May 20, 2022
By: Susan Kanode
Strategic travel plans will be put in place as rodeo contestants dealing with high fuel prices.
For those of us who are rodeo fans, summers are filled with opportunities to be spectators at events across the United States. For those athletes that rodeo is their business, this summer is turning into calculations of profit margins, fuel economy and strategic planning.
Most of us would love to erase 2020 from our memory, but the cancellations of rodeo that continued into the first part of 2021 was history making and will not be easily forgotten. When rodeos returned full force last summer, it was with record-setting crowds, full contestant rosters and lots of live viewing on The Cowboy Channel. Rodeo was back in a big way and everyone involved was celebrating.
This year started out the same way that 2021 ended. The winter and spring rodeos were back full force and summer plans were being made. Most rodeo committees start planning for their events as soon as one is done and many have multi-year goals and options in place that they are always working on. Stock contractors also have agreements in place and have a pretty good idea which highways they will be traveling.
Every entity in rodeo has budgets, expenses, and income to base their decisions on. But for contestants, that income is never known and as they are planning their summer schedules, the price of fuel is a big consideration. And while we are experiencing record-high prices every time we get to the pump, some industry experts think that fuel prices haven’t peaked yet.
On May 18, 2022, USA Today reported a national average of $4.56 for unleaded gasoline and $5.57 for diesel, a new record breaking one that was set last March. However, it’s not the highest that we’ve seen in the U.S. or that rodeo contestants have had to contend with. In 2008 fuel prices were even higher this time of year. After adjusting for inflation, unleaded gasoline would be well over $5 today.
We all depend on fuel for our traveling and rodeo means traveling, so doing it economically is becoming even more important. Not only are prices increasing at the pump, flight costs and rental cars are sky high as well.
It means more strategic planning for rodeo contestants, especially the ones at the timed-event end of the arena that are hauling horses across the country. Matt Reeves, steer wrestler and PRCA board of directors contestant representative, is planning his own schedule and listening to his fellow contestant’s concerns.
“I’ve talked to a lot of guys that are going to go through the Fourth.” Reeves said. The fourth of July is the most lucrative rodeo holiday on the calendar and is known as Cowboy Christmas. “Then I think we’ll see a big impact. We are all concerned about the rodeos in the Northwest this fall.”
Matt has made eight trips to the NFR and knows exactly what it takes to get there. This year, he is competing and helping Walt Arnold, a rising star in the steer wrestling world who is currently inside the top 25 in the world standings.
Today’s timed event contestant typically drives at least a one-ton truck and pull trailers with living quarters and haul at least two horses with them. With that type of rig, they can expect to get 6 to 8 miles to the gallon. If they drive 1,000 miles a week (as often happens in the summer,) that calculates out to about $700 per week just for fuel.
Steer wrestlers may have an advantage over other contestants as they usually are traveling in a buddy group where they share horses and expenses. The other events don’t often share horses and barrel racers may haul two or three different horses to have the right mount for the right set up. They often have young horses that they are seasoning along for the ride as well. That could all change this summer as more weight in the trailer means less mpg.
“My wife is in a rig with four other breakaway ropers,” Shane Hanchey told me. “I normally travel with one other guy and this year I’m adding one more. It’s not that we don’t get along, but in our event it’s hard to get trades. And, if you need to find four trades so you can compete the same day to get up right, you’re out of luck.”
Shane’s wife, Taylor, made history last year as the first woman to compete at the NFR in the barrel racing and the National Finals Breakaway Roping. Taylor is in the top 25 in the breakaway world standings. Shane is in the top 10 in the tie-down and is also on the contestant executive council representing his fellow ropers.
“For the last 10 years, I’ve spent my summers in Spanish Fork, Utah at Clint Robinson’s place,” Shane added. “This year that is going to be critical to my rodeo schedule and my profit margin.” Shane grew up at Sulphur, Louisiana and he and Taylor now make their home at Carmine, Texas.
“I think everyone is going to do what they can to stay out there as long as they have a chance to make the NFR,” he added. “But I expect rodeo entries to drop off after the Fourth of July and again the first of August if this keeps up.”
Shane also has opted for a horse trailer with a small living quarters and no slide out. It’s lighter weight and doesn’t take as much fuel. “We’ll do what we can to save,” he said. “You don’t realize how expensive it is until you swipe your card. I spent $620 to fill my tank the other day. It will hit me again when I see the bill.”
While bareback riders, saddle bronc riders and bull riders have it easier without hauling horses, they still are considering their options. Bull rider Garrett Smith from Rexburg, Idaho will be traveling in his Sprinter van with two to three other competitors. They will plan as they go whether they are driving or flying and will be grateful for their 23 mpg.
Isaac Diaz has been a PRCA saddle bronc rider since 2005 and like Matt and Shane remembers the high prices from 2008 when he was traveling with Taos Muncy and they both had big pickups. In 2018 he was champion at the RAM National Circuit Finals and got a voucher to use towards the purchase of a new vehicle.
Isaac opted for a new diesel truck and had it outfitted with a Capri Camper, the ultimate rodeo ready rig for a rough stock cowboy. Now as a family man with a wife and two children to support and thinking about the cost of filling up that tank, he sold it.
“We called it the Unicorn,” Isaac said. He has been traveling with Brody Cress and Shorty Garrett. “I sold it and bought a minivan. Shorty has rodeoed out of a minivan before. Brody will be fine with it when it’s his turn to pay for fuel.”
It’s not the first time that Isaac has driven across the country in a Dodge Grand Caravan. He had bought one from his wife, Britany’s grandmother. They named it “LaVerne” after the special lady they bought it from. They haven’t named this van yet, but after a summer on the road filled with bronc riders I’m sure it will have several.
Higher fuel prices have the potential to affect everyone’s bottom line through the rest of the 2022 rodeo season and no one will be immune from it. The bottom line for many competitors, all of the stock contractors, and contract personnel is that all will likely be affected.
It’s one more reason that being involved in rodeo in any professional capacity isn’t for the weak of heart.