Jim Korkow has 34 rodeo broncs vacationing unbucked at a ranch in Texas, all unrode with no cowboys to be throwed.
The COVID-19 pandemic has reached into many places, including the rodeo world, where the Korkow family ranch is the source of some of the best “rough stock” that help cowboys win rodeos. The bulls and broncs raised on Medicine Creek east of Pierre are rated some of the best.
But this week they faced the cancellation of rodeos across the country because of the pandemic. It’s already costing the Korkows money, when they would usually be hitting a rodeo or two a week with their horses and bulls.
Korkow’s bronc Onion Ring, in fact, just scored 91.25 points while Wyatt Casper rode him March 6 at the American Rodeo in Arlington, Texas. Well, Casper actually was credited with that score, but Onion Ring contributed just as many points as did Casper.
The three judges give half the points to the horse’s performance, half to the rider’s.
And 91.25 is a really high score; often an 84 or 85 will win a rodeo. It means the horse bucked really well and the rider looked great in lasting the eight seconds.
Casper’s overall event win illustrates, too, how much more money there is in rodeo every year. And therefore, how much more to lose if the rodeos don’t happen.
Just for the ride on Onion Ring, Casper won only $3,000. But that ride put him in the running to win the saddle bronc event for the rodeo, which was worth $100,000.
On top of that, by winning the event, he was in the mix to win all or part of the $1 million bonus by sponsor RFD. He won a half-share of the bonus, meaning he won $600,000 that weekend. Onion Ring played a key part of helping Casper win that huge prize, Jim Korkow said.
Casper told reporters at the rodeo he’s never had more than $20,000 in his bank account before.
Now, still early in the year, he’s pretty assured of qualifying for the National Finals next fall in Las Vegas and the chance to be named a world champion in the event that Fort Pierre’s Casey Tibbs once owned back in the 1940s and 1950s.
Casper credited the good horses he was matched with, including Onion Ring.
Interestingly, after years of Onion Ring being one of the top bareback broncs in the country, the Korkows let the gelding, at the ripe age of 10, try bucking with a saddle on this year and he’s looking like a champ, Carole Korkow said Tuesday. “He’s been one of the top three bareback broncs for a few years,” she said.
But as much as Casper won last weekend starkly illustrates how much rodeo cowboys stand to lose now as the PRCA has canceled a bunch of rodeos across the nation.
On Tuesday, the PRCA announced the big Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo that was to run March 3-20 was canceled, as was one in Austin, Texas and the PRCA Championship Rodeo in Fargo which had been slated for March 20-21 in the Fargodome.
At least 10 PRCA rodeos scheduled from now until mid-May were canceled, the PRCA announced Tuesday.
Many others were billed as postponed, for now. Several were re-scheduled to later dates. Others are billed as “scheduled,” seeming to imply they might get canceled if things don’t improve on the coronavirus front.
“It’s costing me quite a lot of money already,” Korkow told the Capital Journal on Tuesday, March 17. “I’ve got a truck with 34 horses in Texas. They have been there since January.”
They have been working until the past couple days. Now they are relaxing on a ranch and it’s not clear when their next rodeo will be.
The Korkows, including Jim and Carole and their son, T.J., and employees follow the rodeo season with their stock trucks.
“We were supposed to be involved in a rodeo this coming weekend. But it’s been canceled. And one in two weeks. And that’s canceled,” Korkow said. “Then the national circuit finals the first weekend in April and that’s in Kissimmee, Florida. They say that’s postponed.”
The Florida rodeo is big and only 1,200 miles from where Korkow’s broncs are quartered on a Texas ranch. But if he has to haul them home to Pierre in the meantime, that means it’s 2,500 miles to get to the Florida event, Jim Korkow said. “That alone will cost me $10,000.”
Rodeo folks all over the nation are experiencing the same thing as the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association made the grim announcements on Tuesday.
The PRCA posted pages of explanation on Tuesday on its website as it announced the changes.
“The objective is to host all PRCA events, unless public health authorities or state/local governments in the relevant region issue a directive not to stage the event,” the PRCA bulletin read. “Every attempt will be made to reschedule canceled events.”
George Taylor, CEO of the PRCA, wrote in the bulletin: “This is a difficult situation, one with consequences that impact our contestants, fans, sponsors and the communities in which our ProRodeo events are hosted. We appreciate your support as we navigate this ever-changing landscape.”