Few jobs have more importance but less recognition than the pick-up men that help keep cowboys safe during rodeos across the country.
As cowboys get bucked from broncs and bulls, pick-up men ride in to rescue the cowboys. They move in alongside the kicking livestock to provide a soft landing for the two-legged athletes.
While the title of pick-up man sounds like a casting role in a romantic comedy, Dalton Ward, Bobby Marriott and Duane Gilbert take their roles much more seriously.
For years — at least 20 — Bobby Marriott and Billy Ward held their ground as the WYO’s go-to pick-up men. But when Ward retired in 2014, the board filled the slot with Dalton Ward and Gilbert.
“The pick-up men are critical links,” Sheridan WYO Rodeo board member Billy Craft said. “Not only from the safety aspect for the athletes, both man and animal, but also the flow of the performance and the team effort required for the 16 hours each day outside of the performance that makes an event what it is. We take this very seriously.”
So, for the fourth year, Dalton Ward, Gilbert and Marriott will take to the arena at the Sheridan County Fairgrounds to protect the athletes.
Ward, a La Grange native, has been joining his dad at rodeos his entire life. On a visit to Odessa, Texas, when he was 12, Ward was given the opportunity to pick up at a kids day rodeo with his father and another pick-up man, Paul Peterson. He’s been doing the job ever since.
Gilbert, another Wyoming hand, is from Pine Bluffs. He had been studying to be a teacher but switched paths and returned to rodeo.
The veteran of the crew, Marriott, was born in Ogden, Utah. He moved to Idaho as a teenager, and in high school he competed in all three rough stock events, transitioning to the role of a pick-up man as his competitive career came to a close. He is a four-time WNFR pick-up man and maintains his position at prestigious rodeos across the country.
As cheers fill the stands for cowboys brave enough to get onto the backs of rough stock and get louder for those who manage to hold on during those warm July nights, take note of the pick-up men swooping in to ensure a safe dismount. They are quiet but vital pieces that make Sheridan WYO Rodeo one of the best in the West.