This whole week in Las Vegas will be a load of bull. And that’s no lie.
It will also be a load of horses, calves and steers, as livestock not only take over the Thomas & Mack Center for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, but points all around town for a variety of other rodeo events. The WNFR will have approximately 705 head, the All In Barrel Race brings in 820, the Junior NFR houses 797, and the Boyd Gaming Chute Out adds another 164.
Then there’s the World Series of Team Roping, with more than all of the aforementioned events combined, at 3,600 horses, plus 900 steers. That’s a total of nearly 7,000 head of livestock. Pity the guy who wields the shovel!
So what’s it like to handle that much horsepower, and bullpower, and so on? Let’s start with the centerpiece event, the Wrangler NFR.
Shawn Davis has been with the Wrangler NFR since it moved to Las Vegas, and even before then. Throughout much of the Super Bowl of Rodeo’s run at the Thomas & Mack Center, Davis has been the general manager, ostensibly in charge of everything — including all those animals.
“Here’s what I’ve learned about the whole event: Be totally prepared and organized, and you’ll still have more than you do to keep up,” he said. “You just make it the best and safest you can for the animals and the contestants, and have the best people there for the livestock.”
The corral northwest of the Thomas & Mack houses pretty much all of the NFR’s animals. Davis said top-flight stalls are shipped in from the East Coast, along with “first-class quality tents.” Davis has to work around UNLV, as well.
“As the campus grows, the less space we have,” Davis said. “But up to this point, we’ve been able to house them all here and care for them properly. If we had to transport that much livestock in every day, it would be almost impossible.”
Even with all the animals right near the arena, it takes a sound plan to keep the animal community running smoothly, and the ability of Davis and his extensive staff to not only execute the plan, but make it better.
“We have an exact schedule of how everything is taken care of, and we improve those everywhere,” he said. “We also take notes on all personnel and try to make sure we’ve got the best people we can possibly hire.”
And the animals are never out of sight.
“We have complete system, with a command post, observation posts and cameras, so it’s well-secured at all times,” Davis said. “There’s 24-hour watch and 24-hour veterinary care.”
Davis said proof the animals are well-cared for shows up every night on the arena dirt.
“The way you can tell is the animals perform as well at the last performance as the first performance,” he said. “We’ve always done things first-class, and that includes taking care of the livestock.”
WORLD SERIES OF TEAM ROPING
The World Series of Team Roping returns to the South Point for its 11th year, bringing with it a cavalcade of horse trailers and of course, all the horses in those trailers. Denny Gentry, president of the World Series of Team Roping, expects 3,500 teams, but that doesn’t equate to 7,000 horses, because many contestants are in multiple divisions.
Still, 3,600 horses and 900 steers is a ton of livestock for the seven-day competition, which started Monday and goes through Sunday. When this event started back in 2006, there were 400 horses and 200 steers. Gentry echoed Davis in discussing how to handle 4,500 head of livestock, 2,800 of which are kept at the South Point, and the rest in a nearby lot.”
“It’s a lot of preparation, and our staff has grown to handle that,” he said. “It’s been a challenge, and obviously we wouldn’t have been able to handle it without the South Point. Las Vegas Events has gotten involved, and a lot of other people have gotten involved, but none more than the South Point.
“The issue of people is not a problem,” he added of the explosive growth. “It’s a whole other thing handling the livestock and the trailers that transport the livestock. The trailers are 30, 40, 50 feet long. You’re not dealing with parking cars!”
On the bright side, parking those trailers and housing that livestock has started to settle down, as the World Series of Team Roping is about at its peak for capacity.
“We felt like the last two years, we kind of maxed out,” Gentry said. “There’s not enough space to do more, but that’s a good spot to be in. Once we stop the growth, we try to develop customer relations, and make them feel better about the experience.”
ALL IN BARREL RACE
A newcomer to this year’s party is the All In Barrel Race, a unique event that employs five divisions and a handicap system. Competition takes place in a full-sized competition arena with bleachers at the Country Christmas expo, being held downtown at the World Market Center.
The All In has two sets of competitions, each four rounds. The first set wrapped up Sunday, and the next one runs Wednesday through Saturday.
“This is our first year for it,” said Chris Woodruff of Group W Productions, which puts on this event and is based in Weatherford, Texas. “The success the team ropers have had at the South Point over the years, a rodeo event with a lot of participants, we’re looking to do the same thing with barrel racing.”
Woodruff said the total draw will be approximately 710 horses with their respective racers in the saddle, but another 110 head of livestock will also be on hand.
“We’ve also got a tie-down roping event, and on Sunday (Dec. 11), we have The American Qualifier,” he said of an additional barrel racing competition that serves as a qualifier for February’s huge-paying, one-day RFD-TV’s The American at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
The horses are being housed at the old Helldorado lot, and just like all the other rodeo events around town, the All In Barrel Race requires strong organizational skills.
“It’s quite an undertaking,” Woodruff said. “It takes 50 people just to execute over the 10 days – housing, security, maintenance, cleanup.”
Ah, the guy with the shovel!
“And logistically, just putting the event on,” Woodruff added. “Nobody’s done this with barrel racing. We’ve seen a need for it, and we really think it can grow in Las Vegas and be a big piece of the barrel racing world.
“The city loves it, because of the downtown alliance with hotel properties, who now have another event during the NFR that they haven’t had in the past. Now, there’s an opportunity to do something downtown.”
For more information, go to lvbarrelrace.com.
BOYD GAMING CHUTE OUT
Of all the competitions in town along with the Wrangler NFR, only one is a full-blown rodeo: the Boyd Gaming Chute Out at Orleans Arena. This Thursday, Friday and Saturday afternoon, cowboys and cowgirls will compete in all seven events.
The event will include 66 horses, 50 steers, 23 bulls and 25 calves.
“Out of all the groups in town, I’ll have the least amount of animals, but it’s still a lot to handle,” said Rorey Lemmel, producer of the Boyd Chute Out.
Most of the stock will be housed at Horseman’s Park across town, though Lemmel said some animals will be on-site near the arena. And it will be top-shelf rodeo stock.
“It’s the same contractors as the NFR for the rough stock,” Lemmel said of the bucking horses and bulls. “It’s extra stock that my guys will house for three weeks.”
All that stock started heading to town right after Thanksgiving, then fell under the direction of Pahrump’s Ted Groene, a top-shelf manager of the daily logistics of rodeo.
“There’s a reason why he does the rodeo at Madison Square Garden, the Pro Bull Riders at T-Mobile Arena,” Lemmel says. “He’s the best in the world. I am very confident these animals are the best-taken-care-of anywhere. It will show in the performances. When you’ve got the best people, you get the best results.”
And the stock at the Chute Out are on the brink of NFR par.
“My animals would be some just under that cut, or young superstars you’re going to see at the NFR,” Lemmel says. “Several of mine from last year are at the NFR this year. I owe it to my stock contractors. They do a great job.”
The Chute Out has taken a page from the on-time machine the NFR has become, with Lemmel’s event actually working in concert with the NFR.
“The challenge really is getting in there and transporting the animals back and forth. Everything worked awful smooth last year, and I’m expecting it will again,” he says. “Timing is everything. Our job is to enhance the experience of the NFR. We put on a quality show, an hour and 45 minutes long in the afternoon, which gives fans a chance to eat and then go to the NFR.”
The first official Junior NFR takes place this year, in an arena built up on the second level of the Las Vegas Convention Center’s South Halls, the same building where Cowboy Christmas and the Hunter & Outdoor Christmas Expo are housed. And interestingly enough, there are more animals at the Junior NFR — 797 total head — than the big-time Wrangler NFR down the street.
Kelly Kaminski, a two-time world champion in barrel racing, oversees that part of the operation for the Junior NFR, which runs over two sets of three days. The first was last Friday through Sunday, and the second is Thursday through Saturday.
Sixty barrel racers are on hand, split among the 12-16 age group and the 11-under age group. So that means at least 60 horses, and perhaps some backup horses.
“I set up a deal for most of them to stay at Horseman’s Park. Some people know people who live here, so they keep their horses there, or find a private facility,” Kaminski said, noting it’s logistically impossible to keep stock at the convention center. “It’s easier to keep animals on the grounds than to haul back and forth. But the animals are not on the grounds here, unlike at most places. Those are the challenges we have to deal with. It’s totally different.”
So one of the biggest parts of Kaminski’s job is handling those horses — and the trailer rigs they’re hauled in on — as they go into and out of the arena. She leans on her past experience as a school teacher to make it all come off smoothly.
“It’s really like a big class project for me,” she said.
Kirby Cannon handles the bucking horses for the Junior NFR, and he echoed many of Kaminski’s sentiments. His animals also settle in at Horseman’s Park, which becomes quite popular this time of year.
“We have a metric ton of horses coming in,” Cannon said. “For everything that goes on — roping calves, mini bulls, bucking horses, barrel racing — the animals have to be hauled in every day. Every single day, 200 to 300 are shipped back and forth. It’s an amazing feat. We’re working 14- to 15-hour days.”
Yet Cannon, like Kaminski, wouldn’t have it any other way, throwing himself and his staff into the work to make sure the animals are well-cared-for and the Junior NFR contestants get a first-class competition.
“It’s madness, but there’s a method to the madness,” he said. “It’s a tremendous chore, but it’s also a tremendous event for the kids and for this city.”
And that, my friends, is no bull.