Have you ever wondered what takes place behind the scenes at a professional rodeo — and what goes on in the mind of a professional saddle bronc rider? Dale Cory spent the weekend camped out at the Canadian Finals Rodeo at Rexall Place in Edmonton. While there, he got inside the head of Luke Butterfield as the Ponoka cowboy prepared for his ride
By Dale Cory – At The CFR
In the world of professional rodeo, it’s all about the eight seconds.
Stay on your buckin’ bronc, or bull, long enough to hear that familiar horn — and you know you’ve accomplished something.
Months, even years of hard work can come down to a mere eight seconds, which, to the rest of the world — appears like it would be pure hell!
He didn’t really appear to be nervous — especially considering the fact he was minutes away from hopping aboard a 1,500-pound horse possessing something of a mean streak.
Prior to Friday’s saddle bronc competition at the Canadian Finals Rodeo, Luke Butterfield of Ponoka could be found walking back and forth behind the bucking shoots, high-fiving the other competitors, talking with people, and appearing very much relaxed. It was tough to tell watching his demeanour that Butterfield was just minutes away from going for the ride of his life, and the $10,000 up for grabs to the winner of each go-round.
“During the day, I just try to relax, and not even think about rodeo. I try not to over-analyze. I find that if your start thinking, thinking, thinking — you start fighting your head,” says Butterfield. “I have a little routine when I get to the arena. I warm up and stretch, and spend some time visiting with everybody. Everybody’s got their own routine, and I’ve stuck with my routine, and it started off good, so I kept to it.
During the Canadian Finals Rodeo, Butterfield — who suffered a broken right fibula in September, and was in constant pain after injuring his left ankle — would head to the Sports Medicine area two hours before his ride, allowing staff to, in his words “work on me”.
After a brief intermission, it’s time for the highly anticipated saddle bronc event, and time for Luke Butterfield to do his thing.
“I start getting into the zone when my horse starts running the shoot. I saddle him the same as ever — then I get into my ultimate zone and try to block everything out,” offered Butterfield. “In our sport, you have to be thinking from the standpoint of moving your feet to spur him out. But it’s all muscle-memory. You just have to make sure you’re not beat before you get on by the horse. You have to be thinking you’re going to take it to him. Cause if you’re thinking, ‘You might do it,’ I know I won’t. I’ve got to take the fight and get into that zone.”
As his draw makes its way through the chutes to the proper stall, Butterfield follows along, tightening the saddle, and adjusting the rein to provide the best possible conditions for success.
Eventually, it’s time for Luke Butterfield to hop on board his horse, and prepare for the ride of a lifetime.
Meantime, up in Section 118 at Rexall Place sat Maria Butterfield, Luke’s mother.
“I’m sure I’m no different than any mother. Your son is in a pretty extreme sport, whether it be downhill skiing or diving at the Olympics,” said Mrs. Butterfield. “You know there are risks. And, when your son is injured, you know that element of danger is just a little bit higher.”
An eight-second adrenaline rush
“I just bear down!” says Butterfield, recalling his thoughts once the gate opens and the bronc heads to the middle of the arena. “I make sure I get that rein across. You’ve got to lift on it right out of the chute, which helps to spur the horse out and sets up your ride. After that, I just try to keep being aggressive. If you hang for jumps, they don’t mark you.”
Butterfield was the money leader heading into Sunday’s sixth and final go, and came through with an 82 aboard Franklin Rodeo Company’s Too Blue to finish fifth in the performance, and third overall.
It’s obvious staying on a buckin’ bronc for the full eight seconds is no easy task. But Butterfield is adamant fear never plays a role.
“I never get really scared. The first horse was awesome. I was nervous, because he’s made me eat it before hard. Then Reveen — I wanted to get that ride so bad. Personally, I don’t think there’s a guy here who could have rode him,” says the 5-8, 155-pound cowboy. “But I was there to win money, and be aggressive.”
Easy for Luke to say. But is it easy for Maria to watch?
“You just hope the guys all ride to the best of their ability and that they’re safe,” says Maria. “You can’t really over-analyze it. Mainly, you’re hoping they don’t come out of there hurt.”
After Friday’s ride, and following his re-ride, Butterfield, had to be helped out of the rodeo arena. With every landing, the 26-year-old re-injured his left ankle. He was in obvious pain.
Post-ride stress relief
When his Sunday ride had been completed, Luke Butterfield first spent some much-needed time in Sports Medicine — the ‘medical wing’ of the Canadian Finals Rodeo few non-contestants know about — before finally making himself available to the media.
Which, in this case, was me.
When Butterfield, Ponoka’s top money-earner at the 2010 CFR, emerged to talk about his performance, he looked tired. And he was obviously in a great deal of pain.
“I’m sore. I’m beat up. And my hips are killing me. It’s hard riding hurt,” lamented Butterfield after the saddle bronc competition had ended.
Butterfield, who made just over $25,000 at the Canadian Finals Rodeo, had a cold beer in his hand, and with that, he exuded a feeling of relaxation. He had just participated in his fourth CFR, and earned nearly $50,000 this season.
Despite his pain, Butterfield was still thinking about competing.
“I’ll get healed up, and go to those winter rodeos, and try to make the NFR,” said this tough cowboy. “And hopefully win.”