Saddle bronc rider Heath DeMoss had the perfect rodeo vehicle.

A powerful truck, complete with a camper that allowed him and maybe a bronc-riding buddy or two to catch some sleep on the road.

But when fuel costs quadrupled, he had to re-evaluate what mattered most — comfort or cost?

"I traded it in for a Honda Civic," he said last week after competing in the Days of '47 Rodeo. "It gets 40 miles to the gallon."

Rodeo is a sport that relies on the willingness of athletes — full-time professionals as well as part-time participants — to travel hundreds of miles each year and then pay to compete. From local cowboys to national rodeo officials, it's an issue that is increasingly troubling to all who love not just the events, but the way of life they support.

"The price of fuel is a very, very big deal," said Chris Harris, of Texas. "It's making it dang near impossible for people to rodeo."

He is traveling with his wife, who is a barrel racer, and he said they get 12 miles to the gallon when they're hauling the horse trailer.

"We crossed off a few (rodeos) because they're too far away," he said. "I think a lot of guys aren't doing as many because of the price of fuel."

It's not just a problem that concerns the cowboys.

"There is a real fear in rodeo right now that those rodeos later in the year will be impacted," said Days of '47 chairman Brad Harmon. "The race is to get to the National Finals Rodeo. Everyone used to compete in every rodeo no matter what. But I think if a guy is way out of it or definitely in (the top 15), then they might skip those rodeos."

One thing that's become more prevalent is cowboys sharing horses. Some say they'll leave their horses in one city, fly to another and just borrow a friend's horse in hopes of saving a little money. Some even leave horses in key cities that allow them to have several centers of operation.

"We'll see them start sharing horses more," Harmon said. "Cowboys are tough. They'll work it out."

In fact, the pain at the pump may actually help the Wilderness Circuit, which includes Utah, Idaho and Nevada. Some cowboys said it's the best-paying circuit and there are dozens of rodeos within a few hundreds miles of each other.

"We just have to be smarter about how we map out our travel," said Mike Johnson, a tie-down roper who has been to the National Finals 20 times. "We have to choose better routes, but when you're facing random draws at rodeos, you can't always control that. ... But we are trying to do less backtracking."

Harmon said the PRCA is actually putting money into circuit races, which have their own championships, to make it more economically feasible to compete more often.

"That way there is a lot more incentive for (cowboys) to stay in close and be a part of a circuit system," Harmon said.

The impact of higher gas prices is greater on those who have to haul their own horses, like barrel racers, steer wrestlers and ropers.

"It hurts us a lot," said Cody Hintz, a team roper. "We just try to get as many people traveling together as possible. We have four traveling together right now. It takes $700 to fill up the truck."

Hintz agrees with Harmon that if fuel prices continue to climb, it could impact the entire sport.

"It hurts the sport of rodeo," he said. "Normally if a guy even has an outside chance of making it (to the NFR), he'll go. But if you're out of it, you won't go."

Its impact is even more painful for those who rodeo in their spare time, but are often hometown favorites.

Barrel racer Lakelsie Dansie of Cedar Valley, said she only competes on the Wilderness Circuit because she's in school full time. But now the cost of competing is so high that she has to be more selective or try to carpool with other barrel racers.

"Anything over 100 miles away and you have to carpool," she said. "I hope it doesn't hurt the sport, but it has made things a lot harder. You have to strategize about where you're going to go. The pros will probably still go to everything, but for the rest of us, it's really hard."

Those who ride bucking horses and bulls are saving money by buying more economical cars and also putting more people in them.

"Instead of four guys in a van, you might have eight," said Kaycee Feild, a bareback rider.

His father, Lewis Feild, who spent the week working as a pick-up man at Ogden's Pioneer Days Rodeo, said he believes it will eventually mean fewer participants.

"Rough stock guys don't pull trailers, but the ropers, I don't know how they do it," Feild said. "It's never been a sport where profit wasn't affected by costs. The cowboys have to pay for everything — travel, where they stay, food — and this definitely has an impact."

Johnson fears the cost will outweigh what most cowboys can make.

"I hope it doesn't make a lot of people quit," he said. "It's a tough sport to make a living at. We pay our own way and it gets very expensive. We've talked about it at every rodeo I go to.

"It's unfortunate fuel is so high, but I think we'll keep it all going. One thing is for sure, you've got to have friends. Splitting the diesel fuel bill always helps."


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