ROUGH STOCK RODEO

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It’s quiet at the rodeo arena. The cheering crowds have gone home and back to work. The cowboys are back to their daily grind and the bulls are finishing up the last of the morning hay.

Julia M. Dendinger-News-Bulletin photo: One of Casper Baca’s bulls reminds a cowboy just who’s in charge during the Baca Rough Stock Rodeo in Belen. The series has been a spring staple in the area for 25 years.

Casper Baca comes striding over from the pens that hold his stock — some 60 head of horses and between 45 and 50 bulls.

On Wednesday morning, Baca was doing the same thing he’d been doing for the past 36 years — taking care of the stock that gives him his living.

This year marks the nearly four decades of the Baca Rough Stock Rodeo series. Baca estimated that close to 25 of those years of the series have been held in Belen at the Valencia County Sheriff’s Posse Arena.

But Baca wasn’t always the owner of his own line of stock. He started out as a cowboy, riding bulls for 15 years before going out under his own name with the rough stock in 1986.

Before that, he worked with his dad, Pete Baca.

“The bucking bulls came off his ranch,” Baca said. “Basically, it started out for me and my friends to practice.”

Those early years of riding and traveling to different parts of the country have helped Baca in his business as a stock provider.

“I saw what riders wanted, what they liked and didn’t like,” he said. “They don’t like a hard ride, something they just have no chance on.

“They like a good bucker and spinner. They also want to be treated right. Some contractors out there, they treat the cowboys like crud. I swore I would never do that.”

Baca said he decided to stop riding and put all his energy into his business, partially because he was starting a family. His oldest daughter is 36 years old, the same age as the rough stock series.

“I can remember her age, no problem. But my son and youngest daughter, well . . . I can get pretty close,” he admits with a chuckle. “They all help me in the business. What the future holds is hard to say. My boy will probably be the one to carry on the business.”

Baca says he never regretted the switch from bullrider to stock provider. For one thing, for the 55 year old, raising stock is simply a more stable way to make a living.

“I’ve made my living in the rodeo business for many years,” he said. “As a rider, you have to be very good to earn a living. Not a lot of guys are that good.”

Even though he isn’t riding the bulls, Baca is still a recognized name in the rodeo community because of his quality, performing stock.

His best known bull is probably High Rise. The bull went to the Professional Bull Riders championships seven times, a record that still stands as far as Baca knows.

High Rise retired and died several years ago, but his lineage still lives on through his son, Coyote.

“I got him (Coyote) from a really good friend. He swore he would give me a bull out of High Rise. He always calls me ‘coyote,’ so that’s what we named the bull,” Baca said.

And the names of Baca’s bulls are creative and somewhat personal. He said many of them are named after people, like Jayce, who is named after his grandson.

And the grandchildren get to pick the names of the bulls sometimes, too, which leads to some very creative combinations, Baca said.

That’s how he ended up with Bucking Duck and Spinning Hog.

“They are always writing down names,” he said.

The name of the bull might be an indicator of what kind of ride the cowboy will get — just ask the guy who rode Easy Come Easy Go on Saturday. But the name doesn’t make them perform.

So, just what makes a good bucking animal? Baca says they have to be consistent. And there’s no way to tell if they will be a good bucker until, well until you see them buck.

“You can’t tell just by looking or watching them. You have to buck them,” he said. “And they might buck good once, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to keep bucking. You have to have consistent bucking stock.”

Once you have the stock, you need the cowboys. Over the years, with the economy in decline, Baca said he has seen the numbers go down.

“The economy got its claws into us, same as everyone,” he said. “We’ve had to make adjustments and we’ll just keep on trucking, keep the cowboys satisfied and happy. Things are tough, but we’ll survive.”

They will survive because it seems like there are always cowboys willing to ride. When asked why they do it, Baca pauses to think.

“Well they’re crazy, most of them,” he laughed.

But then he turns serious, as he speaks from experience about the challenge of staying on top of an irritated, two-ton animal for eight seconds.

“When you ride a good bull, you get an adrenaline high you can’t explain,” he said. “Some want to be bull riders, some do it for show so their girlfriends can see them ride a bull. But all aspects of it make a rodeo. If those drugstore cowboys weren’t there, we’d maybe not have enough riders.”

Some of those riders turn out to be dedicated cowboys who move on to become professionals, such as Travis Briscoe, an Edgewood rider who’s been to the PBR championships six times.

“A lot of these guys, I saw them start off with us mutton busting. I remember Travis when he rode sheep with the rest of them. I’ve seen a lot of kids grow up and be professionals,” Baca said. “I get a lot of satisfaction in helping these guys along. Now they are coming back since they’ve made the transition to pro.”

Baca said that’s what the series is all about — giving the new guys a place to learn to ride and the old hands somewhere to come back to for a “tune up.”

One decision Baca made that some worried would hurt his revenues was to go tobacco-free at his rodeos four years ago. In March 2008, Baca signed a pledge not to accept any tobacco sponsorships for his rough stock rodeo, making him the fist livestock contractor in the state to do so.

“It hasn’t hurt sponsorships. It turns some heads, but nowadays, most people are anti-tobacco, what with the different cancers. People are more aware,” he said.

And those old-timers looking for a trip down memory lane are encouraged to come out the weekend of March 3 and 4 for the Baca series reunion. There will be a “match of champions” between Briscoe and Baca’s bull, May Buck. Out of his last nine rides, May Buck has tossed all but one cowboy.

The “throw back” weekend is bringing something a little special after the rodeo on Saturday. Shaw Brooks and The Unwound Band will perform live at 7 p.m. at the Sheriff’s Posse Cafe. Admission is $10 or $8 with a rodeo stamp.

Rodeo admission is $12 for adults, $6 for children ages 6 to 12, and senior citizens over 60 and children under 6 get in free. The rodeo starts at 1 p.m. both days and will run March 3 and 4, and 10 and 11.

Baca has traveled the country with his stock — he’s been up to Wyoming, down to El Paso, out to California and he has even flown bulls to Hawaii for a PBR championship.

“It’s how I make my living and I enjoy it. Not very many guys can say they enjoy their work,” he said. “I know a lot of guys who work 9-to-5 in an office and hate it. It let me raise three kids. Everything’s good.”


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.