The Economics of Roping for a Living

This whole country is talking about the economy right now. But I’m not convinced that this countrys tough economic times are affecting most rodeo guys as much as everyone else in the nation. The way I see it, most of the guys out here on the road in every event are 18-25 years old, which usually means they don’t have a mortgage and a family yet. They’re free spirits living their dream out on the road and as long as they have travel money and money for truck payments, lifes grand. When you step back and look at things honestly, the question is, Do you really make a living roping, or is this just a pastime you have a passion for? One guy who wins can make enough money to support himself and stay out on the road. But when you have a family and a mortgage payment, its another story. Whats so scary about the economy right now is that even the wealthiest people are in trouble. Were in a recession that could end up being a depression before its over. Personally speaking, my whole perspective changed when I had my family and got a mortgage payment. You see things differently when your kids need insurance, and you have to save for college and buy vehicles. So for the rodeo cowboy, the economy is an issue and it isn’t, depending on your stage of life. The financial pressures and responsibilities that come later in life change your whole perspective on life and your career. The economy is what it is, and high fuel prices and expensive trucks apply to all Americans. Those of us who rope for a living basically have two options: Adapt to the changing times or go home and get a job.

It’s time to step back and take a broad view of things. Given the current eco-nomic times, do I need to cut back and economize? A lot more guys are doubling up in trucks these days. The luxury of footing the whole bill in your own rig is just that these days a luxury. There were four guys traveling together in a lot of rigs this summer.

Big, fancy rigs might not be as affordable to everyone as they have been in years past. We might not all be able to keep up with the Joneses. All of America has overextended when it comes to credit. I’m looking at all that with a different perspective. I’m not willing to max out multiple credit cards. I’ve never been a big credit man, and thats sure not going to change now. I was raised that if you cant afford to pay cash for something you probably cant afford it, so I guess Im old school. In the last 20 years, its just been so easy to buy everything on credit. Thats catching up with people from all walks of life now, including some within our industry.

Expenses have risen dramatically. Hay is $250 a ton when it used to be $100 just a few years ago. A good head horse costs $20,000 to $100,000 when you used to be able to get a good one for $10,000 or $15,000. Its all supply and demand, just like fuel prices, and there aren’t that many great ones around. But as an American, whether you’re in the rodeo business or another line of work, you adapt and you go on.

I’ve had a great life and career. But I wish I was 20 years old again in some ways. Its a great time to buy a home right now, with the real estate market bottoming out. What a great time to get invested across the board, with prices so low. If you’re a young guy now, chances are you’re eventually going to buy into the American Dream and want to buy a house. Now is the perfect time to do that.

The tough part about roping for a living is that there are no guarantees. Theres no paycheck in your mailbox every other Friday. You’re basically gambling on your skills, and there are also factors involved that are beyond your control, like the luck of the draw and how you draw up at the rodeos. The guys who’ve had a lot of success in this business are sponsored, which really helps. If I didn’t have my sponsors, I probably wouldn’t be out here rodeoing. Because according to my accounting, unless you win one of the major ropings the BFI, Wildfire, George Strait, USTRC Finals or the NFR you’re pretty close to the edge. The regular rodeo season is all about getting to the NFR. It looks like its going to take about $60,000 to get to the NFR. That doesn’t count a couple high-dollar horses, and you have to have the right tools to get there. If you put a pencil to it, and add up entry fees, fuel, your trailer payments, etc it costs about that much to get down the road. So you’re basically gambling all year long to get that token to the Finals, and a chance to win the big money

The guy who’s 15th going into the NFR has basically broken even that season. The 16th through 20th spots are a really bad place to be. You have to supplement that income some other way, whether its roping schools, sponsorships or another business. Everyone goes to the Finals with high expectations of winning $100,000. But quite a few teams will leave Vegas with $10,000 or less. Still, cowboys are true grit. They do not back down. The true warriors who want to do it are survivors; they’re tough. This is something we love. Its a dream. I know I’ve been doing this for 28 years, and I haven’t been able to shake it.

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