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Pickup man also runs rodeo, ropes calves

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Pickup men work as a team, one or more behind the saddle bronc, keeping the bronc lined up with the arena fence while another dallies the bronc rein around his saddle horn, trips the sheepskin-lined flank strap and unbuckles the flank cinch — all with their horses going flat out.

And this is after the cowboy is safely on the ground, after he slid an arm around the pickup man’s waist or shoulders and slipped off the bucking horse. 

Pete White, 31, is a pickup man — and a good one. Twice he’s been selected to pickup horses at the Indian National Finals Rodeo held at the Southpoint Casino in Las Vegas, Nev. The 2013 finals will be held Nov. 5-9. It’s an honor, because the rough stock riders vote on the pickup men.  

Along with Bodge Whitworth, Tubs Hall and Ryle Whitford, White picked up the Flathead River Rodeo, an Indian National Finals tour rodeo at the Polson Fairgrounds Aug. 22-24. He also competed in the team roping and tie down roping and served as rodeo general manager. Wife Shanna barrel raced. He drummed with Yamncut during opening ceremonies for each of the three performances of the rodeo, packed barrels to their location for the barrel racing, kept slack performances on time and anything else that needed doing.

“I was born into (rodeo),” White acknowledged.

His family has always been involved in the rodeo business; and his uncle, Elmo McDonald, from Pistol Creek Rodeo Company, provided stock for the Flathead River Rodeo. Pete’s

father and McDonald started the rodeo company in the 1980s. White’s father team roped, and his uncle rode bulls. White started picking up bucking horses about 11 or 12 years ago. When he was kid, White went to local bullridings and was the “clean-up guy,” clearing bulls out of the arena. 

“A pickup man’s job involves talking care of the animal, making sure the cowboy is safe and, on the production end, making sure everything is done in a timely fashion,” White said. 

Rodeo producers want each animal — broncs, bulls, steers and calves — safely out of the arena as quickly as possible so the next contestant can compete. Sometimes that means roping and dragging a ton of recalcitrant bull or a 1,400-pound saddlebronc that’s not broke to lead.

Riding and roping are prerequisites for a pickup man, of course, but White said picking up is all about knowing horses, how to read them and intuiting what’s going to happen before it happens.

“Usually the measure of a good pickup man is the guy pushing horses to you,” White said.

“Knowing where to be” is a big part of the pickup game, White explained, as is being well mounted.

“You can’t just show up with any horse and get the job done,” White said. “You have to train the horse.”

His favorite horse is an automatic horse, a horse with confidence and a “free” horse, one that runs without constant urging. 

“I want a horse with some get up and go,” White said. 

Not every horse takes to being a pickup horse.

“In my opinion, they need to be grittier horses,” White said, because bucking horses run into them, kick at them, sometimes even bite. 

“(Picking up broncs) is a full-contact sport,” he explained. “You use every part of your body.” 

To keep himself as safe as possible, White wears leather shin guards that reach from ankle to knee and are about a half inch to three-quarters of an inch thick. 

He also wears special pickup man chaps. Longer than normal chaps, they reach past a person’s feet and are a leather shell lined with a thick felt layer. 

“The tools of the trade of a pickup man are ropes, horses and your mind,” White said.

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