By Ted Harbin
GUYMON, Okla. – The first time Paul Peterson shuffled his feet in the Henry C. Hitch Arena dirt, he was a college cowboy with his sights firmly set on a career in rodeo.
In the more than two decades since his arrival at Oklahoma Panhandle State University, Peterson played the game as well as anyone going down the rodeo trail. When he wasn’t competing, he was still making a living in the sport, serving as one of the premier pickup men in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.
Every May, he’s been a fixture as a pickup man inside Hitch arena, helping maintain the speed of the rodeo while corralling the animals throughout the competition. His role is changing, though; now he’s the main flankman for Carr Pro Rodeo, the primary stock contractor for the Guymon Pioneer Days Rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 4; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 5; and 2 p.m. Sunday, May 6.
“Everything’s for the better,” said Peterson, who spent a number of years in Texas County, Okla., while working in rodeo. “I really enjoy it.”
Pete Carr has served as the flankman for several years, but as owner of the Dallas-based livestock firm, Carr has numerous other responsibilities that need his attention. Therefore, having a veteran like Peterson handling the flanking responsibilities is a benefit to the operation.
“Paul has been a valuable part of our team since our first rodeo,” Carr said. “Paul is one of the most versatile people you’ll meet, and in rodeo, he can do almost everything. He knows these animals, and that plays a lot into what he’s done with us from the very beginning.
“I want to surround myself with the best, and that’s what I get with Paul.”
How important is it to understand the animal athletes?
“Every horse is going to take a different kind of flank,” Peterson said. “Those older horses, the ones that have been around a long time, they need a little bit more of a flank, but the colts will need less. You’ve got to figure out what’s going to be the best flank for each of the animals to perform at their best.
“You can ruin the horse or get him to the NFR.”
Peterson knows a little bit about that. As an all-around cowboy competing in the PRCA, he just missed qualifying for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo a few times in saddle bronc riding. As a pickup man, he was chosen by the bareback riders and bronc riders to work the NFR three times. Whatever he’s done, he’s excelled. That means he’ll take to the task of flankman with the same gusto.
“You’ve just got to know the animals,” Peterson said. “I think I’ve watched most of Pete’s horses a long time. So far it’s worked out.
“You take into consideration where the horse come from and what they’ve done to him in the past and if you’ve raised him. It helps to know a lot about what their mom is and what she was like; a lot of time they’re going to be just like her.”
Peterson is just one of many top hands who will work Pioneer Days Rodeo as part of the Carr crew. Dan Etbauer of Goodwell will be one of the pickup men, joined by Jason Bottons and Shawn Calhoun. All three men continue a tradition of greatness in Guymon. Etbauer is one of a handful of cowboys who have qualified for and picked up at the national finals.
The NFR is an annual showcase of the very best in ProRodeo, from the top 15 contestants in each event and discipline to the best personnel. John and Sandy Gwatney have worked the NFR for several years and are a big reason behind Carr Pro Rodeo’s success. Bullfighters Chris Kirby and Dusty Duba not only help protect fallen bull riders, but also they handle many of the behind-the-scenes tasks that go on at each rodeo.
“I think the best part of our stock company is that we have quality people involved in everything we do,” Carr said. “You can have the best animals in the world, but you’re not going to be very good without great people on your team. I’ve got great people on my team.”