At 37, Josh Love has a lot on his plate, and when asked how he’s doing, “Ducking and swinging,” might be his response. He hints to how well he’s cut out for it, though, with his easy tone and brief chuckle.
Love, who recently won the #12 with header D.J. Tecklenburg at the USTRC Mile-Hi Championships, was raised mostly by his grandparents along northern Colorado’s Front Range, and grew up with a rope in hand.
“My grandparents had a lot of land,” Love said. “I wouldn’t say it was a ranch, but my grandpa and my whole family roped and had horses and all that.”
Love rodeoed as a header well into his 20s, even having fun riding broncs a bit, and was working as a lead pipefitter when he had a chance encounter with Chip Bruegman, who was then the GM for Heel-O-Matic, and was staying where Love was boarding his horses.
“I started out in the trade shows, selling,” Love recounted. “And then, the first time I even worked for ProEquine was in 2007, when they hired me to do some calf roping and tie-down stuff. Chip was always trying to get me hired on full-time and I wouldn’t do it, but I guess he finally talked me into it.”
Love doesn’t have a degree in engineering, but his knack for it comes naturally.
“I’ve always been sort of tinkering,” he said. “If I ever thought I needed something, I’d just build it. I wouldn’t buy it, and Chip knew that about me.”
Nor did it take Love long to demonstrate the level of integrity he’d bring to the table when he refused to work with a man on the team who demonstrated, in Love’s opinion, a questionable work ethic. Following the incident, the man lived up to Love’s impression of him, and Bruegman finally hired Love on full-time as Heel-O-Matic’s Assistant Engineer. Love took to the task like a strong horse over a short score, subsequently designing the Bones 2.0, the Leapsteer, and the Drifter, which is his patent.
When Bruegman’s reign as GM came to an end, it was the newly-minted Love whom he named to take his place, as did Andrew Potter, Love’s shop manager.
“They came in and asked who might fit,” Potter recalled. “I said, ‘The guy’s right here.’ Having a boss that has been down in the shop and down in the trenches with us is unreal. There’s a lot of mutual respect because he knows what it takes to get everything done.”
Love also knows the big tasks take a village. When his now 13-year-old daughter, the eldest of his crew, was diagnosed with leukemia in November of 2012, by December of that year, The Group, Inc.—a local Loveland, Colorado, real estate company—had already organized a drive that produced more than $800 in gas cards for the Love family to be able to travel to Children’s Hospital Colorado for weekly chemotherapy treatments, and hosted another benefit that February to help with medical bills.
It’s a gesture that was not lost on Love, and today, his philanthropic endeavors are many.
“I dang sure have the ability,” Love offered in response to why Heel-O-Matic gets behind so many community efforts. “As long as I’m in this position, we’re gonna do stuff to help kids out. And not only kids, anybody who might need help.”
Each January, he and Heel-O-Matic support the Children’s Hospital Colorado’s Rodeo Experience, which brings the rodeo to the patients. When Heel-O-Matic donated three roping dummies to be auctioned off at the 2017 BFI, the veteran support organization War And Rodeo was cut a check for $26,000. As this story was heading to press, another dummy was being auctioned off for the Colorado High School Rodeo Association.
“We’re also involved in another program called Dare to be a Cowboy,” Love explained. “It’s based out of Nevada and we give them dummies and stuff. They take inner city kids and go into the schools and try to get the kids into roping and whatever.
“Honestly, from a business standpoint,” Love admits, “it’s really silly to be a part of because the chance of those kids coming back and investing in our lifestyle is slim-to-none. But, hey, if we can change one kid’s life somewhere along the way, then hopefully we can.”
Happily, the eldest Love’s cancer has been in remission, so she can focus on roping with her 10-year-old brother and 7-year-old sister.
“They’re pretty punchy,” Love stated. “You wouldn’t know they were raised in town. You would think they came off a big ranch.”
Love finds particular wonder in his son’s abilities.
“He’s silly talented. He’s really patient and quiet, and he doesn’t miss a whole lot. He ropes really good and he’s really good on his horses. Heads. Heels. Doesn’t matter. He’s just kind of special.”
It’s a relationship Love treasures, since he missed out on a relationship with his own father for his first 30 years. When Love did finally connect with his dad, three-time NFR heeler Shawn Howell, he made sure to make the most of that relationship, too.
“We’re pretty close,” Love said. “Ever since I met him, we speak at least once a week. And he’s kind of an inventor, too.”
Howell holds the 2001 patent for the Shawn-O-Shine, the first rinse wand to hit the market. And when Love is working through a design and needs a brain to pick, he calls Howell.
“He helped a lot with the new Hop,” Love revealed of Heel-O-Matic’s new training system that’s due out August 1. “When I first got a ground-driven [trainer], I was so excited because I’d never had a machine, you know. We roped steers and donkeys, and that was it.”
But Love found the practice to be less seamless than he anticipated, with his brain and eyes having to battle his muscle memory to get the timing right.
“I couldn’t rope it,” he said. “So, I called my dad, and he said, ‘Your hop’s wrong. Look at the legs.’ Well, I finally started to rope it pretty good and I figured out that the hips didn’t match the legs. So, I went back to the design and now, The Hop’s motion actually matches a real steer. It feels good and right, and it translates to live cattle a heck of a lot better.”
Love’s ability to identify the problem and design the solution makes him not just a great engineer, but also a great leader, though balancing the two roles can be tricky.
“I’ve kept a staff longer than anybody has at Heel-O-Matic,” he said, “but I’ve had a lot of products and dummies and ideas that I don’t get to work on a whole lot anymore because I’m just handling other stuff.”
That very balancing act, though, is what Potter cites in regards to Love’s leadership skills.
“He’s almost like a quarterback with the football team,” Potter concluded. “He’s the coach, but he can step in and be quarterback at any given moment. He has high expectations, but that’s because he knows what everybody is capable of.”
As for Love’s capabilities, Potter points to the future.
“He’s not just looking for the end of the month or the end of the quarter. He’s got big visions for down the road. He’s got a lot of ideas to keep this place growing.”
So whether it's keeping his own kids in the roping pen, finding ways to bring the roping pen to other communities, developing new opportunities from old designs, or striving to keep his Heel-O-Matic employees engaged and thriving in the industry, Josh Love is the man for the job, ducking and swinging along the way.