July 9, 2013 Updated: July 9, 2013 at 10:07 pm
They are to rodeo what deep snappers are to football.
If you notice them, it's not for the right reasons.
In professional rodeo, the role of a pickup man can't be understated. While critically important to the smooth operation of the entire performance on the arena dirt, the actions of these two usually go undetected to the untrained rodeo eye.
And that's the way they like it.
"We don't get our names called, and when you do, it's usually something bad," said Josh Edwards, a Terrell, Texas-based former rodeo cowboy who's picking up at the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo for the sixth time, starting Wednesday, at the Norris-Penrose Event Center. "Our job is not being noticed and keeping the flow of the rodeo going."
Edwards, 35, arrived in Colorado Springs on Saturday, complete with his living quarters that hauls his five horses that serves as his home away from home during the summer months. He works for several rodeo contractors, but also is a stunt man, a trained X-ray technician and owns an oil change and quick lube business back at his home, located about an hour east of Dallas.
But this week, he and fellow pickup man Dalton Ward will focus on not being noticed as the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association's top riders, ropers and racers descend on this silver event on the Wrangler Million Dollar Tour, offering more than $200,000 in prize money.
Safety for riders and bucking horses is a pickup man's main concern. It takes courage and riding ability to be a PRCA pickup man. Any bareback or saddle bronc rider will tell you the ride isn't over when the required eight seconds have elapsed. Pickup men ride alongside high-kicking bucking horses and assist the contestants safely to the ground. Pickup men also remove the soft flank strap from the horse and herd it safely out of the arena.
"Keeping everything flowing, that never gets mentioned as part of our duties," Edwards said. "But it may be one of the most important part as far as the production goes."
In 14 years of picking up, Edwards is highly regarded at his craft. Twice, bareback and saddle bronc riders have named him third-best among those who guide them to safety.
Only the top two vote-getters, however, get the nod to work the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
"That would be a dream come true," Edwards said. "It's hard being right there, that close to your dream and not getting there. At some point, with a wife and two young sons, you have to decide what's more important, your family or your goals. I can only do what I do and hope it's well respected and rewarded."
PIKES PEAK OR BUST RODEO
When: Wednesday through Saturday
Where: Norris-Penrose Event Center, 1045 Lower Gold Camp Road
When: 7:15 p.m. each day plus a 12:45 p.m. performance on Saturday
Tickets: $15-35, all seats reserved. Slack (8 a.m.-noon Wednesday-Friday) is free. Tickets can be purchased online at pikespeakorbust.org, norrispenrose.com or at the Norris-Penrose Event Center Box Office.
Parking: Main lot at Norris-Penrose Event Center, $5 cash per car.