INTERVIEW WITH LARRY MAHAN [Go HERE for Part 1, the Kieth Merrill interview]
BLURT: How has rodeo changed from the early ‘70s?
LARRY MAHAN: You know in a couple of the events the equipment has changed, like in the bare back riding it’s a totally different style and the roping, tie down roping the calves are a lot smaller and the top ropers, quite a few of the top ropers are a lot smaller now because of that. Back in my day the guys that roped calves were bigger and the calves could be up to a 100 pounds heavier. The performance, the rodeo performances have changed in that now there’s, they’ve gone for a younger market and there’s a lot of Rock and Roll and they’ve timed a lot of the events to different high energy rock and roll sounds. It’s very loud compared to what it was back then, and the mode of transportation for these guys that work the timed events is something that has changed so much. Back during my time, the guys that worked the timed events they might have a pickup and a camper with a two horse trailer behind it and now these rodeo guys in the timed events are driving huge semi-trucks with living quarters and trailers that can haul 4 or 5 horses, and it’s like a 40 [or] 45-foot rig going down the road. Quite often those guys have two rigs on the road and they have drivers driving for them and they just fly in and do their deal and then they’re off again, they spend some time on the road it just depends on how many events they are trying to get to during a particular time. Of course the money has changed, not comparable to other sports but according to the governments calculations my biggest year was $63,000 that was 1973 and the top all around guy now probably wins $350,000 I’m not sure but somewhere in that area, but sixty thousand back then was worth in this day and age would be worth three hundred and something thousand. So that’s been interesting how the inflation and the dollar signs have changed more there up in the six figure bracket now but it’s basically the same amount for money and it costs a lot more to go up and down the road in this day and age then it did back then. I really feel that for the rodeo cowboys that were competing back then, there was some really good athletes, but rodeo has come so far because of sports medicines, sports psychology. The group that I was in was just starting to get into the mind game of the sport and now the opportunity is there to where they can take that a lot farther. I think they’ve taken their athletic abilities to higher levels in some of the events.
Have the animals changed in terms of how they’re bred?
They have yes. That has been a huge change because the breeding programs that these stock people have developed have turned out to create animals that are in the bucking horse events, there has always been big horses but now more big horses they are breeding. Genetically they are breeding for bigger horses. The bulls are more athletic and they have proven like in race horses if you breed the right stallion to the right mare you have the chance at getting a great offspring. Now they have competitions for the bulls so that has changed. During my time there were always tough animals and in the national finals they had tough animals, but throughout the year now there’s more tough animals out there and especially in the bull, well obviously the bull riding and the horse riding events, so PBR your probably familiar with that. The bull riding, they have taken that to an amazing level in so many different ways. They’ve taken the event that where the element of danger is the greatest and it’s probably the fans favorite event and they’ve developed, that’s where they really shine with their bulls and the bulls I mean there are so many of them that are almost un-rideable. My concern is are they crossing enough people to create good enough bull riders to ride these suckers. I mean they cripple them right and left you know.
So would Oscar actually be a formidable bull in today’s terms?
Oscar would’ve fit into the top echelon in the bucking bull world, yes, but he’d probably, I don’t think he would’ve been the top bull of the year because of his style of bucking, that fast spin. Now they have bulls that maybe they’re not spinning that fast but you’ll see pictures of the bugger almost standing on their heads they kick so high and that spin there’s much power there. Oscar to me was just a swift chicken you know; the power wasn’t there but he had centrifugal force that very few bulls had during that time.
The film has an energy and punch to it that doesn’t seem to have aged.
Well Kieth was so far ahead of his time and I really think that he helped to revolutionize the rodeo world when it comes to capturing the sport and because it was such a piece of art along with the action and the energy it was just amazing and I’ve yet to see anything that would come close to, there have been documentaries that have been done on rodeo, but nothing that would even come close to what Kieth did. As the years went by I’d see when rodeos were being filmed or people were doing a little special on them or whatever you could see that they had definitely studied Kieth’s work. It was just such a treat to be involved with that and to me it was so amazing. I’d become a pilot and loved flying, so I had two passions going at the same time. I’d swear there were times that I would have to go to a rodeo 200 miles down the road, which was just a hop and a jump with my old airplane and I’d go to an afternoon rodeo and pull in there for another rodeo in some other town could be 200 or who knows how many miles, and there’s Kieth and his family and the crew, and I was like holy cow. It was just amazing to watch them I mean they were; you talk about some energetic people in that crew. I mean they didn’t weaken, they got after it. They really did!
The thing is Kieth was such a clean cut guy I think that he was a very spiritual kind of guy I’m sure back then and I’m sure that he still is and that has a lot to do with all of that energy. I just had a feeling back then that he was on such a good track, and I’m glad to hear that, it would never have crossed my mind that he wouldn’t have stayed on that track because he made a commitment to his belief system.
When I turned pro in the rodeo game you get a permit and you have to win a thousand dollars on that permit and I was right out of high school and had moved from Oregon to Arizona and I was about 3-4 hundred dollars from filling that permit, because I was dying to turn pro. I went to El Paso in 1963 won second in the bull riding $852 and that was the most money I’d seen in one pile in my life and that put me over the limit and I turned pro that next week.
So you have El Paso to thank for it?
Absolutely, otherwise it might’ve take me another twenty-five years to get that last 400 dollars, maybe not though.
People ask me all the time don’t you wish you were in rodeo now with all this money? Well basically the money is the same except everything has gone up. But I says you know I rodeoed during the best time to be a rodeo cowboy. The world was so much friendlier and in this day and age if I jumped out of a rent car and had to leave it somewhere and run through the airport they’d shoot you. Now it takes longer to get through the airport and security than it does to your destination most of the time. So it was a friendly time and it was, and being able to fly around the country with such a freewheeling lifestyle, it really did represent I think what this country stands for, which is independence, freedom and you get to make all of your own choices on where you want to go and when you want to do it. I really feel that we as a nation have lost a lot of that and it’s very sad.
Director Merrill spends a lot of the film on the competition between you and Phil Lyne and shows you giving back to the younger generation by teaching them riding skills and how to survive on a hamburger a day.
Yeah (chuckling) that’s when they shot the rodeo school down there in Austin. That was a fun time. He did such a great job, the way he would weave things in and out and add the story line go through that world of rodeo and expose so many aspects of the sport was just incredible the way he did it. He’s a genius in my eyes. I’d love to see some of his other stuff, I’ve never had an opportunity to do that. I’ll have to find some of it.
What was your reaction when you saw the final cut of the film and where did you see the final cut?
I think I saw the final cut in Cody, Wyoming when he had the premiere. When I saw that last shot the way he did that freeze frame and ran the credits all I could think of was, wow amazing! I still have people today ask me if I rode Oscar. I’ve made up so many stories. What a way to end it but the action the way he would just go with all that energy and power and then all of a sudden the next frame would be some bucking horses standing there eating and picking up the sounds of them chewing, it was just incredible. Then the shots with Jack Hart and the other old men there at Cheyenne that said rodeo used to be tough, during that wild horse race. He captured so much. That must’ve been a nightmare to try and edit all the stuff and Doug Hall had become a good friend of mine that worked with him on I think the narration on some of it. Doug passed away a few years ago.
You mention Jack Hart. I love the scene where he tries to light his cigarette for almost 2 minutes while talking about how the rodeo was back in the old days. It’s a great portrait of a type of man and way of life that was quickly vanishing.
He was the old wild west. The story on old Jack was quite interesting supposedly he was a pretty handy man with a gun and I think I’d heard that he was sort of a bodyguard for one of the boys up there in Las Vegas and probably tried to shoot at a few people and tried to miss’em but he hit them. He was a character; he was really something. I got to know him really well in fact to the point that before they did the film Cow Palace he was baby sitting my little daughter one night, so I said Jack you’re a babysitter, I said my goodness she’s not gonna be any safer and you know that he’s packing. He was funny. He was a great old man. At the Cow Palace they one of those big Quonset huts back then and they would have bunk beds in there so if you got there early enough, they’d probably had 50 beds in there. You could stay there for the week and just camp in that room, in that Quonset hut. Jack stayed down there and he also had connections that he was running the stalls and he would issue the stalls to the guys and they had to pay him a pretty good amount of money and so on. He said one night, I’d stayed in the old Quonset hut a couple of times earlier, I’d sorta graduated from that. He said one night some guys came in about two o’clock in the morning after the bars [had closed] and Jack was in there and they come in drunk and they [were] making a noise and said all of a sudden there was a big boom, old Jack just pulled his pistol out and shot it through the ceiling, he said you could’ve heard a mouse poop.
The film has these punctuated moments such as the one during the steer wrestling where a man is in front of the bull and he is being pushed by the animal that really seems to capture the rivalry between man and beast
For me the only person I was competing against was me because every day I was on a program and I think probably a lot of the other fellas at that time and I know a lot of other athletes. You’re constantly trying to improve and you have to create muscle memory that when that all that consciousness can turn into a subconscious then it’s all feel and reacting to that feel through the energy going through the different body parts. So that’s what I would sort of groove on during that time of my life.
What is the adrenaline like when you’re sitting on top of a bucking bull or bronco? Do you try and harness that explosive energy?
Well to me the key was to try and mask that energy and in the bull riding especially you feel something and if he gets ahead of you, it’s a constant game of catch-up. If you get a little too far ahead of the game, then you’re gonna have problems there. So in my life for many many years and I’ve overcome that because I’ve worked on it but in retrospect when I think back that’s one of the few times that I could really feel that I was totally totally mentally physically spiritually or whatever into the moment and I still ride a lot of horses even at my age and love riding but I’ve been able to relate that or transfer that to what I’m doing with just riding horses. When I really got into horses I found that and through studying and hearing it from all these different old time great horsemen, that horses never leave the moment. So when you get into the moment you can really apply techniques training that boils down to communication and what kind of a communicator you [are]. Do you communicate with a strong hand? Do you really understand that that horse has to totally understand the thing before he can do what you want him to do correctly, or what’s correct in your mind? It’s exciting for me that going from the rodeo game, which was fast and violent to a whole other aspect of riding that I find in different disciplines you have high energy, but then you shut it off. So in my events in rodeo in the seconds when that gate comes open your motor has to be ready to kick in like a drag race. You just punch the pedal to the metal so to speak. I felt that I had to become a machine and the difference between me and the machine is that I had to be able to handle the unexpected. So that was always a fun challenge for me and then knowing that I was really there in that perfect spot to go out there and go through that adrenaline rush. I realized after I quit that I was an adrenaline junkie. It’s a feeling that to me I don’t think I can explain it but it’s a high that goes all the way through your body, [cells and tissues].
When Director Merrill captures the animal coming out of the chute during that first leap you can sense how volatile the situation really is. What’s the connection that cowboys feel with the animal they’re riding?
Well in my events the riding events, if it was really a nice animal that all you had to do was make sure you had the feel and the timing and the balance in synch with his and knowing that if this was one that you were going to win on, that was a different kind of respect that I had for them versus the ones that were really bad and really hard to ride.
That was the respect for them being such amazing athletes, that they could have that size and all of that power and control it in the way that they would. If it was just a bad especially in the bull riding that whacked a rider in the face or whatever, for me I just didn’t want to draw (chuckle). I just as soon stay away from them; I don’t want to find out that I have respect for his ability to throw me off or not. To get psyched up for the right spot was always fun and that’s a big challenge for a lot of people and it was for me at different times. I look back and I say, did I really do that? I must’ve been crazy. I heard Waylon Jennings old song, I’ve always been Crazy, so maybe that’s what the bulls and bucking horses did for me.
Director Merrill has a section where some riders talk about the hits they’ve taken. Was this part of the bravado of being taken seriously as a cowboy back then?
I never heard those conversations and I think a lot of those young people you were talking about were at that rodeo school because they filmed a lot of that and I think to a lot of them that was their badge of honor. It probably was you know and I never heard a lot of guys talk about that and for all of the insanity I put my body through I really don’t have any aches and pains from all of that. I’m living proof that God takes care of idiots (chuckling). We didn’t talk about, what did you break last year? No. We were concentrating on what we were gonna do next and how to handle the disappointments of failure and losing and how you handle winning was all a big part of it.
In the film Larry there’s a fair amount of failure for very few successes would you say that that’s the case in rodeo you fail more than you succeed?
In the formative years without a doubt but when you get to that top echelon of the top 15 guys that make it to the national finals and probably even lower than that the ones that are still trying to get there the next 10 or so. When you get to that top level in the horse riding events especially failure wouldn’t be from bucking off because you’re at a point where you’re gonna ride most of them that you get on. The failure wouldn’t come from not doing it correctly or you didn’t draw the right one but the law of averages, if you have developed a talent to stay on one and do it correctly and do what the judges are looking for you’re gonna win probably more than you lose. Although then and even now these guys can go all year long and the only profit they have is what they win at the national finals. So what’s winning and losing? To me winning was the self-satisfaction that I was happy with the event, the performance or I wasn’t. So winning and losing was to me if I had a good draw and didn’t win and the mistakes were mine that was disappointing. The next step is how long are you gonna carry that disappointment around with you? You know when you’re younger you worry about it too much and then you get to a certain level and you analyze what just went wrong and what does it take to correct that. I always said ok what went wrong that’s out of the picture now I don’t have to bring that back in. I realized what I did wrong and I’m gonna draw this mental picture of what you do to make a right out of it and again just the visualization that run over and over and over in your mind. Kinda like I said the group that I was involved with, we were the first ones that really got into mental imaging. [To] be able to get on a bucking horse 100 times before you crawled over the chute [and] really [got] on him.
Did a lot of the people you were teaching have a hard time coping with failure, was that one of the things you focused on?
When I was doing the schools you’d have a lot of young guys that weren’t really sure why they were there. They thought they wanted to do it or their parents wanted them to do it or whatever reason they were trying to make some kind of statement. The fear factor was probably quite heavy and on their minds all the time. That was sort of it in a nutshell. Then when you’d get to a certain level, it becomes a lot easier. Now there’s much [more] information out there that any young person that wants to become an athlete can study. That’s why I’m convinced that’s why we have such good athletes in so many different sports right now, especially these really physically demanding sports.
Something that’s not explained in the film, is the physical preparation involved. Was weight lifting part of your regimen? You have to have some muscles in order to hold on right?
The pace was so fast when you’re going to a 100 rodeos a year, I didn’t have to spend a lot of time going to the gym and working out that way. Me personally I had a 20-pound weight that I carried in the airplane all the time. I’d be flying across the country and I’d be working on flying the plane and working out at the same time. A 20-pound weight now I’m down to a 10-pound weight, I’m becoming a lightweight! I was constantly and a lot of the guys that were super serious about it you know there was always pushups in your room and things that you could do at the spur of the moment and then for me working three events, I mean just to warm up for it, that was almost like a workout right there. Then after that first event your body is tuned in and you’re ready for another one and another one. In between events you’re still loosening up and to me it’s more, the program would be more like a gymnast than a football player. Now the steer wrestlers, ropers things like that, power lifting would be more important. I worked out all the time. If I was at one of the big rodeos, and we were going to be there for a week in Denver or something like that, I’d start going to the gym. To me top physical conditioning was very important and now in retrospect I can say in this day and age I would probably have access to things we didn’t have back then. If we had I could’ve been in even better shape. That was very important to me and I think it was important to the majority of the guys. Some guys just had natural ability and they could just go out there and just jump on one and didn’t go through the process. My ability probably came from a combination of natural [talent] and [a] willingness to work at it hard enough to stay in tip top shape, to be aware of your body. The body is the one that’s gonna, it’s out there to do the job and it all starts in the mind, that controls everything else.
Regarding the rivalry between you and Phil Lyne that’s expressed in the film, what’s it like when you’re on top and you have people coming after you? Was it hard to shift gears from being on top to being in the hunt?
Well it wasn’t so much, you were always wanting to know how, I was always interested in knowing how Phil did it the rodeos that he’s been to, that maybe I’d been to earlier or whatever. That wasn’t the determining factor. To me again It was up to me on how hard I wanted to work to be the best that I could be. I had no control over any other competitor. When I finally realized that I was the one that was going to make mistakes or do it as close to perfect as possible, to me it was a totally new and different approach but I enjoyed that so I went and did the transition from worrying about what someone might’ve won, by the time we got to 1971 and ‘72 when Phil was in the lead that wasn’t that important. The idea was to get to as many rodeos as you can and do the best you can do. I have no control over what he won and he had no control over what I rode or didn’t ride. You’re always hoping that you’re going to be able to stay ahead of the game. The first year when Phil won it he had been in the lead and I was within about a thousand of catching him and I was on sort of a hot streak, and he was in a slump for a while and I was getting close and then I broke my leg in Ellensburg labor day weekend so that took me out that year and then the next year when Kieth did the film I pulled a bicep loose and were within about a thousand I believe that year as well. Phil had been in the lead and I was slowly catching him, but que sera sera you know. That doesn’t mean that if I hadn’t broken my leg or pulled a bicep that I was gonna beat Phil. Phil was amazing because he was such a great all-around cowboy on both ends of the arena. He rode bulls really well, bareback broncs and horses so so, but he could really rope! He was a great roper and bull rider and then he would win enough in the other events that would keep him going and then he became a strong contender for the all around.
Have you two remained in touch?
I hadn’t talked to Phil, I seen him once and a while, I team rope once and a while it’s like a bad game of golf but it’s sort of a fun thing to do because its horse oriented. And there about two months ago Phil called me and I hadn’t heard from him or seen in a couple of years and he said Mahan, “what do you think of these bareback riggings these guys are riding on?” I don’t spend much time thinking about all of that stuff but they’ve changed the riggings to the point that the style is totally different than it was when we were riding. I said well Phil it’s pretty weird and he has a grandson that’s big in high school rodeo and he said well I’m just coming back from the high school rodeo finals and it was in Rock Springs Wyoming and he said one day I saw five young bareback riders hang up with those riggings. These guys just literally tie their hands in there now. It’s that bind they bind them in there and if you buck off a certain way you’re gonna hang up. He said I saw 5 young guys hang up. The pickup men finally had to rope the horses and get ahold of them and people from the chutes came out to cut the kids loose. These kids go to these schools in this day and age and they can’t stay on one that’s bucking but they got all that sophisticated equipment, if you don’t love your kid send him to one of those schools let him be a bareback rider (chuckling). So I put Phil’s number in my phone and here about three weeks ago, I’m down at the barn riding some horses and the phone rings and I see its Phil. This team roping has really grown they have an association now they have different levels you could be at one, two or three depending on how good you are. I’m pretty low I think I’m a four and Phil’s probably a lot higher than that but I see his name there and they have a big roping during the national finals at one of the hotels out there pays a 100,000 a man or something like that so I sees his name and I say Phil I know you want me to rope with you in Las Vegas but I said my numbers too high and I don’t rope with amateurs.
He didn’t laugh or anything and he said well it’s a good thing because I just cut two fingers off team roping he got it hung in the dally on the saddle. Well I felt absolutely horrible. He said that in fact right now they’re getting ready to haul me, he said I didn’t know that I dialed you, he said I must’ve butt dialing or something. He said they’re getting ready to haul me to Dallas to see if they can put these fingers back on. So the next morning I called him and I said well how’d it go? He said I’m leaving the hospital right now. I said no kidding I said did they get them sewed on did it work? He said no it didn’t work they just went ahead and left them off. So I said Phil I said as good as you rope I said if something like that can happen to you, I said I’m gonna quit this team roping thing and I’m going to give you the first right of refusal to buy my ropes. He said it’ll be a while before I need them. I promise you and this might be something interesting that after all those years of roping and to have something like that happen to you. I’ve told a lot of guys since then that I will bet money within a year Phil will be roping with a thumb and index and middle finger’s as most guys can with all five. Then somebody sends me a picture right after it had happened, he’s still sitting on his horse and holding his hand up the two fingers are gone there’s looks like some veins sticking out of them it made me sick, it was awful. He’s standing there and had that look on his face like oh hell! It was like it didn’t even bother him he was just mad that it happened. Somebody said they were there and said I’d a been screaming and crying and Phil just said, well I’ll be darned look at that!
That’s an intense story! Something related that I talked about with Director Merrill, there’s a kid in the film who has a black eye who has had stitches and talks about it like it’s no big deal. The mentality, the ability to tone out the pain and accept disfigurement is something I’m very fascinated with, because it seems like by the time these kids take part in the real deal, nothing seems to phase them.
Maybe it’s lack of mentality (chuckling). I tell ya I really think that if a young person is passionate about something and especially a game that has the element of danger, the agony of defeat or the thrill of winning. I think that has so much to do with it. You learn to accept the fact that that’s part of it. But again you psyche up to the point that you convince yourself or I could that it was never going to happen to me. You don’t want it to happen to anyone else but it’s not going to happen to you. You almost think that you’re untouchable. It’s not if it’s going to happen it’s when it’s gonna happen, because injuries are part of it. So you’re not gonna find one out of a hundred that at that age that can understand it to the degree that they really know what they’re talking about. Kid got a black eye, how did he react when that first happened? He could’ve been the same little tough kid or I could’ve been someone that was heartbroken and was thinking that he might die and the parents were screaming and going nuts and you know there’s a lot behind the scenes that you have to assume. As far as just an attitude for everybody that steps into the game, I don’t think so, it’s one of those games that sooner or later you look in the mirror and you really figure out if that’s what you really wasn’t to do or not and a lot of people become adrenaline junkies at an early age, not just rodeo but all the youth sports that are out there. They have the comradery going with all the other kids on their team and that’s one of the beauties of sports, you have an opportunity to really learn a lot about yourself.
In the film, rodeo seems to be a contest against yourself more than anything.
Absolutely that’s what I was saying that when I finally got to the point that I started understanding the game it wasn’t about who else was entered into the event. I’m the one that had control hopefully over what I was about to do. I had no control over anybody else’s actions or performance. So, again you better have it in your mind exactly what you’re gonna you’re like that machine except you handle the unexpected. They tell you that the bull is going to turn back to the right, he turns back to the left well you’d better be able to make an adjustment and make one in a hurry. It’s the same in life quite often you don’t have to make decisions that quickly.
When you’re on a bull or a bucking bronc are you saying things to yourself? What are you thinking? Are you talking to the animal? What are you doing at that moment?
What I would do, I would sing to the bull I’d say well I’m a rodeo-odeo-odeo cowboy bordering on insane (Chuckling). No! You’re in the moment so you’re trying to coordinate your energy your body your mind with a feel that’s happening at the time and you have to be ready to react. If you’re a fraction of a second late in that reaction that could be the difference of winning or losing. If you’re a fraction late, if you’re really on your game you play catchup. The one thing about the rodeo game that took me a while, I haven’t mentioned this aspect of it for a while was the ability to test myself so often, so many times in a week. I mean during the summer months I’d go to 2 rodeos a day, every day. I think one year in July there were three days that I didn’t get on bucking horses or bulls. So you get into that groove and you get into a tunnel and a you’re in that tunnel. If you get to the point where you really putting it together mentally for me there was always that light at the end of the tunnel. The light was at the end of that 8 seconds. So that’s the big picture. So what do I do to get to those 8 seconds I stay in the moment I go a fraction of a second at a time.
So when Kieth slows things down he’s giving the audience a true sense of being inside those fractions of time. What’s your take?
Well you break it down to the fractions of a second without a doubt. That’s a very important part of it. You can’t be waiting for that 8 second whistle. So at times when I felt I was getting close to the 8 seconds I’d start anticipating and start falling off. I’d say I want to ride for 10 seconds so I’d extend it out there so all it was, was part of the mind game. Then you have to break down all the body parts and back to slow motion. To me visualization is being able to get this picture in your mind and you can slow it down as Kieth did in the film and you can see all the body parts moving and visualize what you have to do with your different body parts to stay in synch with that bull or bucking horses body parts. But again to me that was a very juicy aspect of the game right there to be able to get into the moment and feel the energy and the power of that animal and then a whistle blows and then all of a sudden times it would get so easy when the whistle would blow, which I found interesting after I’d been in the game a while. It’s like you almost could’ve quit trying and still ride one if you were in good shape and everything was feeling good. That’s the end of it.
Did you have groupies that followed you around back then?
I don’t feel that I ever did. I was too busy to be aware of the things going on around me. Yes there were a lot of groupies around and there were guys that were into that but to me if that’s what you’re into and you’re into partying all the time and drinking those are the guys that are the easiest to beat. You learn to eat, sleep, walk and talk your game. When I quit. Here’s something I found Jonathan. I had trouble wanting to stay in one place. I realized I had become addicted to travelling and just the energy of running from a rodeo grounds to the airport jump into the plane three hours later 600 miles down the road at you’re at another event. That was sort of fun. I mean it was a great experience a great journey to go through all of that.
When you first started though you were hitching a ride and living on a couple of bucks a day right?
When I first turned pro I had an old pickup truck with an eight-foot camper on it and I had a wife and a child. So it was a pretty serious time. There wasn’t much time for jacking around. You put your nose to the grindstone and again I would eat sleep and walk and talk the game. If I hadn’t probably had all that responsibility who knows I don’t think I could’ve done everything that I did whatever that was you know. The one thing that helped me from the rodeo game was that I learned how to set goals at an early age. I had a passion and those two elements right there are very important. I mean those have a lot to do with your key to success or did for me in the rodeo game. I’d go down the road and see a bull out in the pasture and said now I’d like to put my rope on him. I bet he would buck. Now I look at them and I say mmm put him in a feed lot and we might have a great filet there.
Are there still a large number of cowboys travelling from rodeo to rodeo to make ends meet like there were in the old days? Has rodeo been able to widen its appeal beyond America’s rural areas?
I think in the timed events, the barrel racing without a doubt. I think a lot of that stems from the parents realizing that if kids didn’t grow up around the western culture or lifestyle that they all of a sudden were in love with the fact that they might have their own horse. That then starts opening up the doors. Then there’s little competitions for kids to get involved with. I think in that area yes. In the riding events there’s probably more kids coming out of non-agricultural or ranching areas that get involved because they were top athletes and maybe they had a friend or somebody that was in the rodeo game and all they had to do was go ahead. They had the athletic ability to pick a lot of different sports but they picked the rodeo game. So I think there’s more people coming into the game that really didn’t have a connection with the heritage or culture of horses, cowboys and all of that. The parent’s realizing that it’s a good world for kids to get involved in, so they start supporting their kids and now that barrel racing and the roping events, it’s amazing the numbers of people that have spent a lot of money on good horses and big trucks and big trailers to haul their kids around the country because they want to give their kids a chance to do what they really think that they want to do.
So are there still guys piling in four to a car travelling around the country from rodeo to rodeo like we saw in the film?
Those that are trying to make it, yes! Those that have reached a level of having the ability to make it to the national finals, the top 25 people that want to go out there and dedicate their lives to it probably not. I mean like I was talking about in the timed events the roping and so on those guys are driving rigs, they have a couple of rigs and they’ll jump in a plane and they have friends that have jets, that will fly them around from here to there to make it to these rodeos, just so those people that have the jets can say that they hauled old Trevor brazil to 4 rodeos over the fourth of July in their jet. You still have the guys that can’t afford or don’t have the connections to enjoy those fringe benefits that are still out there. But they’re not driving old beat up pickups. Then you have the world of people who take on the responsibility of having a family and they have a job and they love to rodeo and they have talent but they’re not willing to hit the road and let everything else play second fiddle to their desires. They stay home and take care of the kids and the wife and have a steady income and so on and so forth. It’s the combination of people involved in the game Jonathan is amazing. You have those that have no money that have to get that next drink. I think if I can get to just one more rodeo I know I can win. Now you’ve got a guy who’s trying to make it, he’s a roper, that let’s say ropes calves or whatever and he’s riding an old horse that might be worth 10,000 dollars. The top end of these guys are paying 50, 75 ,100, 150 thousand dollars for a horse. So it’s hard to beat those kind of guys. Back there in the 70’s and so on it wasn’t to that extreme.
What are you busy with these days?
I spend a lot of time trying to explain to my wife, why I’m a horse addict and have about 80 head of horses. We raise cows, my wife’s a cow woman, she rides horses really well. I’m not retired. We have a wonderful life we have a little ranch in Colorado. Jill-Anne my wife had one in Oklahoma when we met and she still has that one. We live in Sunset Texas now and we have cows and horses and you have to take care of them. It’s a fun world to be involved with the western culture and western heritage. I think for those of us that have been able to be involved and stay involved, it’s a good connection to a very friendly world. I mean you’re gonna have snakes no matter where you go but I think that the majority of the people are involved in the lifestyle and the industry have a pretty good idea of what’s right and what’s wrong. It’s pretty much cut and dried.
Go HERE for part 3 – our interview with Phil Lyne.