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Rodeo: 'You can go broke in a hurry'

Cindy Baltezore's expertise in barrel racing goes beyond rounding the barrels. She's been barrel racing for more than 40 years and knows first hand how much money goes into her passion. Baltezore ran at the National Barrel Racing Association even...

Amber West, of New Underwood, feeds her horse Brandi on Thursday evening on the first night of the Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo at the Horseman’s Sports Arena in Mitchell. West would later compete in the barrel races. (Matt Gade/Republic)
Amber West, of New Underwood, feeds her horse Brandi on Thursday evening on the first night of the Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo at the Horseman’s Sports Arena in Mitchell. West would later compete in the barrel races. (Matt Gade/Republic)

Cindy Baltezore's expertise in barrel racing goes beyond rounding the barrels.

She's been barrel racing for more than 40 years and knows first hand how much money goes into her passion.

Baltezore ran at the National Barrel Racing Association event Tuesday at the Horseman's Sports Arena in Mitchell. After she finished her pattern on her horse, TJ, Baltezore ran through the bills.

"OK, well it is a new Chevy ton truck," she motioned to her pickup truck. "What are they?, $50,000 to $60,000. This is our run-around trailer, but I have a living quarter trailer for extended stays. They are $40,000 to $50,000 to transport the horse."

Then what about keeping care of the horses?

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"Vet bills are high. Very, very high," she said. "That is probably a third of our expenses. Feed is probably 50 percent. Hay is high. Feed is high."

Cindy said she's fortunate because her husband, John, shoes her horses, but "a lot of people have the farrier expense and that is a new set of shoes every six weeks. A set of horseshoes ... an average set is right around $100."

Tale of Baltezore's tab is common for the hundreds of cowboys and cowgirls who have invaded Mitchell this week for the 46th annual Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo, a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association event that lasts four days in Mitchell.

All together, the participants have pumped in millions of dollars into their rodeo careers and many of them won't bring home much money from their short time in the arena. Routinely, hundreds of dollars in winnings are decided by hundredths of a second.

For example, in the 2015 Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo, first and 10th place in the barrel racing were separated by $2,094 in the final payout, despite only a difference of 0.31 seconds on time. The bull riding event was won by Gumby Wren, who posted an 81 and brought home $2,792 but a score of 74 was good for eighth place and a check of $233.

The money in rodeo doesn't come easy. But the thrill of the competition makes the expenses all worth it.

"I think the satisfaction outweighs any of the expense," Baltezore said. "I don't think any of us are going to get rich doing this."

Baltezore has been doing this for a while. The Beresford native began barrel racing in high school and competed in college when she attended South Dakota State University. She is a member of the Women's Professional Rodeo Association.

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Cindy and John own Baltezore Performance Horses. They train and sell barrel horses for other racers. They currently own around 40.

Cindy, 63, said she doesn't compete as much as in the past, but still runs locally two to three times a week.

"This sport has no age limit," Baltezore said.

The cost to compete

Jeff Bertus, 24, will compete in the bull riding tonight in Mitchell. The rodeo is just an hour away from his hometown of Avon. That distance is a far cry from some of the other rodeos he's been to. Bertus has been to rodeos all over the country and said he goes to around 80 a year. He said the farthest he's gone is Washington and Florida.

"Every once in awhile, we will fly," he said. "It is just that driving is usually a lot cheaper than flying. We try to drive to as many as we can."

He said gas and hotels are the two biggest expenses, but he typically travels with a group to save money. Bertus is traveling right now with bull riders Wyatt Gregg, of Belle Fourche, and Bart Miller, of Pleasanton, Neb.

"When you can have a few more people splitting expenses, that makes it a lot nicer," said Bertus, who has earned $7,591 bull riding this year and also farms for a living.

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Then there's the entry fees. The entry fees vary by event and location, but at the Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo, the bareback and saddle bronc riding are $101. Barrel racing is $111. Bull riding, tie-down roping, steer wrestling and team roping are all $221.

Bertus said the most he's paid to enter a rodeo was $321.

That might have been too much bang for Joe Bertus' buck. Jeff's younger brother decided last October to no longer ride bulls after doing it since he was a kid.

"I just kind of was getting burnt out of it a little bit," said Joe Bertus, who was competing in close to 100 rodeos a year.

Joe, 22, said the sport has its ups and downs. That is what led to his decision to hang it up.

"If you (aren't) winning at all for a couple of weeks, you can go broke in a hurry," Joe said, "but there is that time where things are clicking and everything is going great, you are going to make a bunch of money in no time. There is really no happy-medium to bull riding. It is great or not."

He still tries to compete locally at a few rodeos, but he has since bought a semi-truck and hauls cattle for a living.

"I like doing this deal, I guess," he said. "I have got a for-sure paycheck."

Win at all costs

Shane O'Connell, of Rapid City, has been hitting the rodeo trail hard this summer. The bareback rider competed at the Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo on Thursday. It was his first rodeo in South Dakota in more than a month. He's been competing at events in the southern and northwestern parts of the United States.

O'Connell recently purchased a mini-van to help cut down on expenses. O'Connell and his traveling partner, Anthony Thomas, have racked up between 15,000 and 20,000 miles this summer, said O'Connell.

O'Connell said the most money he's won at a rodeo was between $6,000 and $8,000 at the Indian National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas. He won a round at San Antonio, Texas, last year and took home $2,600. He recently split third and fourth at a rodeo and won $3,000.

O'Connell said he's been riding better this month and he has to so he can help pay for expenses. He doesn't pull in sponsorship money, so he has to count on his earnings to compete.

Some riders will receive sponsorship money from boot and jeans companies and from local businesses. For everyone else, the compensation crunch is heavy.

"I don't have any sponsors right now, so it is all on myself," O'Connell said. "So I've got to keep winning to keep going otherwise I don't have money to buy a tank of gas or my entry fees and I have to stay at home. It kind of keeps a guy hungry and to keep riding well."

O'Connell has medical insurance and the PRCA also assists in covering medical expenses for the competitors but getting hurt is part of the gig. O'Connell said he tries to stay in shape so he can continue doing what he loves, but right now he's got a couple ribs in his back that are bothering him.

"That is nothing to keep me sidelined," O'Connell said. "So I am going to keep riding."

Natalie Foutch, from Eldora, Iowa, gives her horse Orville a pre-competion wash on Thursday evening on the first night of the Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo at the Horseman’s Sports Arena in Mitchell. (Matt Gade/Republic)
Natalie Foutch, from Eldora, Iowa, gives her horse Orville a pre-competion wash on Thursday evening on the first night of the Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo at the Horseman’s Sports Arena in Mitchell. (Matt Gade/Republic)

Related Topics: RODEO
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