Eight seconds aboard a bucking bronco can seem more like eight minutes sometimes, and during one of Rhett Kelley’s bareback rides last week there were several moments it seemed he was going to be forcefully dismounted by a horse named Black Hawk.
But while he did bounce up and down and side to side, he survived to the buzzer without serious mishap.
Kelley impressed the judges well enough to convince them to pencil in a 75-point score for him. Not bad at all.
Rhett, 21, and brother Tanner, 19, have spent parts of two summers getting tossed around by livestock at the Cody Nite Rodeo. The Texans came to learn and are cowboys who keep working at it, trying to outlast the livestock night after night.
They met stock contractor Maury Tate in Texas near their home over the winter of 2018 and he explained that there is no finer training ground than the Rodeo Capital of the World because unlike everywhere else, there is rodeo every night.
“The first thing was to get better,” Rhett said. “The amount of stock you can ride. Back home we don’t have the luxury of getting on every day.”
The truth is that no one else has that chance around the country. If you want to practice and stay busy, you come to Cody.
The brothers stuck around until August last season, but must cut things short to stays only in June this year. Tanner even had to leave town earlier than hoped. He works on a 20,000-acre ranch in Big Springs, Texas, and the boss summoned him before the end of the month because of need. He also needs money for school at Odessa College. Rhett will be a junior at Tarleton State in Stephenville.
“I try to keep school and rodeo separate,” Rhett said. “It’s kind of like having two jobs.”
Cody Nite Rodeo is not a lucrative paying job. More riders get paid in experience rather than in cash, though anyone who is good enough and active enough can accumulate a decent sum between June and August.
Last year, Tanner arrived in Cody as a bull rider. But now he is focusing on horses. He feels he is somewhat starting over as a saddle bronc rider, a decision that was difficult to make, but which he felt in the long run would be better for his body.
This is an easy sport to get all shook up about, through bulls or broncs, but he felt things tilted slightly in the direction of horses.
“It catches up to you after you ride and get beat up,” Tanner said of his bulls experience.
Tanner said the week-long schools sponsored by Cody Nite Rodeo and the PRCA over these two summers played a role in him switching from bulls to horses. He said tutors like national-caliber riders Heath Ford and R.C. Landingham told him he might have a brighter future in the other discipline and given their know-how, he paid attention.
“I’m starting fresh up here,” Tanner said of making the move away from bulls.
Whether it is trying to ride bulls, bareback or saddle bronc, there are nuances to staying on long enough to score.
The Kelleys have lived in the Cowboy Church bunkhouse while in Cody, which has eased their living costs and is something they would recommend to other beginning cowboys their age who need to gain experience in the rodeo world before taking a stab at the pro circuit full-time.
Both Kelleys like Cody and feel the rodeo opportunity can’t be beat for guys on their way up.
“For one thing, it’s beautiful up here,” Rhett said. “Everyone is nice. I post pictures of the mountains (on his social media accounts) and of the town, the rodeo, anything. I still get guys (long distance) asking me questions.”
He’ll tell them, yes, by all means, come to Cody and rodeo. He just wishes he could hang out longer.