Life isn't always easy for the Maier brothers of South Dakota as they strive to make their way to the top echelon of the ultra-competitive world of professional bull riding.
Traveling through the night, logging thousands of road miles, living out of random hotels and then jarring their bodies atop (or sometimes beneath) the country's meanest bulls — such is the life of an aspiring professional rodeo star.
Yet even with that road-weary schedule, the lifestyle of the bull-riding brotherhood from Timber Lake does allow for a few precious moments.
One came on Friday when the brotherhood converged on Rapid City for the Xtreme Bulls competition at the Black Hills Stock Show & Rodeo, a performance made even more special because it morphed into a family reunion of sorts with visits from friends and family, including their mom and grandma. Such reunions and re-connections are fairly common at the stock show and one reason the event is so popular in the state.
Ardie, 32, Corey, 28, and Rorey, 25, were the hometown favorites Friday night and enjoyed some of the loudest cheers from a packed house at Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.
Ardie, fresh off his second appearance at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, performed the best of the siblings by making it to the final round and ultimately finishing third Friday with a total score of 155.
"There's definitely a lot of friends and family and fans here and they're rooting for you, so it's like your own basketball court when you're in your home territory," Ardie Maier said.
Corey said he felt a little pressure in front of the familiar faces. "It was probably a little harder. You just have to show up, get in that frame of mind and take it to him."
Their mom, Dency Maier, and grandma, Iris Day, were beaming with pride and mostly thankful the boys came out of the ferocious Xtreme Bulls event unscathed.
"This is really special. It's great to have them come home," said Day, who usually just gets to see the boys ride when it's televised. She mentioned that she might rather watch them on TV since the pre-taped shows allow her the knowledge that it all ends well.
Dency said the boys not only come from a rodeo family, but they showed a proclivity toward bull riding soon after they could walk. "For his fourth birthday, Rorey wanted to ride a calf," said Dency.
Corey and Rorey stood in the autograph area after the competition talking to fans and friends. Several people were trying to get them to catch up over beers, but they could not socialize long because the road and another competition were calling. Ardie had a 17-hour drive ahead to get to a rodeo in New Mexico on Sunday and Corey and Rorey had a flight to Fort Worth to catch.
"We don't get a lot of time here because we're trying to hit everything we can, but it's a big event and it's always great," said Rory.
But life on the road and the competitive circuit fits the Maier brothers. All said there is nothing else they'd rather be doing at this point in their lives.
"When somebody asks what I do for fun, I say rodeo," Ardie said, laughing. "I live to have fun livin'. I get to go to different places, have fun and enjoy life, ya know. No one tells me what to do, I'm my own boss. It’s the freedom and the free spirit I think that bull riders appreciate."
And they always have a part of their family with them because they travel together; but they also consider their fellow bull riders their rodeo family.
"It’s a tight-knit group of guys that travel," Ardie said. "I think it’s the nature of the sport that everybody comes together like that."
The Maier brothers are luckier than many in that they get to do what they love every day.
"We get to travel and do things that a lot of people have to wait until they’re retired to do," said Ardie. "We get to live it every day, day in and day out. It's that free spirit that the cowboy and the United States was formed on."