Rodeo cowboys hurt by fuel prices

Photo courtesy of Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Elko bareback rider Paul Jones, shown here at the 2006 National Finals Rodeo, uses his wife's car for weekend travel to save money on fuel.

Photo courtesy of Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Elko bareback rider Paul Jones, shown here at the 2006 National Finals Rodeo, uses his wife's car for weekend travel to save money on fuel.

Jade Corkill makes a good living competing on the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association circuit, where he's currently second in the PRCA team roping standings.

Even better, a sponsorship deal with Pacific Pride, a commercial fuel company, means the 20-year-old Fallon cowboy has not had to change his travel plans this year.

But others who compete on the wide-ranging PRCA rodeo circuit are ditching their diesel rigs and teaming up for travel because of record costs for fuel.

As a roper, Corkill hauls his horses to rodeos from Oregon to Texas. Recently, he traveled on a Thursday from his parents' ranch to a rodeo in Sisters, Ore., before traveling that weekend to compete at rodeos in Livermore and Turlock, Calif. - logging more than 1,500 miles in the process.

Corkill drives a Volvo commercial semi-trailer truck and pulls a five-horse trailer that doubles as sleeper.

He said Pacific Pride allows him to fill up for free at its stations, saving him $600 to $700 every time he tops off the truck's 280-gallon tank. He considers himself fortunate to have a fuel sponsor.

"I couldn't do it otherwise," he said. "I have to rodeo to make a living. I know it is affecting lot of people, like guys who do this for hobby. It doesn't make sense to go anywhere when you can't make enough in a weekend to pay for the fuel to get somewhere. But I don't really have a choice. I just have deal with it - but I dang sure don't like it when I do have to fill up on my own."

Elko cowboy Paul Jones changed his mode of travel as diesel fuel prices rose close to $5 a gallon. In years past, three or four cowboys piled into Jones' diesel rig with its sleepover camper. But lately Jones, who one recent weekend competed at rodeos in Union, Ore., and Moab and Tooele, Utah, has been pinching his wife's car.

"We could rodeo three or four guys comfortably and never buy a room, but now we are traveling in cars or mini vans and buying hotel rooms. It's still cheaper than doing a diesel pickup," Jones said.

Jones said it would be almost impossible these days to rodeo without a travel team.

"Every one in our group has been fortunate and has been winning pretty regularly, but if you don't win you have got to find something else to do. If you don't have anyone to enter with, I don't see how you can do it by yourself."

Rodeo competitors only get a paycheck if they're among the winners at an event. Jones, 29, broke his arm a few days ago and won't be able to compete for several months. He has no idea how he'll draw an income in the meantime.

Corkill said the fact that his livelihood depends on how he performs in the span of a few seconds often enters his mind, but says he thrives under that type of pressure.

"You have to block it out," he said. "If you get a chance to win say $30,000 or $40,000 in one steer, you have to make a catch. You have to be confident and make it work."

Corkill plans on competing in the National Finals Rodeo - the Super Bowl of rodeos - in Las Vegas in December, but he's talked to others who say if they don't have a realistic shot at qualifying for the championship event they most likely will hang up their spurs for the year.

"If I didn't have a chance I would go home too," Corkill said. "It doesn't make sense.

"Without sponsors, it would be pretty tough," he added. "Everything costs more, but it seems like there is more (prize and sponsorship) money floating around too."

Steve Schroeder, director of communications for the Reno Rodeo, which was held last month, said 715 cowboys signed up to compete this year, down 10 percent from an average of 800 competitors the past few years.

"I thought gas prices would really affect how many we would lose, but those cowboys I talked to have said it is worth it coming to Reno because it is such a huge rodeo and it pays so well," Schroeder said.

Jones thinks cowboys soon will begin voicing their concerns en masse about the economics of the rodeo lifestyle.

"You might see some cowboys raising issues with some of the committees trying to get more prize money shortly," he said. "This year really hit everybody, and they will kind of sit down and think about it. I don't think they really understand what is go on just yet."


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