Recently, I’ve been thinking about what a life in rodeo means. Several different circumstances converged in the development of our June issue all at once in the last few weeks that have resulted in my waxing philosophical about the sport.
The first was a project we worked on for the June issue. Dr. Frank Santos, our magazine’s vet since the first issue 16 years ago, has decided to ride off into the sunset. From the wonderful accounts you’ll read in the June issue, he was an NFR-caliber cowboy, but never went. He was even invited back in those days and declined. Instead, he chose to focus on raising a family and developing a veterinary clinic. Both of which he did to great success. Though he never gained rodeo fame, he was a part of the rodeo family. He will be missed by our staff and readers for his concise, informative, helpful articles. For Dr. Santos, rodeo is a passion, but not a vocation. An extended family he never left his immediate family for.
The next thing that got me thinking was an article I worked on with Kory Koontz. We wanted to talk about what it means to be a good role model, why it’s important and what informs his actions. Needless to say, Koontz went deep and while it’s a bit of a departure from what we typically do in the magazine, I found it refreshing that his actions have meaning beyond personal gain. For Kory, rodeo is a career, but also a platform to demonstrate his faith.
The last was Fred Whitfield. We’ve excerpted a portion of his autobiography in the next issue. Because of his longevity, I’ve had the unique opportunity to watch him as a fan of the sport, work with him as a member of the PRCA staff and now cover the twilight of his career as a reporter with Spin To Win. I would have never thought as I sat with my college buddies watching Fred do his thing at the Thomas and Mack that one day I’d have a relationship with him to a level that he’s willing to share the stories of his career. For Fred, rodeo was a way to pull his life to another level.
So, as I looked at these men’s stories, I began to think about what rodeo means to me. I’ve been covering the sport in some capacity for about 13 years. It’s provided a nice living for my family and I’ve made many friends. I’ve tried to inform the fans about what the pros are thinking and doing—both from a human-interest level and from an instructional perspective. I’ve also tried to be an advocate for the sport where possible. It’s funny though, despite all that, for me rodeo has largely been a learning experience.
I’ve learned about how men and women are making a living with a very specific skill set born of cowboy necessity. I’ve learned that rodeo life isn’t as hard as the cowboys make it sound nor as easy as the scoffers say. I’ve learned that relationships matter, treating people well and standing up for right and wrong pays off. I’ve learned there are good people and bad people in any walk of life. But above all I’ve learned that rodeo, though large, is an exclusive club. You earn your admittance by merit—not just with your rope or spurs—but what you can contribute to the sport. I’ve learned I’m not there yet, and I’m unsure if I ever will be. But I’ve also learned to love it. Everything from a team stretching a steer to bronc rider scratching a wild one to the NFR press room to early morning slack in a dusty arena to a few laughs at the trailer. It’s a great sport and I’m so thankful it’s where I’ve been placed.