Most rodeo performances have bareback riding kicking off the show. While the flags of the grand entry circle the arena, the rank bucking horses are loaded into the chutes. The fans get cranked up, and the excitement becomes electric! Meanwhile, off behind the arena, the pick-up men are going through their rituals. Two pick up riders are required during a rodeo performance. It’s a dangerous job. Heavy saddles are slapped on, cinches tightened, ropes checked. Horses paw the ground nervously, and each man put his game face on. These guys know that lives depend on them, and the responsibility etches a few more lines in their weathered faces.
If a cowboy gets hung up in his rigging, or the pick-up men can’t catch up with the bucking horse, the outcome could be a disaster. That’s when skill and experience of a good pick up rider can make the difference. If a cowboy’s hand gets stuck in the rigging or a boot hangs up in a stirrup, both pick-up men need to communicate with each other and the cowboy. One will try to get a rope on a bareback horse or grab the saddle broncs halter rope to stop him from running. The other tries to avoid flailing hooves and move in on the other side of the bucking horse. If he can help the cowboy get loose, he takes his shot. If not, he’ll try to crowd the bucking horse enough to slow him down and still get the cowboy loose. With some good luck, all injuries are avoided, and it’s on to the next contestant.
The last event of each rodeo performance is bull riding. For the fans, it’s the most exciting part of the rodeo. For pick-up men, it’s the ultimate challenge. This is where his heavy horse earns his oats. The bullfighters and barrel men are there to distract the bull so that the cowboy can get out of the arena. Most of the time bull riders are not counting on the pick-up men for immediate help.When the bullfighter has the attention of that big and dangerous bull, the rider scoots up the fence and out of danger. Then, the job of both pick-up men begins as they haze the bull out of the arena before he can do much damage. When the rodeo is over, most of the rough stock guys stop by sit on the tailgate of a truck, near the pick-up men. They all crack a cool one and have some laughs. Still, you can hear some quiet murmurs of thanks as the bronc and bull riders get ready to leave. They know how much those ghosts of the arena mean to each of them.