David Reid looks out from under the brim of his Stetson with a hint of fierce pride in his cool blue eyes. “Nobody owns me,” he says. Period.
For a professional athlete, that’s a major distinction - one that’s obviously a matter of critical importance to Reid, who’s been earning a living on the rodeo circuit for more than 15 years. There aren’t many in the whole of Canada who can lay claim to that achievement.
Reid was ranked third in saddle bronc when he went to the Canadian championships in November of 1993. Only the top 10 are qualified to compete in the finals, which in 1993 were held at Edmonton’s Northlands Coliseum.
He figured he did not bad, bringing home winnings of $4,000; in the five-day go-round he placed second and third in the six saddle bronc performances.
Reid did have a sponsor. Jack Daniels Dance Hall of Kamloops paid his registration fees, which certainly helps when one enters as many competitions as Reid did. In 1993, for example, he travelled to some 80 rodeos in Canada and the United States. ‘Taking it easy,” he called it. If he wanted to go to the Nationals (actually internationals) at Las Vegas, he would have to compete in some 145 rodeos over the year and qualify as one of the top 15 in the world with earnings in the range of $40,000 to $45,000.
The closest he has come in annual earnings was the year he made $35,000. Pretty damned close. American or Canadian? From Reid’s point of view, “A dollar’s a dollar.”
As in professional golf, earnings have everything to do with rank and therefore success. However, there is also an element of showmanship evident in Reid’s style as he promoted his sport and himself. Rodeo is the biggest spectator sport in North America, he states ‘No really?’ That’s quite a claim.
“When you consider there are over 750 professional events every year in the US, rodeo reaches a lot of places where there aren’t any big-time sports,” Reid boasted, deadpan. Point taken. Major league hockey and baseball, for instance, are only played in the big cities.
Certainly, rodeo is the “most dangerous,” he added, almost as an afterthought. Over the years, Reid said he had suffered quite a few broken bones - ankles, wrists, ribs, legs - nothing serious. His conversation was peppered with references to friends and acquaintances who have been seriously injured - one, a saddle bronc rider was killed. This kind of talk swings the considerations around to fear which is an element intrinsic to the sport.
In the chute, “Sure, sometimes I’m scared,” Reid acknowledged, “But I just go on in any way and hope I don’t get killed. Having a realistic confidence in one’s skills is what makes the difference between courage and foolhardiness.
Ever get thrown? Dumb question. But above all, David was courteous, so he answered it any way - gravely, with a touch of mischief. “I only fall once or twice a year - or three or four or five.” After all, in saddle bronc, once you fall, you’re out of the running, he pointed out. You have to know what you are doing. The judges don’t even mark a rider until he’s been on for eight seconds.
So, after eight bone-jarring seconds, he got marked on a scale of one to 25 for the horse and one to 25 for the rider. It isn’t even his own horse, for these were supplied on a draw basis by stock contractors and a “good bucker” is made that way by the skill with which its rider applies the spurs. As for riding skill, Reid applied his right hand. Reid carried his right hand high where it’s obviously not touching the reins (only one hand is allowed to grasp the reins). He holds it up like that for balance and an observer notes, it’s got a lot of class.
Competitors supply all their own tack including the bronc saddle which is built on a special tree. This ensures that all saddles used have the same basic design. The saddle is set further forward on the animal to facilitate spurring.
Are there standards against which he’s judged? No, it’s just a matter of the opinion of (usually) two judges, not unlike the way figure skaters are marked in competition. Sometimes you don’t agree with the opinion.
But Reid and the judges agreed often enough that it was worthwhile for him to continue in a crazy career that sees the competitors spending many more hours in the seat of an automobile than in the saddle. The Cariboo bronc buster traveled over 100,000 kilometres a year to about 80 rodeos. He’s competed in as many as 120.
When Reid rented a car last January to travel a rodeo circuit south of the border, he was asked which states he would be visiting. “Well, we won’t be in California or Washington,” was his reply.
On that tour, he drove about 20 hours from Fort Worth, Texas to participate in a rodeo in Rapid City, North Dakota the next night. In April 1994 he went from a Coleman, Alberta rodeo one day to Kamloops the next. And you know those two mountains just north of Kamloops - Peter and Paul they’re called? As part of his ongoing effort to keep in shape, Reid says he runs up in 45 minutes - that’s the big one. The little one he does in half an hour.
One suspects he means that he runs up on a horse. An example of that tongue-in-cheek that is part of Reid’s showmanship style. It took this out-of-condition hiker two and a half hours with several stops, to reach the summit of the “little one.” But on foot or on horseback, conditioning is the key to Reid, who takes the sport seriously. It could be that, as one of Canada’s top professional saddle bronc riders, it is being in shape that makes for safety as well as success.
David Reid was a family man as well as a rodeo champion. He, his wife, Darla and their baby daughter Stefanee were living at his parent’s ranch on Houseman Road where there was plenty of work to be done. Reid supplements his rodeo income by working as a faller. You might say the man has three careers.
There was no doubt Reid took his sport very seriously. He wouldn’t otherwise be able to make the quiet boast that he was ranked among the top 57 riders worldwide. That’s how good a person has to be in order to enter the Houston, Texas rodeo held in the Astrodome each year - the largest rodeo in the world, Reid points out, and he has been there every year since 1987.
Reed first took part in a rodeo at Bridge Lake when he was 12 years old and he has been at it ever since. For 10 years he rode bulls as well as saddle broncs but sometime after turning professional in 1985, he decided to concentrate on saddle bronc because he was making more money in that event.
At 30, Reid figured he has another 20 to 30 years to go. Just kidding? No, he insists, lots of guys ride until they are 60.
So long as Reid can keep juggling his other activities - ranching out at Houseman Road and tree falling in the Cariboo bush - with the gruelling professional rodeo circuit, he’ll be enjoying a rigorous lifestyle envied as glamorous by many a desktop cowboy.
Best of all, he’ll be able to say with pride and conviction, “Nobody owns me.”