While the basics of rodeo events seem simple – a series of contests that last a few seconds each – the process of actually putting on a rodeo performance is nothing less than substantially complicated. It requires the involvement of a long list of people, each with a specific task or function related to the ongoings. Many of them are easy to see, rolling out the action right in front of our eyes. Ropers, riders, pick up men, bullfighters, barrelmen, announcers, judges, and a few other people hang out in the spotlight, and can’t be missed for anything. Their job is to be front and center, but each of them are reliant on not only each other but an entire network of people that stay mostly out of sight but keep everything moving along. Next time you’re at the rodeo, keep an eye out for these “hidden” parts of the rodeo crew:

Stock Contractors: These indispensable people are hired by the local rodeo committee to provide the livestock to the rodeo, and in turn, the lead Stock Contractor often hires the majority of the other performance personnel as well. Multiple stock contractors might be procured for a particular rodeo, since many specialize in one particular type of animal or another, and they will often collaborate with other contractors, making sure the sport has animal athletes that will give the humans the very best shot at a high score. Stock contractors are also the people who carry out the breeding programs, providing bigger, faster, stronger, and more exciting stock every year.

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Livestock Coordinator: All these four-footed guests require a substantial amount of organization, and the responsibility of the Livestock Coordinator is to do just that. Depending on the particular rodeo, the Livestock Coordinator might be responsible for a wide variety of responsibilities, but making sure the very best animals are on the grounds tops the list. Once they are in town, being sure the grounds are set up to pen, feed, and care for them falls on this crew member as well, and in coordination with a team of help, the four-footed athletes are very dependent on the Livestock Coordinator!

Chute Boss: When it’s time for the rodeo to start, someone has to get all the riders and bucking stock organized in the proper order. The Chute Boss looks through the day’s draw and decides who bucks when, and out of which chute. The sequence in which rides occur is painstakingly prepared, then has to be delivered to the upstairs crew before the show even starts. Once it’s go time, the Chute Boss is the final word at the bucking chutes, making sure each animal is set in its proper place, and preparing both the animal and rider before the ride starts. Often the Stock Contractor takes this responsibility, due to the fact that they are most familiar with the people, stock, and the process as well. You will see this crew member doing everything from positioning pickup men and bull fighters to coaching riders, and keeping an eye down the row for who’s next, and who’s after that.

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Flank Man: As a bull or bronc leaves the chute, a soft, sheepskin-lined strap is tightened against its waist to encourage the animal that the show is on. Animals are as particular about their flank straps as any athlete is about their gear, and if a strap is not just right on a bucker, they are likely to balk and not do their job. If a strap is tight enough to be uncomfortable, an animal might just stand still and try to relax, but if the strap is too loose, it might actually cause safety concerns to itself  or their rider. The same applies if a flank strap is tightened too early or late, or if it is placed in the wrong position. The Flank Man is typically a member of the Stock Contractor’s crew, who knows each animal and their flanking preferences well.

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Timed Event Boss: No, I haven’t forgotten the other end of the arena, and there are no accidents at the timed event chutes, either. Every creature that busts out of the roping chute toward the center of the arena has been randomly drawn, but specifically paired with the contestant(s) who will chase it toward the middle. Being sure the steers or calves are in the right order is the responsibility of the Timed Event Boss, constantly checking tags against lists, organizing and supervising a crew of helpers whose job is to move the animals from their pens toward and into the chute, and one last check again to make sure the tag matches the roper in the box.

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Arena Director: Buried under a headset, and with a clipboard full of info, the arena director makes every single part of the rodeo performance flow. Every aspect of the on-field action goes on cue, from the time the first flag flies into the arena until the last one leaves. Similar to a stage manager, the Arena Director communicates with all the production members timing events, cueing who’s next, and keeping all the seams tight. Whether it’s the bull riding, the grand entry, or a t-shirt toss, everyone waits on the Arena Director to say “go”… and doesn’t wait a second longer! The arena director keeps an eye to make sure things are in accordance with association rules as well.

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Rodeo Secretary: Who keeps all this tied together? Of course, there’s a committee, with responsibilities doled out amongst a group of volunteers, but the bulk of it ends up in the hands of the rodeo secretary. The secretary’s duties “officially” relate to contestant entries, collecting payment and paying out, and reporting to the association, but secretaries always end up with substantially more on their plates. Secretaries usually bear the lion’s share of work at a rodeo, managing varying forms of hospitality, tying up loose ends, and offering a listening ear where necessary. The value of a rodeo secretary simply cannot be understated.

Roles vary from rodeo to rodeo, and some handle things differently than others, but most hold pretty close to these general ideas. Overall, it takes a cohesive team working behind the scenes, and it’s thanks to them that the heritage of rodeo continues in our west. You might not actually see some of them at the next performance, but how about a hat tip in their general direction? They help keep our sport alive.

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  • Robert Scholes

    Very nice! I most like a photo that tells a story. You can feel the activity and energy from your images. Thanks for sharing.

    rob scholes