Family and friends aside, if there’s one thing Ote Berry loves in life as much as bulldogging it’s helping other cowboys. If you don’t believe me, watch him work at next month’s Timed Event Championship, where he’ll again offer up his steer wrestling team and lend a hazing hand to TEC contestants who consider roping their day job.
Last year, four-time World Champion Steer Wrestler and ProRodeo Hall of Famer Berry lined things out for Jordan Ketscher, Erich Rogers, Russell Cardoza and Lane Karney. They all won money, and between them they earned $152,000, including Jordan and his “other brother” Lane’s first- and fourth-place finishes in the average, respectively.
“It’s a fun event, and I enjoy the giving back part of it,” said Ote, who took the call for this interview while loping his old faithful bulldogging horse Ernie and ponying hazing horse Polly around the indoor arena at the Checotah Round-Up Club in his hometown of Checotah, Oklahoma—aka The Steer Wrestling Capital of the World—to get them legged up for next month’s March 8-10 marathon, because it’s too wet out in his pasture right now. “I entered the Timed Event three times back when I was rodeoing, and I know how hard it is to get horses and help lined out (a very young Jay Wadhams helped Ote in the team roping at the TEC). I entered the team roping every once in awhile when I was bulldogging for a living, and the team ropers always let me borrow their horses.”
If you’ve ever seen the wide-open spaces of the rural ranch country out beyond the Badlands in Scenic, South Dakota, where Berry grew up the baby of six siblings, it won’t surprise you to find him most days building his horses’ wind out in the pasture instead of in an arena. He and his neighbor heroes, mentors and old traveling partners, Bill and Roy Duvall, are old school, too, and that attitude is part of why Ote has so much respect for the Timed Event.
“To me, the Timed Event is a throwback to how rodeo used to be,” Ote said. “Rodeo is so specialized anymore, and not very many guys work more than one event. I look up to these guys I’m helping in every event. Everybody at the Timed Event is plenty capable and an all-around cowboy.
“I enjoy putting a game plan together with them. I try to talk them through a run, like guys did with me when I was younger. These guys don’t run bulldogging steers all the time, like they do their own events, so helping them is fun for me. To see them do good, like they did last year, makes it really fun. Putting people into a situation they’re not used to and seeing them succeed—because they’re cowboy enough to get it done—is cool.”
For injury-related reasons, Russell can’t compete in this year’s Timed Event, which will again be held at the world-famous Lazy E Arena in Guthrie, Oklahoma. Jordan, Lane and Erich will be back on Berry’s Ernie in the bulldogging box, and he’ll haze for them and also five-time TEC Champ K.C. Jones, who won the event in 1993, ’96, ’99, ’01 and ’12.
“My favorite event is probably their least favorite,” Ote said. “Making a game plan with them and helping them carry out that plan is what I’m there for—that, and if things get a little wide bringing steers to ’em. If something doesn’t go exactly according to plan, I try to give them a little bit of an advantage by talking them through it and helping them make it work.”
One of the obvious natural beauties of the Timed Event is that no one—not even 24-time Champ of the World Trevor Brazile, who won the TEC title a record seven times in 1998, ’03, ’04, ’06, ’07, ’09 and ’15—is an expert in all five events featured in the 25-run ironman of rodeo.
“We rodeo together all year long, but only at the Timed Event do we get to do battle in five events,” Brazile said. “It’s all about mind management in the Timed Event marathon. The only thing I think about is being as efficient as possible start to finish. Make up time when there’s time to be made, and don’t give up time on stupid mistakes.”
There was a time back in the day when—by all accounts of those who were there—fresh, strong calves and steers were used in the calf roping and team roping, but smaller, softer steer wrestling and steer roping cattle were brought in. Not many steer wrestling or steer roping specialists stuck around for long in that era for obvious reasons. The Lazy E today takes pride in even cattle across the board that test the true skills of the cowboy contingent and provide competitive integrity to everyone entered with the most level possible playing field.
“That’s how it should be, and the Lazy E does a good job today bringing in cattle that are pretty true and fair for everybody,” Berry said. “They do their best to make it a pure cowboy contest, and that’s great for the cowboys and the people watching. A lot of ranch skills come in really handy at the Timed Event, too. Being able to ride well and read cattle is a huge advantage.”
Defending TEC Champ Ketscher is ranch-raised, and it shows.
“You have to do a lot of cowboy stuff to get through it,” said Ketscher, 29. “Trevor Brazile is world-class in four of the five events, which basically puts him in a league of his own. But the only place you’ll see him bulldog is at the Timed Event. We all show up having to do events we didn’t grow up doing. No one is completely comfortable in every event, I don’t care who you are.”
Ketscher’s winning team last year included human help from Berry in the bulldogging and Cody Cowden in the team roping. Besides Ote’s Ernie in the bulldogging, Jordan’s TEC championship horse herd included his own calf horse Mouse, Lane’s head horse Scout, fellow Timed Eventer and 2005 and ’11 TEC Titlist Kyle Lockett’s heel horse Stinky and Travis Sheets’ steer roping horse Max.
“Knowing you’re backing in there with guys who’ve been there and done that gives a guy confidence,” Jordan said. “How could you not pick Ote Berry—the greatest bulldogger—to be on your team? He’s a real-deal cowboy, so he knows how to help us non-professional bulldoggers. He just gets it, and knows we need to catch every steer. So that’s what he helps us do. Ote’s as solid as that white horse of his.”
Lockett’s had a huge, big brotherly influence on Jordan and Lane, who alongside Jordan’s big brother, Blaine, and Lane’s little brother, Taylor, also grew up watching Trevor’s every move inside the arena and out.
“The camaraderie and respect amongst the contestants is pretty amazing, and when guys who’ve been my heroes growing up, like Trevor and Kyle, help you and treat you as a peer, it does a lot for your confidence,” Lane said. “Nothing is handed to anyone at the Timed Event. It’s a grueling test—the ultimate test for a timed-event cowboy to compete on that stage at that venue against that elite list of guys. It’s an honor to get to compete at such an historic event, and see what you’re made of.”
Fans flock to the Timed Event because it’s old-school cool. That has everything to do with why the cowboys love it, too.
“Scoring those strong steers out in that big arena is basically like having to go out and catch one in the pasture,” Ote noted. “The scoring and horsemanship involved are what make the Timed Event more of a cowboy contest. The scores at the rodeos have gotten shorter, and the cattle have generally gotten smaller and softer. The conditions at the Timed Event are more like old-school rodeo.
“You won’t see professional rodeo cowboys work five events anywhere else, and that’s pretty cool, too. I tip my hat to the team ropers today. I’ve loved to rope all my life, and it amazes me how tough the team roping has gotten, especially the heading. It’s amazing how far these guys can reach anymore and still handle cattle.”