Journal on the Road

The Rodeo Pickup Men

April 3, 2011

At the National Circuit Finals Rodeo, some exceptional athletes aren’t in the competition.

By Larri Jo Starkey

Paul Peterson, left, and Butch Braden are the pickup men for the National Circuit Finals Rodeo in Oklahoma City. (Larri Jo Starkey photo) To see more of their work, scroll to the slide show at the bottom.

At the National Circuit Finals Rodeo in Oklahoma City, some of the most athletic horses aren’t competing – but they’re still in the arena.

Confused? Don’t be.

At every rodeo performance March 29-April 3, two pickup men rescue rough stock riders, push wayward calves, steers and bulls out of the arena, and generally make themselves useful on horseback.

To get that done, they need horses from all different bloodlines with one strong characteristic – grit.

“They’ve got to have a lot of grit,” says Butch Braden of Welch, Oklahoma, who uses six horses through each rodeo performance. “They’ve got to run, be broke, they’ve got to cow, everything. All the skills of the other events, what they need, we’ve got to have it in one horse.”

A pickup horse has to be able to get in close to a bucking horse, handle well while the pickup man offers a helping hand to a dismounting rider, stay strong while the bucking strap is uncinched and then pull well enough to lead the bronc out of the arena.

There’s no system for knowing which horse will work.

“It’s trial and error for me,” Butch says. “Some I think will won’t and some I think won’t will. It’s kinda funny.”

Is your horse “bomb-proof”? In AQHA’s Training Your Horse For a Better Relationship With Curt Pate, AQHA Professional Horseman Curt Pate outlines his top-10 horse training tips, including: spook-proofing, catching a horse, calming a nervous horse, proper flexion, ground work, appropriate tack and much more.

Butch and Paul Peterson of Southland, Texas, the other pickup man for the National Circuit Finals Rodeo, are quiet men, accustomed to staying out of the spotlight. They don’t talk much about themselves, but bring up their horses, and they’re quick to smile.

“Some you raise, some friends will tell you about, some you’ll just see one – it kind of varies,” Butch says.

Their horses come from Doc’s Hickory, Dash For Perks and Smart Little Lena bloodlines.

“This one,” Paul says, pointing to a splashy palomino, “he’s a Doc’s Hickory. He’s an ex-bulldogging horse and decided he didn’t want to be a bulldogging horse any more. The black horse, my wife runs barrels on him. I can’t say there’s one certain breeding that you can get them from. It’s a mind-set for them. Some will and some won’t.”

Physical size isn’t important, but something else is.

“The size of their heart,” Butch says.

“As long as they’ve got a lot of heart,” Paul agrees.

Watch the slide show below to see Butch and Paul’s horses in action at the National Circuit Finals Rodeo in Oklahoma City. Click on each photo to read the caption.

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