- Associated Press - Monday, January 5, 2015

LAWTON, Okla. (AP) - Imagine this: You are sitting on a 1,200-pound bundle of energy called a horse. Both of you are on the ground level of a large enclosure called an arena. There are hundreds, maybe even thousands, of loud spectators sitting in bleachers all around you.

For the next three hours or so, you will need three or four more horses just like the one under you now. Constantly chasing and catching other horses running loose will use up that first horse in just a few minutes. As each bucking horse spews out of a chute, working hard to throw off its rider in eight seconds or less, you will gallop alongside it to give the rider, if there still is one on board, a chance to jump on behind you and be taken out of harm’s way. At least that is the way it is supposed to work. A lot of times it doesn’t.

You and your horses will stand still, jump into a dead run and take a rider off a bareback bronc, dally the bucking rein hanging from a saddle bronc’s halter around your saddle horn and take that rider off and, later, stay close to the action as one-ton bucking bulls do their violent thing.

You are a pickup rider. You use your horses to get bronc riders off bareback and saddle broncs during each rodeo performance. You shoo those big bulls out of the arena and sometimes, if the bull decides to stay, you - or two or three of you - will have to rope that bull and drag it out of the arena.

Pickup riders stay in the area longer than anyone else during each performance. Mounted on big, well-trained horses, they can be recognized by their big hats and bright western shirts and chaps covered with the rodeo producer’s logo. At the same time, they are the most overlooked portion of any rodeo performance. They are the bartenders standing behind the bar as the night’s action flows around them. They are the traffic cop standing on the intersection corner watching as the rush hour traffic slides by.

They do their job in a businesslike way. They may not be needed, but if they are, it is comforting and necessary to have them on hand, the Lawton Constitution (https://bit.ly/1bmgJ2p ) reported.

A Chattanooga resident, Stanley Seibold, has been a rodeo pickup rider for nearly 30 years. Most of that time, he has worked for the Beutler Brothers Rodeo Co. from Elk City. In the beginning, he worked for them when it was the Beutler and Gaylord Rodeo Co. Since then, he has worked for the father-and-son combination of Bennie and Rhett Beutler.

The Beutler Brothers Rodeo Co. has been around professional rodeo since 1929, when brothers Elra, Jake and Jiggs Beutler started hauling bucking bulls and horses to local rodeos in Texas and Oklahoma.

Seibold’s rodeo career started with his father hauling bucking stock to rodeos. Seibold, soon to be 53 years old, started out his career hauling a horse and entering in the “bulldogging” events. Now called steer wrestling (some of the uninitiated thinking bull dogs were used to throw the steers), Seibold would gallop his horse alongside the steer, launch himself into space to grab the steer by the horns to stop and throw it to the ground quicker than the competition.

“From that beginning,” Seibold said, “we would hang around and help sort and load the livestock after the rodeo. It was a natural thing to start helping to sort the stock before the rodeo, putting them in pens in the order they would be needed for each event. Then I began to help out with catching the bucking horses, helping the riders off them and shepherding the bulls out of the arena in that event.”

A pickup rider is just that; he rides alongside the bronc and picks up the rider from the horse’s back so he won’t have to jump off.

“They are thrown off on the ground a lot of the time anyway,” Seibold said. “But just as important, two pickup riders are needed to catch a bronc and get it out of the arena so the show can go on.”

Pickup riders either own their horses or ride ones provided by the rodeo producer hiring them. They need a lot of them for each performance.

“When I owned my pickup horses before I started riding Beutler’s horses,” Seibold said, “I would need four or five horses for each performance. Sometimes you need more. Not too often will you need fewer than four horses. Three of the five major rodeo events feature bucking animals and people trying to ride them for eight seconds.

“You have to gallop up close to each bronc. It may be still bucking or just running around the arena. Either way you have to catch them or head them out of the arena gate and back into an alley where they are placed back into pens. If the weather is hot and humid, you will need a lot more horsepower. One time, working as a pickup rider at the Lawton rodeo in August, I needed nine horses for one performance. You can use up a horse quickly in hot weather. We need to keep a fresh, willing horse under us to be able to do our job. And we don’t want to override or hurt any of them. Good ones are too hard to find and they are in high demand.”

A good rule of thumb on how big horses have to be to do a job often depends on how much time the rider has to stay on them while using them, he said. To be a good pickup horse, it needs to be big and fast. A good, willing disposition and calm nature also helps a lot, too, he said.

“To be good, pickup horses have to have a lot of gas,” he said. “They have to be able to stand quietly, jump out into a run and then stop and stay put all over again. It sure helps for them to be willing to take a few knocks along the way. But pickup horses get better as they get older. I have ridden good ones over 20 years old.”

Pickup riders stay on their horses all the time. They just climb off one and jump on a fresh one when it is needed, he said. Shorter horses are preferred by cowboys who work cattle in brushy pastures, he said. It is easier to climb off and on a shorter horse when gates are being opened and closed. Shorter horses can go under mesquite tree limbs and not just through them, he said.

“Rodeo pickup horses usually have some thoroughbred blood to give them speed and stamina,” Seibold said. “They need to be at least 16 hands tall and weigh around 1,100-1,200 pounds. The height is needed to keep the rider level or above the bronc and rider next to you. They need to have some size and muscle to take the pushing and tugging when broncs are jumping against them or jerking them around at the end of the bucking rein.”

Working the bucking bull event requires horses with even more size, he said.

“We always use older horses with more experience when the bulls are being bucked,” he said. “If the average pickup horse needs to be a certain size, it always helps to be riding ones weighing a couple of hundred pounds more. A one-ton bull can really pull a saddle horse around if you need to rope one. Sometimes, it takes two or more horses hitched to one to get it out of the arena. They can be stubborn as well as dangerous.”

Like others who have survived years of handling livestock with horses, Seibold has had his share of wrecks.

“My sternum was broken by a bronc falling on my horse and pinning me against my saddle horn,” he said. “I have a picture of me and my horse being pulled over backward by a bull I had roped. I was knocked out of my saddle a few times by broncs trying to get in the saddle with me.”

Seibold still works the rodeo circuit for Beutler and Son, he said. But his work description has changed. He works now as a chute boss for the company. He is responsible for sorting the rodeo animals before each performance. He works the chute area, making sure riders and the animals they will ride are ready in the chute for the next buckout. He makes sure the roping calves and steers are hitched correctly to the barrier string to keep the ropers and steer wrestlers behind the barrier. Ropers and steer wrestlers usually have to keep their horses behind the string barrier to allow the animal a few feet head start before they can chase it down. If the roper’s horse breaks through the string barrier early, an additional 10 seconds can be added to the time it takes to catch the calf, he said.

There are a lot more responsibilities a chute boss has to handle. After the rodeo, he makes sure the producer’s animals are sorted and loaded in the right trucks to be hauled to the next rodeo location, he said.

Seibold now flies to several of the rodeos he works for Beutler and Son.

“In February 2015, I will fly to San Antonio to work the rodeo there,” he said. “I will fly back down there a little later for the Professional Bull Riders competition.”

Seibold still rides horses and takes care of cattle, his own and those of neighbors he helps. He also doesn’t ride tall pickup horses anymore.

“They are good horses, but they are specialists,” he said. “Cowboys no longer saddle up in the morning and ride all day. At least around here they don’t. I have my own horses. They are cutting-bred cow horses. They are about 4 or 5 inches shorter than the pickup horses I used to have. Nowadays, I get off and on a horse a lot of times while working cattle. I get down to open and close gates, load and unload horses and cattle in trailers. And it is a lot handier to be able to be able to go under tree branches and around brush on a smaller horse when you are chasing cattle in a pasture. You don’t have climb up and down as far getting on a shorter horse.”


Information from: The Lawton Constitution, https://www.swoknews.com



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