoAttitude, Brazile collected $23,813 during the above time-period (coming in second for the holiday period to my favorite saddle bronc rider, Cody Wright, who won $24, 288 just competing in saddle bronc). Apparently Brazile had to go with his back-up plan, winning $9,467 in St. Paul Oregon. But oh that expense.
Even discounting the dangers, rodeo is a hard way to make a living for the majority of cowboys. Reminds me of an author’s lot. Those at the top may make good money (and work darn hard for it) while those of us trying to get to the top do it just for the love of it. Ride ‘em cowboy!
Anne Carrole has been writing stories since she was in elementary school but back then the hero was more likely to ride a bike not a horse and share a stick of gum rather than a kiss. A co-founder of the western historical romance site, http://www.facebook.com/lovewesternromances , her muse usually comes wearing a cowboy hat. Raised on a farm with horses, dogs, cats, chickens, rabbits and whatever other animals she could convince her parents to shelter, she’s married to her own sweet-talking hero and is the proud mother of a college-aged daughter. They all share their home with a sleek black cat with way too much attitude.