Taking Stock: The making of a great rodeo
by Rhonda Noneman

Bull RiderSpectators glimpse only mere seconds of the wild and thrilling saga of cowboy versus beast. This dance of dazzling, rough, and often scary entertainment occurs in a flash of pure adrenaline and is over in a brief eight seconds…or sooner. As everyone waits for the results wondering just who won, cowboy or beast, the stock contractors already know–the audience won.

Drew Blessinger(below), a stock contractor and owner of award winning Superior Rodeo, is all about the show. “People come and buy a ticket to see good entertainment - I want to know they got their money’s worth, and enjoyed themselves,” says Blessinger.

Blessinger, a fifth generation Idaho rancher, considers those animals family, too. He can look at a bull or bronc and know how they perform. He works to establish the animal’s patterns to make them better for the riders, and knows what stock is going to be a good match for the caliber of riders. High school rodeos may not get the same stock the pros do, because Blessinger really wants every cowboy to feel like they got a good ride. If he has to, he will even lease stock from other contractors to make sure that happens. That’s the whole idea of putting on a rodeo as good as the Eagle Rodeo – having great stock.

Drew Blessinger

Stock contracting isn’t something you just fall into, either. It’s a dangerous business. A rodeo bull averages 2000 pounds, more or less, and definitely has a mind of its own. You pretty much have to know what you’re doing and have a great team of pickup men and bullfighters there helping you. It’s certainly not a “get rich” business by any means, but Blessinger says he has made some of the best friends of his life in rodeo.

Many may remember Sonny Hansen, the 43-year-old coach of the highly ranked Treasure Valley Community College rodeo team, who was fatally injured during a rodeo practice last year. He was one of those great cowboys and a friend who will be sorely missed. “He taught me everything about working in the arena, and built a bridge for me in the industry,” Blessinger says fondly.

Then there are cowboys like Scooter LaCrone. An auctioneer and rodeo announcer by trade, he and Blessinger started working together about five years ago and partnered on some stock. “Scooter fills in all the cracks, knows what needs to happen and just gets it done. He’s the glue that keeps everything together,” Blessinger says of his friend. “He’s great with the animals and is simply, by far, gold plated in my book,” he adds.

Often you’ll see LaCrone and Blessinger riding pickup in the arena. By far one of the hardest jobs in rodeo, their night starts with the first bronc out of the chute, and the last bull escorted out of the arena. Known as rodeo’s Ghost Riders, they are rescuers of stock riders, the wranglers of impetuous calves, and chaperones to reluctant, one-ton bulls needing encouragement in leaving the arena. If they are doing their job well, you’ll hardly notice them, but the riders know they are there. The skill and experience of a good pickup man can mean the difference between life and death for a stock rider. It’s an honor to be voted ICA Pickup Man of the Year, because cowboys of the ICA are the ones who vote. Blessinger was awarded that honor in 2009, 2010 and 2011.

Drew PearsonBullfighters are another essential part of the stock contractor’s team. These guys may seem like they are clowning around, but it’s no joke drawing the attention of a raging mad, one-ton bulldozer with horns. Their job is to protect the stock riders when they hit the ground by distracting the bull so the rider can get to safety. Believe it or not those funny clothes they wear aren’t meant for our entertainment, they’re meant for the bull. Loose fitting and meant to tear away if caught by a horn, the bright colored clothes attract the attention of the bull away from the rider. They might be crazy, but riders think they’re crazy good.

Matt Heath, aka Curly, and Drew Pearson (left) have been clowning around for a number of years. In fact, Pearson has made it a family affair by bringing his nephew and niece to rodeos so they can help out with the mutton bust’in kid’s events. Keep your eye on these little bullfighters, they are a barrel of fun.