Joe Beaver's description of the rodeo off-season is pretty simple: "There is none."
Unlike their professional sports brethren in the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL, there is no four to five month "down time" period between the end of a sport's championship game and the start of the next camp. For most of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo contestants, their off-season consisted of a two-week break in the back half of December.
Britt Bockius described that time as "the best two weeks of my life."
Bockius sat on the couch, watched TV and did as little as possible. However, he knew after a short 14 days it was time to break out the rope cans, saddle the horses and get ready for another campaign.
Glen O'Neill stretched his time off to 30 days.
O'Neill was locked in a battle for the 2003 saddle bronc riding world championship well into fall, and instead of taking a break in September and October, like usual, he continued to rodeo hard. O'Neill just missed winning his second straight world title, and when the time came to hit the rode in early January, he decided to stay home just a little bit longer.
O'Neill said he "needed it."
At this time last year, Billy Etbauer took too much time off. Unfortunately, Etbauer was injured. The injuries limited Etbauer to just 32 rodeos in 2003. Despite having too much time on his hands, he did manage to finish seventh in the final Jack Daniel's world standings.
Etbauer likes to take time off periodically throughout the year. After Houston in mid-March he takes 30 days off to start his young horses. These would be saddle horses, not saddle broncs.
One common denominator among the PRCA veterans is time management.
The youngsters, most of whom have no real family responsibility, travel themselves silly. If there is a rodeo today in Puyallup, Wash., and one in Kissimmee, Fla., tomorrow, they will make both. Veterans like Etbauer admit, "When I burnout, I stay home."
A reduction of rodeos that count toward qualifying for the Wrangler NFR and the experience of time management really paid off for Mike Johnson in 2003. Johnson enjoyed an incredible year. Not only did he qualify for his 18th Wrangler NFR, he finished a solid fourth in the world standings.
The life of a PRCA cowboy is a lot like a traveling salesman. They roam from town to town. Sometimes they cash, and sometimes they don't. Like having steady customers, there are rodeos where they always seem to do well, and others where they always seem to struggle.
It reminds me of Ernest Shakelton and his failed attempt to reach the bottom of the world in 1914. He placed a classified add that read, "Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold and long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in event of success."
That ad would almost work for recruiting a rodeo competitor, but these guys and gals are trying to reach the top of the world, regardless of the cost and lack of vacation.