Cowboys in the Twin Cities? You better believe it! Not only does Minnesota have proud cowboys, but Chanhassen resident Jeff Rector is the one and only African-American pick-up man in the history of rodeo. (For those of you less versed in rodeo-speak, that’s the guy that helps the bareback and saddle bronc cowboys dismount their horses after a ride. He’s also the one that untangles fellow riders so they can get out of harm’s way.)
Rector, who is a part of the World’s Toughest Rodeo tour, will be showcasing his talents along with other champion cowboys in St. Paul this week. On February 1 and 2, World’s Toughest Rodeo makes its way to Xcel Energy Center for two nights of competition in saddle bronc, bareback and bull riding. The tour also features American-style bull fighting. Plus, the ladies go head-to-head for the barrel racing title. Yee haw! I caught up with Rector to see what makes this pick-up man tick.
CM: Some may be surprised that cowboys come out of Chanhassen! Is this common for you to run into and how do you respond to this?
JR: Yes. When I moved to Minnesota in 2007, I thought my rodeo career was over. Rodeo or cowboy culture is not prominent here. But one thing I have learned is that it doesn't matter where you live or where you’re from, if you’re passionate about something, you can have success anywhere.
CM: What type of training is involved in a profession such as yours?
JR: You have to be an expert horseman and you have to be able to use a lariat very skillfully. Being a pickup man is a lot like being a polo player. You have to have athletic ability, fearlessness, instincts, and you have to be able to know what the bucking horse may do before he does it.
CM: You are breaking ground as the first African-American pick-up man. How has the response been?
JR: The response has been great. Everyone in the business really supports me and I have managed to gain their respect by performing well in the arena. Once my peers noticed I could handle my own in the arena, they all treated me with respect and admiration. Rodeo is a family and I have always felt welcome.
CM: What is the most challenging part of your job and why?
JR: The most challenging part is keeping good horses underneath me. It is hard to find horses that work for pick-up horses and when you find them they are expensive. I have been blessed enough to train a few of my own and now I have five really great ones. Keeping the horses sound and in shape is a never-ending process. It takes lots of hours of training and a lot of patience.
CM: Is there anything about your job that scares you?
JR: I always worry about injury for myself or my horses. I always pray before each rodeo for protection. I have been blessed to only have sustained minor injuries - bumps, bruises, cuts, dislocated fingers, and a small fracture in my leg. That is it, so I am very blessed.
CM: What do you want kids watching you at the rodeo to know?
JR: I want kids to look at me and understand that they can do whatever they are passionate about in life. It doesn't have to be rodeo related, but it can be anything. It doesn't matter where you live, where you come from, or anything. You can make it happen with hard work and sacrifice. Always follow your heart and don't get discouraged.
For tickets to World’s Toughest Rodeo, call Ticket Master at 800-745-3000 or go online to www.ticketmaster.com. Prices start at $17 for adults and $9.50 for kids under the age of twelve. Groups over twelve people are eligible for group rates by calling 651-312-3486. “Like” the World’s Toughest Rodeo on Facebook for more discounts and special seating. The rodeo action starts at 7:30 February 1-2, but get there early on Friday night. The first 500 children (12 and under) will get a free cowboy hat, plus they can meet the cowboys and rodeo clown. On Saturday night, plan on staying late for “Party on the Dirt” where country star Dustin Lynch will be performing his hit singles “Cowboys and Angels”, “She Cranks My Tractor” and more.
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