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Cowboys and cowgirls make the best of their free time

Ruth Nicolaus
for The Fence Post
Colorado’s Shali Lord made sure her sponsors got plenty of attention during the virus pandemic by shout-outs on social media and videos about them.
Photo by Don Christner

If COVID-19 were a horse, it could be said it has thrown a shoe into this year’s rodeo schedules.

But rodeo cowboys and cowgirls made the most of their time, making sure their horses, sponsors and families were all taken care of.

For barrel racer Shali Lord, the pandemic and lack of rodeos gave her more time at home with her husband, Phy, son, Slade, and daughter, Stealy, and with her horses.

She was able to ride young horses more and season them at barrel racing jackpots. “It was good to get out and get the rodeo horses prepared and the young horses seasoned.”

Ranch work didn’t slow down at their place near Lamar, Colo. “I wasn’t able to travel (to rodeos) but nothing changed with ranching,” she said. The family usually brands their cattle in one big bunch on one day, but this year they were able to split it into five smaller brandings. “Our little boy Slade was able to rope (at the brandings) a little more,” she said. “He roped at each one.”

She and the kids enjoyed their time together. “We did a lot of fun things outside,” she said. “We did trail rides and looked for crawdads and went fishing. We went for rides in the creek, and Slade got to rope his goats quite a bit.”

One of the first rodeos back was Fort Worth, which was the finish for Rodeo Houston, canceled on March 11, before it was completed. There were no spectators, just contestants, so there was no crowd noise or music. Some horses do well with the noise and some don’t. For Lord’s horse Can Man, he likes the sounds. “I feel like he likes the music and noise,” she said. “I think he fires harder.” Lord placed in each round, twice on Can Man and once on CeCe (winning the second round on her). Can Man did fine, “but I think he gets more excited to run when it’s loud with more music and a crowd.”

With no rodeos to showcase sponsors, Lord made sure they were visible on her social media. “I did a sponsor challenge,” she said, “and did a write up every day. Every day I’d put two sponsors on social media, tag them, talk about them and how they helped me. I had a lot of videos, trying to advertise for sponsors and thinking of unique ways to get their product out.”

One change the virus brought might stick around after the pandemic is over, Lord thinks. At barrel races, cowgirls are usually there all day, waiting to make their runs. With social distancing, barrel races outlined specific time slots so each barrel racer had a window of time to be there. It was convenient, Lord thought. “It was a lot more efficient for everybody,” she said. “This way, you know exactly when you’re going to run, and you know you won’t be there all day. I look for them to continue doing that.”

FARMING AND RANCHING

For the No. 1 man in the steer wrestling world standings, the lack of rodeos gave him time to get other things done. Matt Reeves, Cross Plains, Texas, was able to get farming and cattle taken care of, in preparation for the summer and the return of rodeos. “I tried to get everything ready to go again,” he said.

His sponsors were understanding that their logos weren’t in front of rodeo fans, Reeves said. “I’m pretty tight with all of mine. I have a personal relationship with them, that’s for sure.”

Because of the lack of rodeos, the ones that have run have been televised on The Cowboy Channel, which is a plus, Reeves thinks. “It gets more exposure for rodeo,” he said. The lack of a crowd at Cave Creek, Ariz., (May 22-24) and Fort Worth’s wrap up of Houston (May 29-31) didn’t affect him or his horse. “It was like slack for us.” Reeves won first at Cave Creek, bringing home a check for $1,849.

The break was good, but he wished it hadn’t happened. “It’s been fine, but I’d rather not have had it.”

Tie-down roper Riley Pruitt invested his time off from the pandemic in a new baby.

When Rodeo Houston was canceled, his younger child, son Bryant, was 5 days old. So Pruitt, who thought he would be gone for a month, hit the road, heading home as fast as he could.

“I got back home as soon as I could to help Jenna (his wife) and I got to be a dad. I didn’t have to worry about being ready for anything.”

His horses also got a rest. The gray horse he rode at the 2019 National Finals Rodeo has a pulled groin and will be out till the winter. His second horse, a sorrel named Bentley, needed a break. “I used him at 70-some rodeos last year. He had lost all confidence. That was his first year of rodoeing, and he handled it extremely well and got me to the (national) finals, but his confidence was shot, he was sore, and I was sore.”

With the rest, Pruitt has a “new” horse in the sorrel.

“I kicked him out to pasture and let him be a horse,” Pruitt said. “Three weeks ago, I brought him in and started getting him back into shape. He has never worked like this before. He’s been amazing. His confidence is higher than mine.”

It also allowed Pruitt to recoup. During the San Angelo, Texas Cinch Shootout in early February, Pruitt tore his calf muscle and couldn’t walk. He competed at San Antonio the next night but struggled. “I wasn’t ready for the American (Rodeo), he said. “I couldn’t sit in the truck, I couldn’t drive. I was really worried about Houston.”

During the pandemic break, he rehabbed his leg every day. “I didn’t touch a rope, a horse or a calf,” he said. “I needed a break worse than anybody.” He’s feeling better now. “It’s been six or seven years since I’ve felt this good. (In pro rodeo) you never give your body a break.”

Pruitt competed at Rodeo Houston’s Super Series Finish in Fort Worth, to no fans in the stands. But that was OK. “My horse works a lot better with no crowds and no screaming.” The horse scores better when it’s not as loud. “When it’s loud and out of control, when I throw my hands up (at the end of a run), he looks for me. He gets nervous.” But Pruitt is ready for fans. “We do miss the fans, and the fans miss seeing rodeos.”

During the break from rodeo, Pruitt had time to work around his place near Gering, Neb. “I bought some calves and got the basement done in my house. That was huge,” he said. “I had put that off for four years.”

Whatever he did, daughter Chloe, who is 2, tagged along. “Every day, all day, she hangs out with me and we just work. Anything I can do to make her happy, we do.”

Pruitt is ranked 10th in the tie-down roping world standings; once rodeos begin to happen again, he’ll be ready to go.

“With the way this year is going, it will be a rat race, trying to get to every rodeo.” He also realizes that it’s not easy for committees to put together rodeos, with health restrictions and possible sponsorship decreases. “There are a lot of towns struggling. We are not pushing rodeos to happen. It will be hard for some towns to have a rodeo.”

There was a silver lining due to the pandemic, he said, but he’s ready to rodeo. “It was a huge blessing for me. I got to help Jenna with two kids. I love it, I absolutely love it, but I’m ready to rope and go win.” ❖


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