The New Economics of Roping for a Living
We’re in uncharted economic territory right now. Roping has never been an easy way to make a living. But I think we’ve taken affordable fuel for granted for a long time, and now those days are gone. When we first started rodeoing, the high-end truck was a Chevy two-seater 454 dually that got four miles to the gallon. When we weren’t driving, we slept in the back seat of the truck going down the road, then went and got a hotel after we put our horses up. Then it was the Dodge diesel, because diesel was cheaper, and we had Capri campers on the back. We rodeoed for years in a camper, and it was nice to put the horses up and go right to bed. It was tight quarters, and there was no toilet or storage. But you had a bed and a shower, and didn’t have to spend an hour finding a room. In the last few years, they started building the living quarters trailers. What a luxury. It’s kind of like home away from home. We have generators for microwaves and TVs, and there’s room for everything you need. In the camper days, very few guys took their families with them. The living quarters trailers made it possible for more families to get in and go. Lots of guys took their families, you had some privacy, and it was affordable. There was always the cost of fuel, but you could justify it.
Team roping is a team event, so lots of times you take your partner with you. You’re basically married to someone when you’re in the same rig and around each other 24/7. Most guys who rope together get along great. But no matter how much you like each other, sometimes you need a break. And these economic times are making it tough to do.
Some guys have drivers who help with all kinds of things, from driving to helping with the horses and whatever else. You can perform better, because it splits the driving up, so there are three of you instead of two. If you have to fly off to a rodeo, the driver can stay there, take care of the horses and meet you at another spot. But that’s another added expense against your income.
During some runs of rodeos, like the Fourth of July, we buddy with another team so we have more rigs on the road. It makes it more cost-effective, and we have two sets of horses out there. Clay and I buddied with David (Key) and Kory (Koontz) some this year. It’s a lot more cost-effective to split the expenses four ways than two.
The living quarters trailers we travel in these days are nice, but even they don’t accommodate four guys and a driver very well. When we have two teams in a rig like that, one guy drives, two guys sit up front and talk to him, and two guys get in the trailer and sleep or watch TV. With today’s semi trucks, one of the guys up front can get in the sleeper and lay down.
In any business, it’s all about the economics. We’re in a time in this country where we have to economize. The golden rule in any business is not to spend more than you make. Putting four guys in one truck makes $5 diesel a buck and a quarter. But it’s pretty tight quarters. If you don’t win anything in two or three weeks, it’s a big hit. If you’re going to four rodeos a week, it costs about $2,000 a week for your fuel and fees alone. So it costs $10,000 or $12,000 a month to stay on the road, bare minimum.
Bottom line, you have to be winning. The teams have dropped off by a third or more. We’re getting 40-some teams at the fall rodeos, which is down. Only about the top 20 teams are out here at the end, along with 20-25 circuit teams. There are usually 60 or 70 teams, so the economy has definitely made a difference. With fewer teams there’s less money to be won, and your expenses are higher. This economy is affecting everybody. Feed’s higher and fuel prices are way up there. Everybody’s tightening their belts. In the 25 years that I’ve rodeoed, there were times when things were high. But you didn’t really think about it. It’s all about adapting in anything you do. You have to create different angles, and do whatever it takes. The sun’s still going to rise in the morning and go down in the evening. You have to step back and figure out a way to make it work. We’re in different economic times now, so you have to make some adjustments.