Ricky Bolin is a lifelong cowboy who grew up in Mesquite, Texas. The four-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo bull rider—who currently serves as President of HatCo (makers of Resistol, Stetson and Charlie-One-Horse Hats, which sponsor the World Series of Team Roping and USTRC)—has always loved to rope. Bolin, 62, lives in Sunnyvale, Texas, with his wife, Melanie, who’s the sister of Hall of Fame saddle bronc rider Monty “Hawkeye” Henson.
Q: What was it like growing up in Mesquite, and who were the biggest influences on your early rodeo career?
A: Mesquite, Texas, was the place to be at the time, especially in the rodeo business.
Back in that day, Mesquite was considered a rodeo capital, because of all the rodeo cowboys who lived around there. And the TNN broadcast of the Mesquite Championship Rodeo did a lot for the sport. The biggest influences on me as a young man were Donnie and Pete Gay. I watched them ride bulls at Mesquite, and looked up to them. When I got ready to rodeo, Donnie took me under his wing and showed me the ropes about entering and travel.
Q: You rode bulls at the NFR in 1978, ’79, ’83 and ’85. Talk about both the level of competition and financial opportunity, then and now.
A: Competition-wise, there were a lot of guys who could ride bulls back then. The Top 25 could beat you anywhere, any day and anytime. They were very consistent, and there were a lot of guys riding bulls back then. There were a lot of good bulls, too, but we didn’t have as many rank bulls then as there are now. Guys in my time stayed healthier longer, because we didn’t get on those rank bulls day in and day out. The financial opportunity today is unbelievable. The rounds paid $1,500 at my first NFR, and it was held at the old fairgrounds coliseum in Oklahoma City. It was so cold standing on the back of the bucking chutes that I could hardly put my rope on my bull. I think my total earnings that year were $13,000. They moved the Finals downtown to the Myriad the second year I made it, and there was a tunnel from the hotel to the arena, so we didn’t have to brave the elements.
Q: As a longtime rodeo cowboy, it’s surely even more rewarding to be a part of the growth that’s taking place in the cowboy sport today, huh?
A: Yes. Big time. I quit riding bulls in July of 1989, and Lane Frost getting killed at Cheyenne that year was a big part of why I quit. I always said I was going to quit when I was 30, and I had two kids at that time. As professionals, we didn’t really think that could happen to one of us. My mom passed away a couple weeks before Lane died. I tore a groin muscle, so I wasn’t at Cheyenne that July. I got on a bull at Mesquite in August, was 89 points, stepped off and that was it. I never got on another bull again, and I went to work for HatCo later that month. Being in the position I am now with the oldest and largest hat company in the world, it makes me feel really good to give back to cowboys, for sure.
Q: Who’s the best bull rider you’ve ever seen?
A: I still say Donnie Gay. Sage Kimzey’s getting close, but Donnie’s record of eight gold buckles still stands. Donnie may not have had the most talent, but he did have the most drive. Donnie was the whole package, and he was more dedicated than anybody.
Q: When did you start roping?
A: When I retired from riding bulls, and I’ve always roped for a hobby. I’ve never dedicated the effort to my roping—like I did when I was riding bulls—because since I started roping, my dedication has been to this company.
Q: How much does your high-powered, high-pressure job allow you to rope?
A: I don’t have time to practice much, but I do get to go to more ropings now, because we sponsor so many of them, especially World Series and USTRC jackpots.
Q: We all know COVID-19 has had a huge impact on the rodeo world. How has it impacted HatCo’s business?
A: COVID definitely affected our business in 2020, but we were blessed that 2019 was the best year in recent memory, and the last six years were awesome. Business has come back really good, and we’ve been working two shifts just trying to catch up and fill orders. Business went off the charts when it was announced that the NFR was moving to Texas. Our headquarters in Garland is within an hour of both Fort Worth and Arlington.
Q: As a 5 header and a 4.5 heeler, what’s your team roping goal?
A: I still have that competitive edge. Even though I don’t get to practice much, it still makes me mad when I miss and don’t win something. I don’t really have any specific goals in the team roping. I just like to win.
Q: Do you have a favorite team roping win?
A: Yes, winning the #9.5 roping at Reno in 2019 heeling for Bart Hutton. We won $25,000 a man, and it was the biggest roping I’ve ever won. I wear the buckle.It says, “Champion Cactus #9.5, Wrangler BFI 2019.” It was pretty cool to be a part of such a special week in the sport.
Q: “We Live It Every Day” is for real with you and your crew, isn’t it?
A: Yes, ma’am. The people who work here know and love our sport and this industry. Some rope and ride, and we all walk into our job every morning wearing a cowboy hat. I’ve worked for this company for 32 years. We’re a crew of cowboy-type people, and I’m pretty proud of that. I think that’s why we’re successful. I like to say we walk the walk and talk the talk.