LAS VEGAS – Anyone who loves what they do craves every opportunity to do it. When it’s time to go to work, the attitude shifts, and the passion is revealed.
Real Deal is that way. He takes a business-like approach to just about everything he does, and his business is rodeo. The 12-year-old brown gelding is one of the greatest bucking horses in the sport, and he likes showing off his abilities.
He’s in the Nevada desert, selected to be part of the action at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for the seventh time in his storied career. It’s been seven years since he was named the Bareback of the Year in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, but he carries that honor proudly from the Carr Pro Rodeo ranch near Athens, Texas, to the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas.
“His attitude is like, ‘Leave me alone; I’m the bucking horse of the year, and I’ll show you what I’m about,” said John Gwatney, a key member of the Carr Pro Rodeo team who hauled the livestock to the City of Lights this week.
Gwatney and his wife, Sandy, left the ranch at about 6 a.m. Tuesday, her driving the family van while he handled the rig loaded with some of the best rodeo horses in the world. The final destination was the University of Nevada-Las Vegas campus, a 1,400-mile trek across Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.
“It’s scary having those horses on the road,” said Pete Carr, owner of the Dallas-based livestock company. “You’ve got the 2005 bareback horse of the year, the 2012 bareback horse of the year, the 2007 reserve world champion bareback horse and this year’s second runner-up to horse of the year. There are a lot of things that can happen between here and there.”
In addition to Real Deal, Carr horses heading to the NFR include MGM Deuces Night, this year’s top bareback horse; Dirty Jacket, which was voted as the third best bareback horse this year; and River Boat Annie, the 2007 runner-up to the world champion bucking horse. In all, there are 11 Carr Pro Rodeo animals scheduled to buck at the NFR – eight bareback horses, two saddle broncs and a bull.
The road is, by far, the most dangerous part of rodeo. The animals are the major piece of the puzzle for a livestock producer, and the top animal athletes that are selected to compete at the NFR are valuable. What they do inside the arena is magnificent, and getting there is the biggest cause of concern. But Carr has faith in the Gwatneys and others who are a big part of the company, like Operations Manager Paul Peterson, who will drive the animals home from Las Vegas after the NFR concludes its 10-day run on Dec. 15.
“We have probably the most experienced hands of anybody going down the road,” Carr said. “With that, I’m totally confident that the horses will get there in good shape, and they’ll feel good and will be rested.
“It makes you sleep better at night when you have people like that taking care of your animals.”
It’s the kind of care they receive daily on the ranch in east Texas and on the road at events across the country – Fort Worth, Texas; Houston; San Antonio; San Angelo, Texas; Oklahoma City; Guymon, Okla.; Bridgeport, Texas; Claremore, Okla.; Big Spring, Texas; Pecos, Texas; Window Rock, Ariz.; Taos, N.M.; Eagle, Colo.; Lovington, N.M.; Silverton, Texas; Stephenville, Texas; Hempstead, Texas; Allen, Texas; Waco, Texas; and Las Vegas.
And each of the great bucking horses at the NFR loves what he or she does.
“They’re all bred to buck, and even though they all have different personalities, they’re ready to go,” Carr said. “By getting on the truck, they know they’re going to go buck. They’re pretty eager to get on the truck.”
John Gwatney knows this, of course. He’s been around rodeo all his life. He knows how special these animals are and how much they love to show off their athleticism.
He and his wife drove from Athens to Southland, Texas, on Tuesday, where they unloaded the horses overnight and allowed the animals time to eat and do all the things horses do. On Wednesday, they loaded the trailer before the sun came up, then drove to Holbrook, Ariz., where the horses got another good rest.
“As I pulled into the Holbrook County Fairgrounds in the van, all of them lifted their heads and ran to the pens,” Gwatney said Thursday. “I backed the trailer up, they got excited, and they started chasing each other around the pen, bucking and kicking and having the time of their lives.
“As quickly as I hit the gate, Real Deal and Dirty Jacket came running to the gate, and right behind them were MGM Deuces Night, Alberta Child and Cool Runnings. We had to slow them down. When we opened the gate, Real Deal and Dirty Jacket were the first two on the trailer.”
It could be they like the confines of their motorcade. More likely, though, the horses know it’s about time to show their stuff to the world.
“It was pretty cool just to watch them,” Gwatney said. “As far as going down the road, it was all about them wanting to be part of a rodeo. They wanted to get here. They want to buck right now.”
They’ll have to wait their turn. The first round begins Thursday, Dec. 6, and there are five categories to sort the animals in a way to keep the competition as even as possible. Each category – or pen – will buck twice during the rugged 10-round slugfest that features the top 15 contestants in each event.
“These animals thrive on this,” Carr said. “It’s just like people. When somebody feels good, they’re happy and they’re upbeat. They carry themselves differently.
“It’s the same with a horse. When a bucking horse knows he’s going to get to buck, he gets excited, and he’s ready to go.”
There’s no better place to buck than the NFR.