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Rodeo Livestock: Much More Meets the Eye

By Wrangler Network contributor Miss Rodeo America
This blog was written by guest blogger; Jed Pugsley, Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Livestock Program Administrator.

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Jed Pugsley is the Livestock Program Administrator for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. As part of his responsibilities promotes, he and monitors the proper care and handling of rodeo livestock at PRCA-sanctioned rodeos.

Mention the words “Rodeo Livestock” to any one of the 35 million self-proclaimed Professional Rodeo fans and immediately images of stoutly built broncs, robust timed-event cattle, muscular Brahma bulls and the ever-impressive equine half of the timed-event world come flooding in. Behind the bucking chutes, names like Grated Coconut, Khadafy Skoal, Cool Alley, Night Jacket, Voodoo Child, and Bodacious invoke stories as roughstock riders remember the ride of a lifetime or tell the stories of a time they had a chance, but ultimately succumbed to the power and strength of a great four-footed athlete. On the timed-event end of the arena, the names Walt, Sweetness, Pearl, and Scooter are used with a respect usually only reserved for deity. Contestants and fans alike stop what they are doing to watch a professional of the four-legged variety work the rope or track a steer.

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From small towns to large cities, the livestock athletes of Professional Rodeo ooh, aah, and wow crowds almost every weekend of the year. The silence observed during the national anthem and invocation is quickly replaced by exuberant cheers, vigorous clapping, and the occasional whistle as the chute gate cracks open and the first bronc jumps into the arena with cowboy in tow. As the performance progresses, rodeo livestock display feats of speed, agility, strength, athleticism and determination that can only be compared to those of Olympians.

When asked about a particular horse or bull in their bucking string, stock contractors, who raise and own the livestock, often offer a genealogy lesson going back three and sometimes more generations. Along with the lineage, you will hear stories of where they bucked, who they bucked off or what they scored. These stories are told with a pride that would make a “My student is on the Honor Roll” bumper sticker parent envious. As spring comes to a close and the next generation of baby buckers appear, stock contractors take pride in showing off their future rodeo athletes. Many boast of pedigrees, bloodlines and what the future may hold. As rodeo performances come to a close, colts and their mothers are let into the arena for not only the enjoyment of the crowd but to familiarize themselves to the sights, sounds and ambiance of the rodeo arena.

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Four-legged athletes in the world of Professional Rodeo are often referred to as “bred and born to buck.” Business models employed by stock contractors are production-oriented. Although specific to each operation, these models call for a superior product produced through hard work, dedication, passion and an overall awareness of stewardship. Fussing, fretting and the day-to-day operations of producing world-class rodeo stock take place on ranches scattered across the United States. From Moses Lake, Washington, to St. Cloud, Florida, and many towns in between, much more goes into the production of the Professional Rodeo Livestock than meets the eye.

Genotype (the genetic makeup), phenotype (observed characteristics), and environmental considerations weigh heavily on the minds of stock contractors as they select livestock for their rodeo strings. While superior bloodlines or a favorable coat color are sought after, an animal with a calm demeanor, level head and an ability to be handled safely and easily is even more coveted. Often after the performance is over and the roughstock has been returned to their pens, a friendly bronc or bull can be seen looking for an “atta-boy” back scratch or head rub from his caregiver.

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Before livestock head to their first rodeo, they must prove themselves fit for competition. Not only is the ability of each livestock athlete considered, but aspects such as response to the crowd, lights, and action of a rodeo are factored into the final decision. Attending only 10-15 rodeos a year and performing less than five minutes each year, livestock who make the most of their opportunities are the real stars of professional rodeo. Horses and cattle specifically bred for the purpose of rodeo are well-suited for the sport. Rodeo requires strong livestock with a desire to perform. Broncs are large-framed, athletic, and powerful with the ability to make kicks, jumps and lunges on the fly. Bulls prove to be muscular, with cat-like reflexes showing off spins, shoulder rolls and sheer strength. Timed-event cattle are quick, robust and ruggedly built with strong horns, necks and legs.

At a rodeo I recently attended, the announcer proudly proclaimed, “The livestock does not buck because they are at the rodeo, but rather they are at the rodeo because they buck.” I couldn’t have said it better myself! The animal athletes of Professional Rodeo are purpose-bred and born to buck. What a great opportunity we have to interact with livestock through the American tradition that is rodeo! Next rodeo you attend, whether behind the chutes, behind the barrier or in the stands, I encourage you to take a minute and think about the care and dedication that goes into breading, raising and caring for the livestock of Professional Rodeo.