They’re bred as carefully as the progeny of any fertility clinic, and following delivery, they’ll wobble into a massive playpen and absorb their new home amid the vast expanses of western South Dakota’s scenic range lands.
With three square meals per day, clean water, proper medical attention and hours of mentoring, by the time they’re 8 years old, they’ll start traveling the world, seeing new cities and sights, and planting almost every cocky cowboy they can face-first in arena dirt.
And, in total, they’ll work a combined three minutes a year — in eight-second shifts.
Such is the life of a rodeo bucking bronc or bull — time-tested, true to form, and ready to ride.
“If I had a choice and I had to be something else, I’d be a bucking bronc,” said Steve Sutton of Sutton Rodeos, stock contractor at the Black Hills Stock Show & Rodeo. “I mean, think about it: work three minutes a year, travel the world, good feed every day and you get to enjoy life. What could be wrong with that?”
Sutton should know. His grandfathers, James and Ned, staged their first rodeo on the family ranch north of Pierre in 1926, and Steve’s grandchildren constitute the sixth generation of Suttons intimately involved in coordinating an average of 100 rodeos a year, including nine performances at this year’s stock show in Rapid City.
“My three kids were all at their first rodeo before they were 2 weeks old,” he said. “My grandson, Shaden, who’s now 3, was at his first performance where he sat under the announcer’s table. We’re just one big happy family every weekend being at these rodeos.”
And that love of rodeo naturally extends to an affinity for the animals at the heart of the operation, the stout broncs and raging bulls bred with exquisite attention to bloodlines and and an aversion to having anyone on their back.
“Every animal has a different personality,” Sutton explained. “It might take three or four years to bring them along, but you can compare a good horse or bull to a human athlete in just about every aspect: temperament, skill, some play good at home but don’t like to travel. They’re all different.
“The competition level needs to be brought on to them slowly,” he added. “You don’t just take a bucking horse and put the best cowboy in the world on him. They need to have their confidence built up before you let them loose.”
The Suttons, whose stock has been selected to participate in every National Finals Rodeo except one, are proud of the saddle broncs, bucking broncs and tough bulls they’ve produced over the years. The number of Sutton-produced stock voted to participate in the NFR is beyond his ability to count, but Sutton said it never gets old.
“It’s a goal you shoot for,” he said. “It’s like the World Series or the Super Bowl. Just like the cowboys who strive to get there in their event, we strive to get there with our animals. We take better care of our animals than we take care of ourselves because they’re our living.”
And should a horse not prove to be the bucking beast the family cherishes, Sutton said they always find a home, even if it’s with the herd of more than 500 horses he raises on his expansive Sully County ranch where the Missouri River serves as the back fence.
“I raise 100 colts a year, and there is a place for every one of them, even at the high school or 4-H level, or at our annual production sale,” he said. “There is somebody out there who wants every horse I raise.”