One of the questions in the forefront of many rodeo fans’ minds is: What does it take to raise a Wrangler National Finals Rodeo-caliber bucker?
It’s a good question, as I’ve often thought about what separates the great from the good when it comes to bucking horses and bulls. With human athletes, it’s easier to pinpoint the factors that create a legend like Michael Jordan or Babe Ruth, but it’s not as cut and dry when it comes to four-legged athletes.
So, I talked to some of the all-time best contractors in the biz and got their thoughts about what it takes to breed and cultivate a horse or bull worthy of the Wrangler NFR. There are a number of factors, both ones that can be controlled and those that can’t, that enter into the equation.
Naturally, breeding plays a huge role in the mix. Stock contractors work hard to match the best of the best together during the breeding process in order to produce top-quality offspring. A methodical approach to developing the animals as buckers is immensely important as well.
“When you breed your mares, you try to breed the best available bloodlines based on what your best available studs are,” said Bennie Beutler, the 1997 PRCA Stock Contractor of the Year. “You buck them when they’re 3 or 4, and we wait longer than most people and don’t buck some until they’re 5. A lot of guys buck them with dummies on them, but we don’t because sometimes they buck so hard, you cripple them.
“You usually have to buck them a few times over an 18- to 20-month period to see what you’ve got, and you don’t really know what you’ve got until you buck them eight or 10 times.”
Numerous schools of thought exist in the stock contracting ranks about the best ways to raise a bucking horse or bull, and virtually every contractor or breeder has his or her own variations to the overall approach.
“There’s no set pattern,” said Beutler, whose Beutler & Son Rodeo Company – which he runs with son, Rhett – won the 2007 Remuda Award for providing the best overall pen of bucking horses. “There’s a thousand guys in the rodeo business, and everybody’s got different ideas. Everybody does things differently, and I think some guys get in too much of a hurry. Because a horse really doesn’t mature until they’re 6, and some don’t until they’re 7.”
There are several other intangibles, from desire to buck and personality to instinct, that factor into the equation as well.
“What makes them decide to be better, and do they even know to try and be better?” asked 2000 PRCA Stock Contractor of the Year John Growney. “Of all the great athletes in the world – whether it’s football, baseball, basketball or whatever – only a small percentage ever gravitates to the top. Horses and bulls are like that, too.
“I swear, it’s their mindset and how they think. In their own little way, they just know how to be better and know that, if they put their best foot forward, they’re going to win. The good ones win almost all the time. They just have that desire to win.”
Stories abound about legendary Triple Crown winner Secretariat and how the horse knew when it was race day at the track. In many cases with the best rodeo buckers, they exhibit signs that show they also know when it’s time to do their thing.
Growney experienced that with his ProRodeo Hall of Fame bull Red Rock.
“With Red Rock, he was so good that, we would go get him out of his pen and you never had to herd him or use anything to get him to the chute,” said Growney, the 2008 Remuda Award winner. “He couldn’t wait to get in that bucking chute.”
Beutler said the talent of three-time PRCA Bareback Horse of the Year Comotion was obvious early on.
“When we raised Comotion, the first time we bucked him, you knew it,” Beutler said of the bucking horse, which won the top PRCA award from 1998-2000. “You were afraid every time you bucked him that he’d break his back. The first time we bucked him, he turned a flip.
“But that’s an exception. You’ll go through 10,000 horses before you get one that even comes close to that.”
Perhaps the final piece of the puzzle is simply the contractors’ instincts and gut feelings about a particular horse or bull. Years of experience have taught them well about what separates the elite buckers from the rest of the herd.
“After our cows will calve, Donny Kish and about four or five other guys will drive out to the pasture and try to pick the best ones,” Growney said. “Usually, they find the best ones, because it’s their personality – he’s not afraid, his head’s up in the air and he’s paying attention to you. There’s something about these animals.
“You can’t pick them all out, but you can sort of tell. We don’t know if they’re going to be great, but we know they’re going to make it to be a bucking bull or bucking horse. The good ones don’t fear you, and they want to check you out. They almost want to challenge you and won’t run off. That means their mind is working.”
Intelligence, desire, natural ability and genetics create quite the cocktail of a great bucking animal. Part of it is science, part of it is how they are brought along, part is natural born attributes, and the last part is pure luck.
Working to find that magical mix, combined with the prospect of finding the next four-legged legend, is what keeps many stock contractors going. It’s what makes their business vibrant and exciting, and rodeo fans the beneficiaries of the process.
As they say in the rodeo biz, “Let ‘er buck!”