John Gwatney was a chute boss at the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo in Guthrie, which concluded Saturday, and he’s been the chute boss at some of the biggest events in the sport.
It’s a job he’s done numerous times at numerous rodeos, including the National Finals Rodeo, the Timed Event Championship and the National Finals Steer Roping.
I am the guy who keeps thing rolling. My job is to try to make everything right so (the cowboy) is ready to compete. I am in charge of the cattle. I am in charge of the production as far as when things happen.
I grew up in the rodeo game. I was born and raised in southern California. My father is a gold card member (of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) and now I am a gold card member. It means you have to have been in this sport 20 consecutive years. It means a lot of traveling time.
As a kid I rode bulls and bulldogged. I am a pretty big guy, 6-2 and 250 (pounds). As my weight started to pick up, my bull riding got worse and my bulldogging got better so I quit the bull riding altogether after eight years and just continued steer wrestling.
I was not as good as my horses. I carried a team of horses around and they actually made my living for me. I had an excellent team of bulldogging horses and I would let people ride them for 25 percent of what they won. I haven’t jumped a steer wrestling steer in five or six years. I still team rope some.
I was able to bulldog with the great Roy Duvall, compete against him, and ask him for help at times and get his outlook. Roy never got in a big hurry or wound up about things. He still doesn’t to this day. He was probably my biggest idol.
My father is 90 now. My dad was a stock contractor. I have been in the production end ever since I was a little kid. Basically, I have doing this for over 40 years. When I would rodeo I would compete, then they would have me be the arena director or run the bucking chutes. Heck, I have worked every rodeo from Austin, Texas to the Cow Palace in San Francisco.
I have seen a lot of things happen. I have seen people get killed in the arena. I was there when Glen Keeley was stepped on (by a bull). I’ve had some of my best friends get hurt right in front of me. I’ve seen world championships won right in front of me.
Trevor Brazile is the all-around champion and he is a great cowboy, but we have some cowboys that work both ends of the arena (ride roughstock and compete in timed events). Those cowboys are the top cowboys in my eyes. Nothing against Trevor. He wins the money and is probably the fiercest competitor out there but there ain’t no way in hell I am going to get him on a bucking horse or a bull.
It’s not like the rodeo of yesteryear. We have more athletes in the game now. Back then they were cowboys. You don’t have to ride a horse to be a world champion bull rider if you can ride a bull for eight seconds. We have some bull riders who have trouble riding the victory lap horse.
Right now there are less than 20 men in the world that work both ends of the arena on a daily basis. We have gotten to the point where a guy has to specialize to be successful in his event. It’s hard to work multiple events and stay good.
The biggest changes in rodeo over the years would be the specialization (in events) and the safety issues, the helmets and vests. As far as the bull riders, about 60 percent wear helmets and about 40 percent still wear cowboy hats. The vests were designed (for bull riders) after the great Lane frost died. Some of the bronc riders are starting to use them.
I do believe Bushwhacker is the rankest animal I have ever seen. He has been rode but he has been matched up against a top bull rider every time he is able to go out of the chute. He is so athletic and he weighs between 1,600 and 1,700 pounds. Bushwhacker has been successful for numerous years but he is probably stronger now than he has ever been.
I do not debate what we do in rodeo with PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) people. Our fans handle that for me. This is how we make our living. We take care of our animals because they are our family. Rodeo is as much family as you can get in any sport there is.
I travel about 70,000 to 80,000 miles a year. I have tried to walk away from the rodeo game at least two or three times in my life and always come back. It’s what I know.