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Continued: Minnesotan is an unheralded horseman

  • Article by: JEFF STRICKLER , Star Tribune
  • Last update: January 31, 2013 - 9:58 AM

Always on alert

In the arena, pickup men have to be ready for anything — from having an angry bull turn on them to a rider getting tangled in a bronco’s reins, a situation that can quickly turn disastrous. Rector plays down the danger, especially when his wife is within earshot.

“I’ve had a few broken bones and a lot of bumps and bruises and dislocated fingers, but nothing too serious,” he said. “I’m actually pretty good at what I do.”

But they take precautions at the World’s Toughest Rodeo.

“You will notice the pickup men wearing heavily padded chaps,” Lucia said. “This is because pretty much in every rodeo they endure multiple shots from the kick of a bucking horse.”

Rector worries more about injuries to his steed than to himself. He spends years training the horses. It’s exhausting work for the animals, which is why he travels with five of them so he can rotate their rodeo duties.

“Having a really good horse is 50 percent of the job,” he said. To race up next to a bucking bronco, “they have to be fearless and fast. They have to know which angle to take so they don’t get kicked. You want to stay away from the back feet.” He paused before amending that comment: “Actually, you want to stay away from all the hooves.”

He figures that he can work the rodeo circuit for another 10 to 15 years. After that, he has his sociology degree “to fall back on.” But first he has one more goal: to make it to the annual National Finals Rodeo, the sport’s equivalent of an all-star game, held each fall at the end of the outdoor season. Only two pickup men are selected from the 30 touring pros.

“It’s a very elite crowd,” he said. “But I think I can make it.”

He hasn’t had trouble making history before.

 

Jeff Strickler •612-673-7392


 

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  • Jeff Rector is the only black “pickup man” on the pro rodeo circuit. He lives in Minnesota with his wife, Jill, but learned to ride in Kansas City when his grandfather bought him a horse in sixth grade.

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