As expected, the bucking bronc and bull sale at Rushmore Plaza Civic Center on Wednesday featured sales to buyers hoping to find a future show-quality bronc or bull to perform in professional rodeos.
But the 28th annual Sutton KBHB Bucking Horse and Bull sale had one other important but not so obvious element: the shared hopes of buyer, seller, and rider that the day’s proceedings would lead to a brighter future for rodeo.
Anyone who ever watches a rodeo and wondered where they find those bucking, snorting, jumping animals would have learned the answer Wednesday. The bronc and bull sale was a place where officials from Sutton Rodeo and other consignors sold off young rodeo animals to buyers who either aspire to provide animals to upcoming rodeos or want them for breeding of future rodeo stock.
The stock being sold at the Black Hills Stock Show Wednesday were young colts typically about five years old, and young bulls that were about three to four years old. They are not castoffs by any means; they were simply young animals that have not been tested. A few may have been used in past rodeos but remain open-ended as far as potential.
There were a few saddle horses sold, and a few of the animals will be bought for breeding purposes, but for the most part all of broncs and bulls bought Wednesday will end up in the rodeo arena at one time or another. Rodeo circuits have many layers and bucking horses have been in short supply over the last few years as the sport has grown in popularity.
After rodeo days are over, good stock does go into the breeding pool and the rest go to market.
The Suttons or any other seller cannot take the risk of dumping inferior animals because their reputations could suffer, and the chance of success in future sales may diminish. Many animals sold Wednesday will make it to rodeos ranging from the high-school level, to the South Dakota Rodeo Association rodeos, and even to national events.
No one understands how it works as well as Jim Sutton, founder and co-owner of Sutton Rodeo, who has participated in the bucking horse and bulls sale for all its 28 years.
"These bucking horse sales have been getting a little better every year," said Sutton, who brought about 50 head of young bucking horses this year in addition to 30 bulls. "I think bucking horses are getting a little scarcer at the time. Also, stock contractors have worked hard at breeding these horses up, and I think it’s starting to pay off. My son, Steve, has been doing some things to improve the quality of bucking stock, but it takes five or six years to see where you are at."
A number of other livestock contractors and breeders also brought broncs and bulls to this year’s sale including Wyoming rodeo contractor, Burch Rodeo Company. Matt Burch pointed out that the KBHB Bucking Horse and Bull Sale is held in high regard in the rodeo community.
"The horses and bulls at this sale are pretty darn good," Burch said. "Sutton puts some nice young horses in here and they are bred the right way. If you grow them up and do things right with them, you can walk out of here with some darn good horses so this is a good sale."
Also on Wednesday, a large batch of young riders arrived a couple of hours before the sale to ride the animals to show off the vitality of the broncs and bulls, but also their riding talent to a crowd that is heavily involved in organizing rodeos.
"I haven’t been here before, but I just thought it was a chance to get on a few practice horses," said J.D Anderson, a 17-year-old Hill City High School student. "You don’t make much one way or the other I don’t believe, but it’s a chance to get on some horses. It’ll be interesting and it’s always fun.”
After the young guys strutted their stuff, the animals were immediately auctioned off to the highest bidder, a process that can be a hit or miss proposition, according to Dione Hudson from Sharon Springs, Kansas, one of the 60 or so buyers on hand Wednesday.
"What they do out there in the arena is about all you really got to go on," Hudson said. "You can look at the pedigree on the animals, but there is not a guarantee they will buck so performance here today has a lot to do with it."
For Steve Sutton, rodeo co-owner, the sale is always an exercise in high expectations that are only sometimes met.
"We sold some horses probably cheaper than I wanted to, but they are young and nobody knows much about them so that’s kind of expected," Steve Sutton said.
"It’s been a good sale so far though. For the first time ever there was as many bareback riders as bronc riders and that usually doesn’t happen, and I see we have a lot of repeat buyers which speaks to the good horses we bring here every year, so that’s good, too."