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'Pickup man' right at home at La Fiesta de Los Vaqueros

'Pickup man' right at home at La Fiesta de Los Vaqueros

The 93rd annual La Fiesta de Los Vaqueros officially opened at 11 a.m. Saturday, but most cowboys had been there since 5:30 a.m.

Shandon Stalls, a 38-year-old cowboy from McLean, Texas, got up while the fog was thickest and made his way to the Rodeo Grounds to start working with the stock and horses. This is the 18th year Stalls has been hired to work as a “pickup man” during the horse bucking events and “flank” during the bull riding event. His job, put simply, is to keep the competitors safe, even if it means putting himself in harm’s way.

Stalls says he loves the Tucson Rodeo.

“Whether they hire me back next year or not, I’m coming back,” Stalls said. “This is my favorite rodeo all year. I go to 14 rodeos a year and work on 120 performances and this is by far my favorite one.”

The Tucson Rodeo Grounds, he says, are “a cowboy’s arena.” The venue provides plenty of space for the cowboys and all the events.

But he also enjoys the sunny weather. This year’s rodeo started off at the back end of some wet and cold temperatures, and Saturday’s opening day barely topped 70 degrees. Still, the intermittent sunshine beat the 17-degree weather back home, Stalls said.

The wet weather was a bit of a safety hazard Saturday. The ground in the arena was mush, and both boots and hooves sunk a few inches into the mud.

“It’s definitely harder to maneuver,” Stalls said. “It’s pretty deep and extremely wet — definitely harder to get around in.”

Stalls said the conditions made it harder to work in, but the “bucking horses were in the same condition, so it was even.”

Luckily, Saturday’s events went by without any accidents or major injuries. Stalls said he’s never seen a major injury in the bucking events.

Riders can sometimes get hung up on a bareback horse, Stalls said. And a bad situation can quickly turn worse in an arena as large as Tucson’s.

“Luckily, I haven’t had that happen yet,” Stalls said. “But it can happen and it will at some point. That’s the biggest thing that can happen to me.”

Stalls is among the last to leave, along with other cowboys working with the stock and horses.

Stalls, who owns his own ranch in the Texas Panhandle, was introduced to picking up broncs while in college. The ranch knowledge is key to being a good pickup man, he said. The best ones know how to read livestock.

And in order to be hired year after year, like Stalls, cowboys have to be willing to put in the work.

“This is the only fun part of the day — these three hours,” Stalls said of the professional rodeo portion of the rodeo. “The rest is work.”

Notes

  • Eddie Taylor was recognized after the bareback riding competition for his 30th year working as the Tucson Rodeo veterinarian. Taylor was presented with a belt buckle.
  • Saddle bronc rider Colt Gordon provided one of the day’s biggest highlights when he scored an 81.50, four points higher than the second-place finisher. Gordon had previously attempted a run but was granted a re-ride after five seconds on the horse. After the rest of the competition finished, Gordon blew away the other cowboys.

“The first (horse) was pretty wild and kind of hard to ride, but the second one was good,” Gordon said.

The 20-year-old soon left for the Los Fresnos, Texas, rodeo, but said he would return to Tucson next Sunday if he made the top 12.

“I was real excited (about winning) and I’m ready for more,” Gordon said.

Only four of the originally planned 12 barrel racers made it out for Saturday’s event. Three of the four women finished with a time under the 20-second mark. Sami Jo Morisoli of Paso Robles, California, came out with the win in 19:61 seconds.

  • Fourteen bull riders were given no score on Saturday, the result of disqualifications or being bucked before reaching the 8-second mark. Just two competitors met the requirements and were given a score. Justin Neill of Edgewood, New Mexico, scored a 78, a 0.5 advantage over Levi Michael Berends of Maynard, Minnesota.

Contact reporter Norma Gonzalez at 520-262-3265 or ngonzalez@tucson.com.

Sports reporter

Norma started at the Star in 2017. She's a sports reporter covering all types of beats. She graduated from the University of Texas–Pan American in 2014 and recently graduated from the Associated Press Sports Editors Diversity Fellowship program.

Related to this story

The 2018 La Fiesta de los Vaqueros Tucson Rodeo Parade, the nation's longest non-motorized parade, and a fixture in Tucson every February since 1925.

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