For professional cowboys and cowgirls, horses and rodeo are a lifestyle
The race to pro rodeo is a long, hard road
TINA L. SCOTT
Before the June 11-12-13 Wisconsin River Pro Rodeo at the Merrill Festival Grounds, nine-year-old Lily Schultz and I had the opportunity to interview some of the contestants who were scheduled to ride. Lily, who has been riding horses for about five years and competes in area gymkhana events with the Merrill Riders Club, took the lead with the cowgirl interviews to find out more about what it takes to be a professional rodeo cowgirl.
Cindy Bauman – barrel racer
At age 27, Cindy Bauman from Platteville, Wis., has been riding horses for 17 years. “The age I started riding was 10,” she said in answer to Lily’s first question. “I didn’t even start riding until I was 10, ‘cause I was a city kid.”
“Do you ride for a living?” Lily asked.
“I do. I ride and train little girls like you every day,” Bauman answered.
“I give lessons and train horses,” she said of how she spends her time when she’s not rodeoing. Bauman owns the Platteville Equestrian Center.
Of prime importance, Lily asked, “What is your horse’s name?”
“My horse’s name is Shadda,” Bauman said. “I got her when she was 3 years old, and she is now 15. She is a quarter horse.”
“I had several horses before this one. I’ve raised and trained quite a few,” she elaborated.
“What is your favorite event?” Lily asked.
“Definitely barrel racing, but I’m pretty excited about the breakaway roping too, now,” Bauman answered. [Breakaway roping is a new rodeo event for women through the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA), the oldest and largest rodeo-sanctioning body in the world. Breakaway roping is similar to cowboy calf roping except that it is an event for cowgirls and involves a cowgirl roping a calf, at which time she stops her horse suddenly and her rope “breaks away” from its hold on her saddle horn once the rope pulls tight. Unlike calf roping events, the rider stays mounted on horseback the entire while, and the calf’s feet are not bound.]
“I just do the barrel racing,” Bauman said, “But I fully support my hauling partner who breakaway ropes, as well, so I think that’s pretty cool.”
She said her hauling partner is someone she helped to train who also competes in rodeo events. “We go to all the pro rodeos together and most barrel races, so we split costs and all of that,” she said, “and it makes it more fun, too.” She said they are out doing rodeos “a lot, most weekends.”
Bauman said having a sponsor is really helpful, too. “My sponsor is Wyoming Saddle Company of Richland Center, Wis.,” she said.
When asked how long she’s been training Shadda for barrel racing, Bauman said, “I actually bought her as broodmare sound only. [Meaning, she didn’t know if she was sound for riding, but she was judged a sound, or fit, horse for breeding.]”
“I didn’t even break her out until she was almost six,” she said. “She really started doing well when she was eight and nine, and then we hit it pretty hard there until 2015 and 2016. Then I took a break [from the intense training] to move, start my business, get married, have a baby, and now I’m just coming back.”
“She [Shadda] took a nice long break, but she’s ready to come back now, I think,” Bauman said.
The goal for pro rodeo is to get into the circuit finals and compete at higher and higher levels where the prize money and the prestige continue to advance. The ultimate goal is to get to the finals and to compete at the highest levels. Competitors pay an entrance fee for each event in which they compete and then they earn cash prizes (and sometimes additional prizes depending on the individual rodeo) and points toward getting into circuit finals, depending upon if and how they place at each rodeo. The ultimate pro rodeo goal is to be crowned “World Champion” at the conclusion of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR). Contestants get the chance to enter those Finals based on total season earnings at PRCA rodeos across the continent, including monies earned at the Wrangler NFR. The PRCA crowns eight individuals with the title annually, each receives a gold buckle and a special trophy saddle, and World Champions can earn $100,000 to $400,000+ in a season.
With each placement and each win, contestants at smaller pro rodeos like the Wisconsin River Pro Rodeo earn “money counting toward our year-end circuit finals run,” Bauman said.
But, she said, “Winning is a bonus … I think we’re all trying to make a run for circuit finals eventually.”
But this is also about “just proving that my horse and I can do well, and kind of keep building off of that through the years,” she said.
Randee Prindle – barrel racer
When looking for cowgirl interview candidates, other competitors pointed us in the direction of 32-year-old Randee Prindle, telling us, “She’s the one to beat.” When we caught up with her, we learned why.
Hailing from Gilman City, Missouri, Lily asked Prindle if she owned her horse and what his name was.
“Yes, I own 14 of them myself,” Prindle answered. “I have eight that I run, but I have one that’s really good that I’m gonna try tonight.” His name? “Red Man Jones, or we call him Scooby,” she added. “He’s a 10-year-old quarter horse gelding.”
“Do you have a favorite horse?” Lily asked.
“Red Man Jones, the one I’m running tonight,” Prindle said.
“How long have you been riding?”
“Pretty much as soon as I was born, they just slapped me on a horse and let me go,” Prindle said laughing.
Lily: “Do you have other family members that do rodeo, or are you the only one?”
“It’s just me,” Prindle said. “My brother used to rope back in high school, but then he got into four wheeler racing more.”
“Do you ride for a living?”
“Yes,” Prindle said. And when she’s not rodeoing? “I actually train and ride horses. Right now I’ve got four of them that are a lady’s horses. I’m riding all of them and hauling them all over and running.”
So far in 2021, as of June 11, Prindle said, “I’ve been to 17 rodeos, but they’ve been in Florida, Mississippi, and Texas, so this is my second Great Lakes rodeo.”
I asked her what her fastest time, her personal record best for barrel racing has been.
“He’s set the arena record at Rapids City, S. Dakota, for the pro rodeo this year,” Prindle said, nodding toward Red Man Jones. “And then set the arena record for Jackson, Mississippi, at the pro rodeo there.”
Their time? “11.80 seconds was the one at Rapids City,” she said.
And that explained why the other cowgirls said Prindle was the one to beat.
[Post-rodeo update: Prindle took third place in barrel racing at the Wisconsin River Pro Rodeo on June 11-12-13. She and Red Man Jones finished with a time of 17.13 seconds and won a cash prize of $830. The first place winner’s time was 16.98 seconds, less than half a second faster. The second place winner’s time was 17.11 seconds, just .02 of a second faster. That’s how close these races can get!]
Cowboy up! Dakota A. Warnken – bull rider
When we caught up with one of the bullriders outside the bullpen and near the announcement tour, the noise was pretty loud. We literally had to shout through this interview and could still barely hear each other, standing right beside each other. So Lily let me handle this one.
At 24 years old, Dakota A. Warnken, from Wakarusa, Ind., is in his first year running the pro rodeo circuit. “For PRCA, this is my first year,” he said, “But I’ve been riding bulls for seven years. I got on my first bull when I was 17.”
When asked “Why bull riding?” Warnken said, “After the first time, you just keep getting stronger, and I just wanna take it as far as I can for a career.”
It isn’t his only job, however. “I’ve been working at a trailer factory in Forest River, and I just went part time to do this as much as I can,” he said.
He hasn’t been running the circuit long enough to team up with anyone else in the industry yet, so on June 11, he was traveling with just his family. “Just by myself today, and brought my kid with me – my two-and-a-half-year-old son – and my girlfriend with. They’re up in the stands.”
They are his family now. He doesn’t come from a rodeo family of origin, and his parents weren’t happy when he told them he was going to ride bulls. “My parents said: ‘Get out. Get out of the house,’ because they don’t want to be a part of it, because of all the dangers.” Warnken said.
These days, on the weekends, he’s giving it his all to prove their fears were unfounded and he can succeed at this crazy dream of being a bull rider and staying on that bucking bull for that elusive eight seconds, all while making it look easy. I asked him [tongue in cheek] if that was “all” there was to it? Just staying on for eight seconds. He explained that it’s all about scoring the most points and then explained that there are two judges, and each judge scores the bull from 1-25 points and the rider from 1-25 points. Each of those four scores (two for the bull and two for the rider) are combined to create a composite score which is the rider’s score for that ride. “The highest you can get is up to 100 points,” he said.
“What are they looking for in the bull?” I asked.
“They want to see the speed and how high he bucks,” Warnken said. Essentially they’re judging the bull on his spirit, and the more spirited he is, the higher the points.
“How are they scoring the rider?”
“They’re looking for him to be right there with the bull and not be hanging off the side and just sort of make it look easy,” Warnken said. And of course, his arm needs to be up in the air. If that hand or arm makes any contact with the bull or the saddle, it’s a scratch. No points at all in that case.
“What’s your highest score so far?” I asked him.
“Professionally, my highest score is 87 points,” he answered.
When it comes to bull riding, there are all kinds of things that can go wrong and all kinds of reasons to end up with a score of zero, so ending up with any numerical score is an achievement. But as with many things in life, it seems a bull rider’s life is filled with high highs and low lows.
[Post-rodeo update: Sadly, Warnken had a score of zero at the Wisconsin River Pro Rodeo. But just the weekend prior, at the Cherokee Chamber PRCA Rodeo in Cherokee, Iowa, he came out in second place in Round 1 of the scoring with an 84.5 and earned an $893 prize. And this past week, June 17-18-19, at the Jackson County Pro Rodeo in Bellevue, Iowa, he took first place in Round 1 with a score of 84 points and earned a cash prize of $1,610.]