Rodeo redemption: Utahn's life filled with changes, but bronc riding still his passion

Published: Sunday, July 27 2008 12:26 a.m. MDT

Cooper Sagers greets his father, Darrell, who balances his rodeoing with family and other responsibilities.

Mike Terry, Deseret News

Snake Oil was exactly what Darrell Sagers needed after several weeks of mediocre horses.

A day earlier at his home in Rush Valley he explained that since July 4 he hadn't drawn the kind of horse that can help a cowboy win big money.

"I've just drawn horses that are hard to ride, not great buckers," he said. Sagers was staying on for the required eight seconds, but he wasn't scoring high enough to make much money.

"It's just kind of wearing on me," he said, admitting he was sore and banged up a bit. "It's great when you get the horse you know you can win on — double rank and never been rode."

A day later he drew Snake Oil — a horse that had never been ridden for eight seconds — in the Days of '47 Rodeo.

He couldn't stop smiling as he talked to friends about who the red horse had sent to the dirt before the whistle. He worked the rope in his hands trying to get the length exactly right for the ride. Then he slapped his thighs, stretched his legs and practiced his technique.

The announcer asked the crowd if they'd like to see a Utah man make history, and the crowd responded with a deafening roar. Sagers sat down low on the horse, put his spurs up high on the horse's shoulders and nodded his head to signal his readiness.

About four seconds later, he flew up and over Snake Oil's left shoulder. He hit the dirt hard. He was slow to get up and favored one leg. He moved toward the chutes looking down, his disappointment obvious.

It was a stark contrast to a ride he had on a bucking horse just a few weeks earlier at the rodeo in his hometown of Rush Valley.

"A 72-point ride," declared the announcer. "That's just a day at the office for Darrell Sagers."

The reality of rodeo

The business of rodeo is brutal. One day can be glorious, the next disastrous.

Sagers, like most professional cowboys, does not rely on bucking horses for his livelihood. He owns an excavating business that pays his bills so he can try to earn a little more money at rodeos.

Rodeo can supplement a guy's income, but for most, that big payday means an opportunity to buy into business opportunities that will keep their families fed while they continue to rodeo. For example, after bronc rider Chris Harris won the Calgary Stampede in the late 1990s, he spent $50,000 on a stud so he could start breeding his own bucking horses.

Darrell's uncle, Dennis Sagers, knows all too well how fickle rodeo can be.

In July of 1989, Dennis Sagers broke his femur. Facing a lengthy recovery with three small children to support, Dennis decided he'd better hang up his spurs.

"Very few guys are fortunate enough to stay at it for a long while," said Sagers, who is one of the reasons Darrell yearned to ride bucking horses. "Very few get the opportunity to go rodeo full-time. I'd say it's less than 5 percent."

But those horses also cast a spell over young cowboys that captivates them long after the rides have ended.

"It's quite an adrenaline rush," said Dennis Sagers. "If my body would let me, I'd get on one today. But it's a young man's game."

Anyone who rodeos for any length of time suffers an injury that forces them to face the question they never want to consider. It's an inevitable, and dreaded, conversation with themselves.

Eight or nine years ago Darrell Sagers had his close call when a horse went head over heels on him, breaking four of his ribs and bruising his heart.

"It kind of plays in your mind, and you start questioning is it worth it?" he said. "It's a tough sport. Everybody gets hurt at some point."

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