The Roper’s Bit Man: Paul Petska
Four-time NFR and 1986 NFR average heading champion Paul Petska, 71, began building Petska Bits, his claim to fame, in the early ’90s, while rodeoing full time.
Petska, who now resides in Oklahoma, purchased a few bits along the way that never gave him the feel he desired. He would revamp bits to his own personal liking—which later on became the bits ridden around the word—Petska Bits.
“I’ve always just kind of played around with stuff mainly because I’d go into a tack trailer and buy a handful of bits and they wouldn’t work,” Petska said. “I would find a shank that I liked, take the shank out to my trailer, and I would drill me a couple holes in the shanks.”
Petska worked on changing an original bit for years for himself and found that fellow rodeo contestants noticed his bits and wanted the same.
“It went on like that for a little while,” he said. “I would make them for a few of us guys that rodeoed.”
Petska didn’t start off making a living on these bits. He rodeoed and trained horses up until he broke his leg. That’s when the idea to build bits for a living came into play, which ended up being a saving grace.
“It made it to where I couldn’t ride,” Petska said. “It put me in a bind but, really and truly, it was a blessing in disguise.”
Thirty years later, Paul and his wife, Gail—a two-time World Champion barrel racer—are still building bits together. The duo can be found in their shop nearly every day assembling the famed chain bits.
“We hardly ever just sit down and build one,” Petska said. “We’ll do anywhere from 10 to 30 bits a week; sometimes we’ll get more. Most of the time, I’ll make 10 ports. I usually do stuff in 10s.”
Though the iconic couple are “getting up there in age,” you can still find Petska entering local jackpots.
“I go to a few little jackpots,” Petska said. “It’s just hard to sit in the shop and make $300 worth of bits and go give it away over the weekend. It was a lot easier to swap money when I was rodeoing. But when you have to work for it, I’m kind of stingy.”
Petska’s personal favorite bit is his straight-chain bit.
“Most of the time, I use a chain—a smaller chain,” Petska said. “If I have a horse that’s a little bit heavy, then I’ll put the port in.”
Read More: Bit Logic
It’s no surprise that when you show up at a jackpot, rodeo or practice session, you can almost guarantee that there will be a Petska bit somewhere in the arena.
“We love it,” Petska said. “We love seeing them everywhere. At the US Finals, Gail and I were sitting at the back end of the arena, where everybody comes out, and we were waiting for something but, just out of curiosity, I got to watching when they’d come through. We sat there for probably an hour and every 10 horse that would come through would have one on.”