Seth Hardwick participated in so many rodeos last year that he lost count.
“I was on the bubble of making the National Finals Rodeo, so I had to go to everything possible,” Hardwick said.
If Hardwick had to guess, he’d say he competed in around 100 rodeos, which put more than 50,000 miles on his vehicle. That’s a lot of miles, a lot of hotel rooms, a lot of sleeping in cars and a lot of states and Canadian provinces to check off the list.
Hardwick isn’t alone in this rodeo journey. This is the life of most cowboys. If grabbing hold of a bucking horse or an agitated bull wasn’t tiresome or grueling enough, the miles cowboys log likely are.
Each competitor does it a little differently, as is the case for a couple Sheridan County cowboys. Hardwick, from Ranchester, Wyoming, owns a Chevrolet Express Van with which he travels. Hardwick has customized the interior of his van to fit a bed elevated by stilts, so he can store his equipment underneath.
During rodeo season, Hardwick drives his van south and meets up with his travel partner and fellow bareback rider, Orin Larsen, who lives in western Nebraska. The two enter rodeos as buddies, meaning they’ll compete on the same day, as they travel from one rodeo to the next.
The professional rodeo life — which Hardwick has enjoyed for the last nine years — has afforded him the opportunity to see a large portion of the United States, particularly west of the Mississippi River.
“We see quite a bit of country,” Hardwick said. “There’s a lot of times where you don’t have time to play tourist and see the cool stuff because we are just in and out of town. But we do get to travel and see a lot. A lot of people never get to do that, so that’s a fun, cool thing I guess.”
Hardwick sets his rodeo schedule in coordination with Larsen. The two attempt to attend many of the large-purse rodeos in an effort to make the most money.
Both cowboys also have a list of their favorite rodeos they try to attend, including rodeos where the two have performed well in the past and ones that are simply fun to compete in, whether they did well or not.
“We kind of have a set schedule, a routine,” Hardwick said. “We find ourselves going to the same rodeos every year. We have the the same pattern now that we are old and wise and have it figured out.”
While some of the travel costs come out of Hardwick’s pocket, a portion is paid for by Team Wyoming. Hardwick and a few other cowboys from the Equality State, which includes Cheyenne’s Brody Cress, have a patch stitched into their vest, and whenever they have the chance, they promote their home state. In return, Team Wyoming helps the cowboys out with a stipend for hotel rooms, meals, plane tickets and more.
Cress approached Team Wyoming in regards to a sponsorship after he made the NFR, and his success on the rodeo circuit has also garnered him local sponsorships from Visit Cheyenne and Cheyenne Frontier Days.
“I really like having a few sponsorships from around Wyoming,” Cress said. “… They know you’ll do something for them, and they’ll do something for you.”
Devan Reilly also has financial help with his rodeo endeavors. The Sheridan native is sponsored by Sheridan WYO Rodeo, which helps him with travel costs.
Reilly is a little different from Hardwick in the way he travels. Reilly’s travel partner is Cody Kiser — who was Bradley Cooper’s stunt double in the movie American Sniper — of Carson City, Nevada.
Reilly either flies or drives his car from Sheridan to Carson City to travel with Kiser, who owns a van. The vehicle is customized, much like Hardwick’s, with a bed in the back, so as one cowboy drives, the other can rest in the back if he chooses.
Reilly has had numerous travel partners over the years and is very happy with the friendship he and Kiser have forged.
“It’s almost in a way like trying to figure out a relationship,” Reilly said. “Some people get along and some people don’t. Some people have different habits, some that you can’t put up. You’re just trying to find that person that has the same goals as you, the same routine.”
Reilly participated in 80-90 rodeos last season. He spent a lot of time sleeping at truck stops, sharing hotel rooms and seeing towns he never had before.
The rodeo cowboy life certainly isn’t for everyone. It’s a lot of time away from home, a lot of miles behind the wheel of a car and rough on one’s body in one way or another.
But it does have its perks. Cowboys make lifetime friendships and important connections all while traveling the continent.
Editor’s note: This story was published in 2019 Destination Sheridan, Sheridan WYO Rodeo. Read more online, pick up a complimentary copy of the magazine at The Sheridan Press or find it in businesses and racks across Sheridan County.