Pickup Riders

Our local rodeo season is about to head into full swing next week. We are fortunate enough to live in an area where we can attend four big rodeos, one every week, for a month.

Since Captain Cavedweller and I both enjoy rodeos, this is a grand thing. 

Thoughts of rodeos and the athletes that compete in them, both human and animal, made me think about a group of folks who largely go unnoticed at rodeo events — pickup men. 

(If you’re thinking about the drunk guys who hang around after the rodeo ends, wrong kind of pickup men!)

The pickup men I’m referring to today have one of the most important jobs at a rodeo because they are there to keep the athletes safe. In the arena, they look after the cowboy at the end of his ride as well as the horses and bulls used in rough stock events and they help with the overall production. They might work for the stock contractor or be employed directly by the rodeo association.

Regardless of how they come to be there, pickup men are often referred to as the ghosts of an arena. They ride in, sometimes seemingly out of nowhere, help a cowboy off a ton of twisting, bucking beast, then guide the animal from the arena before vanishing again. 

Depending on the size of the rodeo, you might see two of them working together while bigger rodeos have as many as six working at a time. 

Pickup men are in the arena from start to finish, but if all goes smoothly, rodeo fans might not notice them at all. Riding horses is second nature to many of the men who work as pickup men. They have to be able to rope a bucking bronc or a rank bull. They also have to be ale to think on the fly and make quick decisions. Out in the arena there isn’t time for talking and deciding what to do. They have to act intuitively. 

Once a cowboy and horse bust out of the chute, the pickup men are watching every move, ready to ride to the rescue or offer a hand when the eight-second buzzer sounds. 

During a ride, most anything can happen and does. 

Competitors can get hung up in rigging or stirrups and find themselves being dragged around the arena or getting an eyeball of dirt while dodging flying hooves. 

While their actions aren’t choreographed, the way pick up men work together can appear so flawless and performed with such ease, it looks like they’ve practiced the intricate dance that is based on their quick reactions and know-how.

Pickup men have cowboys crawling all over them and their horses which makes it essential they can handle a cowboy hanging off his shoulder.


Or his neck, or whatever else the athlete happens to get a hold of in his scramble to get off a wildly bucking bronc. 

The equipment a pickup man uses is vitally important to a smooth, successful rodeo, too. His saddle has to fit just right, many use specialized bits, and they all have a favorite brand of rope they use. Many use breast collars on their horses to keep their saddle from sliding back if they have to rope a bull. And it gives a little added advertising space to their stock contractor or sponsor.

The pickup man might wear shin guards, or kickpads, around their lower legs to protect from flying hooves, scrambling boots from the rodeo athlete as he tries to get off a bucking animal, or even just a saddle bronc saddle rubbing against it when he has the horse snubbed to get it out of the arena. 

Another piece of equipment no pickup man would work without is his chaps. They provide another layer of protection against the bucking horses and their saddles. 

It’s also important for their horses to be well-trained and able to keep up with a reaction that happens in a split-second. Many pickup men have a string of horses they use, rotating them out between each event.  One horse might do better picking up bareback riders while one might do better when it’s time to chase bulls out of the arena. Most pickup men will use splint boots for their horses for protection against injury. 

Some pickup men work smaller rodeos they can catch on a weekend and still keep their regular job (like ranching). 

Others travel non-stop on the rodeo circuit right along with the rodeo athletes, gone from home for weeks, sometimes months, at a time. 

At the end of the day, the pickup men are the unsung heroes who might have prevented a cowboy from receiving a serious injury, or kept a bull from charging into a crowd.

So, the next time you are at a rodeo, take a moment to watch these men at work and think about all they do to make the rodeo a safe place for everyone to enjoy. 

If you enjoy reading about rodeos, check out my Rodeo Romance series. Each book can be read as a stand alone and features a different rodeo event or personality. Right now, Racing Christmas is on sale for just 99 cents! The hero in the story just happens to be a pickup man.

“From the realistic rodeo scenes to the tender love scenes Shanna Hatfield keeps you reading.”

Jodi Thomas, New York Times Bestselling Author

She’s racing to save the ranch

He’s struggling to win her heart. . . again

Brylee Barton has just one goal in mind: win the barrel racing world championship. Not for the glory, but for the attached cash prize that could save her family’s ranch. When an injury leaves her at the mercy of the very same copper-headed, silver-tongued cowboy she once vowed to loathe forever, she has no choice but to swallow her pride and accept his help.

Fun-loving, easy-going Shaun Price has a million dollar smile, more charm than he can channel, and a string of ex-girlfriends rumored to have started their own support group. When the one woman he’s never quite managed to get out of his head or heart needs his assistance, he jumps at the chance to help. Little does he realize how challenging it will be to keep from falling for her all over again.

Will Shaun and Brylee discover the gift of forgiveness, and experience their own happily-ever-after?

Available on Amazon

Answer this question for a chance to win an autographed copy of The Christmas Cowboy, book 1 in the Rodeo Romance series! 

What is your favorite rodeo event? 


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After spending her formative years on a farm in Eastern Oregon, hopeless romantic Shanna Hatfield turns her rural experiences into sweet historical and contemporary romances filled with sarcasm, humor, and hunky western heroes.
When this USA Today bestselling author isn’t writing or covertly hiding decadent chocolate from the other occupants of her home, Shanna hangs out with her beloved husband, Captain Cavedweller.

66 thoughts on “Pickup Riders”

  1. Shanna- Excellent blog, one after my own heart. Theses are truly the unsung heroes. When I was growing up as you know, we rodeoed from Wed-Sat weekly. Since my dad had many rodeo guys work for him, 1/2 timed event cowboys, other 1/2 roughstick. Well many of them would show up Monday for work banged up, bruised, and 1/2 the time unable to swing a hammer. LOL! Usually the first half of the week they were pretty slow, but come the last half of the week they were raring to be let off because they had already entered up again. Ha Ha!
    Anyway the point of my story is I got to know how important the pick up men were, because they retold their rides over and over and if it wasn’t for the pick up men, many of them would’ve been injured probably worse than I ever wanted to imagine.
    Great blog. You go have a fun time, and root for any Stephenville contestants you see, for me. Love and hugs Sweet Lady.

    • Oh, I love reading what you shared, Tonya! I agree – the pickup men are the unsung heroes and do a lot to keep the cowboys safe and as uninjured as possible. So fun your dad had rodeo guys working for him! I will definitely cheer them on, sweet friend!

  2. I never even thought about the pickup men. But, I have only watched rodeos on tv a few times. I live near a big one, but don’t have anyone to go with. My husband doesn’t have any interest in going.

    • Oh, that’s neat you have one in your area. Sorry your hubby isn’t interested in going, but glad you can watch them on TV. That’s almost as fun!
      Thanks for stopping in today, Janine!

  3. I believe the pick-up men are the most important part of a rodeo. I’ve always believed this. Just think about all the injuries that would occur if there weren’t pick-up men! I just love rodeos period but I really do love the adrenaline rush of watching bull riding! Growing up in Stephenville, Texas, the cowboy capital of the world, watching men in wranglers everywhere, being a cattlebroker’s daughter, sister-in-law of an Ag teacher, being a Texan, how can I not love a good rodeo and all that is involved. Excellent blog! I hope your readers pay more attention to pick-up men now. I need this book and series in my life, I’ve only read the last book and it was excellent! Enjoy all the rodeos, I’m very jealous. I can’t do summer rodeos in Texas because me and my MS can’t take the summer heat.

    • Hi Stephanie! So fun you love rodeos, too – and how could you not! LOL!
      Bull riding is so exciting to watch. I love all the roughstock events.
      I’m with you… the pickup men are so important to the success of a rodeo and keeping the cowboys safe!
      Thanks for stopping in today!

  4. I have been to very few rodeos but I do remember the pick-up men. I know they are essential. I do enjoy the bull riding.

  5. Shanna, what a wonderful, educational blog. In Minnesota, I’m not familiar with too many rodeos. But, the few I have attended back in the day, I loved the bull riding events. Thank you for sharing the importance of the pickup men. Also, at rodeos, I love the very start when the American flag is carried into the arena and the national anthem is sung. When we go to Branson and attend Dolly Parton’s Dixieland Stampede, that’s the closest thing we find for watching trick riders. Their athleticism is outstanding. Their horses are extremely well trained, fed properly, and groomed. It is a beautiful thing. After the show, the riders line the arena so we can talk to them and pet their horses if so inclined. Happy rodeo days to you and your husband.

    • Hi Kathy!
      Oh, that is so neat about going to Branson and getting to enjoy the stampede there. Bull riding is exciting! And yes, the pickup men are so important. I love the entry with the flag and national anthem, too!
      So glad you enjoyed the photos!
      Thanks for stopping in today!

  6. I love that you highlighted these pick up men, Shanna! My heart always seems to go soft for the unsung hero. The man who is incredibly skilled yet who humbly works outside the limelight, not seeking applause. That a true cowboy hero!

  7. Love this blog about the pick up men! I’ve never been to a rodeo, though I’ve watched bull riding on TV before. I’ll have to pay more attention to the pick up men next time! They are much different than the rodeo clowns that draw the bulls away, too! Thanks for bringing them out to the limelight!!

    • Hi Trudy! Yes, next time you watch a rodeo, keep an eye out for the pickup men. I think it’s fascinating to watch them at work because they do it so humbly and smoothly.
      Thank you for visiting the blog today!

  8. I love rodeos and rodeo Cowboys. I have never been to one myself but would love to one day. I love watching bull riding and I’m watching the new show on after Yellowstone called The Cowboys.

    • Hi Charlene,
      I hope you get to attend a rodeo someday. It’s so much more fun than watching on TV. How fun you are enjoying The Cowboys!
      Thank you for stopping by the blog today!

  9. Hi Shanna, this is a wonderful post. You are right so many dont give these heros a thought really. So cool you and your husband have a month of rodeos. When I was growing up on a farm we had a rodeo twice a year. And 4-H was always involved. I had a Palomino horse named Goldie. Actually it was moms horse but I was the one that got to ride her all over the desert. It was her name when dad bought her for mom. I got to ride her in barrel racing. Oh wee, did the two of us have fun with the speed. And I was only 8 – 10 and was little. We had our own barrels at home to practice on. I loved rodeo days. Got to see so many people that we only saw twice a year.

    • Hi Lori,
      I love hearing about your horse Goldie. I bet you just had the best time running barrels on her. So fun!
      When I was growing up we had one rodeo for the 4th of July and it was a highlight of the year for me!
      Thank you so much for stopping in today!

  10. My husband and I love rodeos. My favorite event is the bull riding. I don’t know how a cowboy could climb on the back of that beast but once the does, the challenge and excitement begins.

    • I don’t know if most people consider it a rodeo event, but I love watching Mutton Busting. The kids are so excited and so adorable!
      My dad would take us to the rodeo every 24th of July (Pioneer Day here in Utah).
      Thanks for another informative blog.

  11. Wonderful Wonderful blog Shanna. I love the bull riding, barrel racing and team roping events and I never thought a whole lot about the pick up men until reading Rodeo Romance books especially yours and Kari Lynn Dell you two authors write Rodeo Romance in the most authentic and true to life of any I have ever read. Have a very Blessed day my sweet friend

  12. Awesome blog article Shanna. I have learned so much about rodeos from you in your stories and articles. I have been to a couple but didn’t know what was going on or who did what as you watching what is coming out next. If I ever get to go to one again, like maybe with you in Vegas before Christmas, then I will look at the unsung hero’s.
    Thanks Shanna for the info.

    • Hi Dorothy,
      Glad my stories and articles have been informative and helpful, Dorothy. It really is such a great sport to watch. And yes, look for the unsung heroes at the next one you see!

  13. I like Bareback riding and bull riding best. Until you mentioned Pickup men, I had never really thought of that position. I havent attended a rodeo in years but enjoyed going with my family to the local rodeo that came to our town.

    • Those are two great events, Bernice. How fun you used to attend with your family. I’m sure you had some wonderful times together.
      Thank you so much for stopping in today!

  14. I love watching anything with horses. I had never known the name for the pickup me. This article was fascinating. Thank you for sharing.

  15. Sounds like Pick up men have a hard job to do and a very important one, i had never heard of pick up men, so I really appreciate you explaining this to me, Thank you so very much, I enjoyed reading your post and I Thank you for teaching me something. Your christmas book sounds like a very good read and I love the cover , it is Beautiful. Have a Great week. God Bless you.

  16. I love the bull riding! We usually go to PBR every year but the country rodeos we have I like bronc busting and barrel racing. Thanks for the article on the pick up men they never get any of the glory.

  17. I’ve actually never been to a rodeo but I’ve read plenty of books about the different people the enter then and I find it fascinating! You’d think living in the West that I would have been to one but I haven’t! A few of my cousins have participated in them but I haven’t gotten to see them unfortunately! I’ve always thought it would be a hoot to see those little boys do mutton busting! 🙂

  18. It’s Moses Lake Roundup weekend and we’re going tomorrow night. Sometimes I’ve missed the next cowboy coming out of the chute because I was watching the pickup men finish clearing the arena from the previous contestant and animals. You are so right about PNW rodeo season being in full swing , PRCA and Northwest Pro Rodeo events. I have to admit we have not made it to Ellensburg or Pendleton….someday.

    • Oh, enjoy the rodeo, Alice! I’m with you… I like watching the pickup men clear the arena!
      Hope you can make it to Pendleton someday. It is such a neat experience.
      Thanks for stopping by!

  19. Thank you for this information on the pick up men. I am one of the many who probably never even gave these athletes a second thought. Thinking of the rodeo reminded me of an incident 64 years ago when the bull got loose after the event and broke into the stands. Unfortunately several people were hurt. I was 9 at the time. I think I have only been to one rodeo since.

    • That must have been so frightening, Carolyn. So sad people were injured. I read about a similar incident happening a few years back where one of the pickup men managed to rope the bull just as he plowed into the stands and yank him against a panel where he held him until help could arrive to get the bull into a pen. I think only one person was injured then.
      Thanks for stopping in today!

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