43 ERA cowboys return to the PRCA | TheFencePost.com

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43 ERA cowboys return to the PRCA

The absence of certain cowboys at the National Finals Rodeo had some fans wondering if some top rodeo athletes are gone for good.

The answer is, maybe not.

The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association's by-law, requiring that its members not have financial ownership in another rodeo organization with two or more events, forced the hand of some cowboys. Some competitors turned in their Elite Rodeo Association shares so they could rodeo in the PRCA earlier this year, while others hung on to their shares through the end of the rodeo year.

"The PRCA has gone through a lot of challenges and a lot of difficult times, and they have survived every single one of them," said Shorty Dorweiler, a former bull rider and Hamel, Minn., rodeo committee member. "They're seasoned."

Because the ERA is a privately held organization, its financial records are not open to the public. If cowboys want to buy their PRCA cards for the 2017 rodeo year, which is already underway, they must sign an affidavit, stating that they do not hold financial interest in the ERA.

There is no list of cowboys who have turned in their ERA shares and bought their PRCA card. So the only way fans can tell if cowboys have returned is by looking for them at rodeos, or perusing the PRCA's rodeo results for their names.

Twenty-three time world champion Trevor Brazile is a 2017 PRCA member, as is steer wrestler Luke Branquinho, who took third place at the Bakersfield, Calif., rodeo, Sept. 30-Oct. 1.

Brazile and two-time NFR tie-down roping average champion Tuf Cooper aren't wasting time. They competed in the National Western Stock Show qualifier in Denver and are holding first and third places, respectively. Branquinho can be seen on the placings sheet, too.

Rodeo fans can watch other big indoor winter rodeos that kick off in the new year like Fort Worth and the Black Hills Stock Show, to see if their favorite cowboys have returned.

As of Dec. 19, 43 ERA contestants had revoked their holdings in the ERA. Some of the earliest returnees qualified for the NFR, and two of them — Junior Nogueira and Zeke Thurston — ended up as 2016 world champions (Nogueira with the all-around and Thurston in the saddle bronc riding.)

The PRCA's 2017 rodeo season started on Oct. 1, 2016. The ERA doesn't have a schedule listed for 2017, and one of their rodeos, Salt Lake City, has announced that its rodeo, which was an ERA event in 2016, will be sanctioned by the PRCA this year, with a new format. It is a $2 million Olympic-style rodeo, with winners in each event awarded $100,000 in cash and prizes. Earnings will count toward the 2017 PRCA standings.

ERA vs. PRCA

The survival of the ERA might be tough, said some in the rodeo world. Dorweiler said that it comes down to economics. In his opinion, the ERA "has patterned themselves toward the PBR-type of event, but bull riding is one event. Rodeo has seven events. The pure economics of it is that it costs a lot more money to do a rodeo than a bull riding."

Even with the challenge of a competing association, the PRCA is doing well, Dorweiler said. "They've just got too much experience and knowledge behind them. They've battled literally everything and most of the battles they've won."

Because he is on the committee that produces a pro rodeo, Dorweiler tries to look at the rodeo from a fan's perspective. "Rodeo, to John Q. Public is entertainment, not a sport. To the contestant it's a sport, not entertainment. It'll never be (as big as) the NFL or Major League Baseball. That doesn't mean it doesn't have its place and can't do well, and it is doing well."

Sparky Dreesen, a stock contractor from Circle, Mont., concured. "I think the entertainment value of rodeo is as good as it's ever been. I think the western heritage, which is rodeo, is alive and well. There's room for growth in rodeo." He thinks people are looking for what rodeo offers: "the toughness of the cowboy or the stock," or what Dorweiler calls the "mystique of the rodeo cowboy."

Dorweiler knows it's the fans who pay the bills at the rodeo, and they're the ones who need to be happy when they leave. The Hamel rodeo "works to put on the best product in front of our spectators that we can. The PRCA gives us the opportunity to do that. It's the premier outfit going, and in my mind, it'll be the premier outfit for a long, long time. Are there things I wish were different (with the PRCA)? Yes, but there are so many factors in rodeo. There has to be a balance between the contestants, contract people and the committees. They all have to, in some way, shape or form, turn a profit. The dollars are limited, because it's split so many ways."

Even though it's a slower time for rodeo, both men are busy preparing for the 2017 season. Dreesen will have bucking horses at rodeos in Ft. Worth and San Angelo, Texas. They have been sorted off so they can receive supplemental nutrition. Dorweiler and his committee have been arranging for rodeo clowns and specialty acts for the 2018 Hamel Rodeo, and working on promotions for the 2017 event.

Dreesen commended ERA cowboys for their efforts. "Whether you agree with the ERA or you don't, those guys held fast and hung in there all year."

Just another testimony to cowboy toughness. ❖