Ryan Rodewald is a professional pilot based in Florida. It’s his job to make sure passengers are delivered from gate to gate safely and on time.
But behind the yoke and gauges in those large jets oftentimes sits a rodeo cowboy who still holds a hankering for riding wild horses. After nine years away from competition, Rodewald returned to the arena during the Gillette, Wyo., Professional Roughstock Series qualifier to RFD-TV’s The American, which took place Dec. 30.
“I got on five practices horses before I went up there,” said Rodewald, 40, a saddle bronc rider who lives in Mount Dora, Fla., with his family.
The cowboy grew up in Colorado Springs and attended Oklahoma Panhandle State University from 1995-98 on a rodeo scholarship – that’s the same college that boasts of numerous world champion bronc busting alums: Robert Etbauer, Tom Reeves, Jeffrey Willert and Taos Muncy.
He also traveled with six-time world champion Dan Mortensen, which is how he got the idea to put his cowboy hat in the ring for a chance at the $1 million prize that could go to a qualifier to The American. He’ll have to overcome some great odds, but that’s what being a cowboy is about.
“I had been talking to Dan; he is the exemption (to The American) in bronc riding,” Rodewald said. “Two weeks after I talked to him, I kept looking at it on the Internet and kept getting more interested. I talked to Otey McCloy, my old traveling partner I went to school with at Panhandle State, figuring he’d talk me out of it, but he didn’t really talk me out of it. I decided to say what the heck; I’d give it a shot.”
The shot paid off quite well on Monday afternoon. He finished with one of the top five scores in Gillette, earning a spot in the semifinals round, which will take place Feb. 22-23 in Mesquite, Texas. The top five from the semifinals make the exclusive field for The American, which takes place March 2 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
“I was pretty nervous,” said Rodewald, who will continue to work on his game this coming Saturday during a PRS event in Jacksonville, Fla., just a couple of hours from his home. “I was pretty rusty, and it was definitely a bit nerve-wracking.
“Every horse I’ve gotten on has been better, but after I got on my first practice horse and made it three jumps out of the chute, I wondered if I had any business trying it. Fortunately each time I get on, it gets a little better.”
It takes time to get back into the rhythm of the game, especially in a sport that requires so much timing. Fortunately the Florida cowboy has a little bit more time to get a good handle on his game.
“I’m actually fairly happy with how fast it’s progressed from the first one I got on,” said Rodewald, who joined fellow Panhandle State rodeo team alums Troy Crowser and Josh Reynolds in advancing out of Gillette. “It’s been one of those deals that you miss riding a lot. To have the opportunity to crack back out and play a little … it’s been fun so far. It’s fun to get the adrenaline rush again and to feel the way it used to feel. I’m just going to have fun with it, whether it lasts one more ride or goes for a while.
“I’m just glad I have the opportunity to try it again.”