The Rodeo Cowboy's Life

From ranch hand to sports star

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There was a time when the most recognized man in America was the cowboy.

In the century before last, the man on a horse his only possessions a pair of spurs, a bedroll, a change of clothes and his saddle stood for an independence few could realize.

As the American West fell to the industrial revolution, fewer and fewer people were growing up in a ranching environment. The glory days of the working cowboy were vanishing.

Into that void stepped the rodeo cowboy.

Following the legacy left by those who went before him, a new breed of American cowboy still carries the torch.

It is believed that rodeo was born in 1864 when two groups of cowboys from neighboring ranches met in Deer Trail, Colo. to settle an argument over who was the best at performing everyday ranching tasks.

The gathering is considered to be the first rodeo, and it started the evolution of the true American sport.

Today's professional rodeo cowboy is a bit different from his 1800s predecessor, but the ideals of long ago are still valued by today's competitors.

A cowboy's standing in the rodeo community is still dependent on his skill with a rope or his ability to ride a bucking animal. The cowboy code still dictates that a man help his fellow competitors, even though they might be competing for the same paycheck.

And while some things have changed since those early days, most of the changes have been for the better.

Now cowboys travel much of the time in custom-made rigs or fly from one rodeo to another either by commercial airline or charter plane.

Just 20 years ago, a cowboy earning $100,000 a year was a rarity. In 1999, 42 PRCA members cracked six figures and two calf ropers, Fred Whitfield and Cody Ohl, passed the $200,000 mark.

Even if a PRCA member doesn't have the inclination to spend more than 200 days a year on the road competing in 100 or so rodeos in search of a berth in the National Finals of Rodeo the sport's Super Bowl he can participate in 15-20 rodeos close to home each year. Many cowboys bring their wives and children along whenever possible, helping to keep the sport close to its family-orientated roots.

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