[Photo: 4-C Photography]
The ‘Pickup Man’ is one of the unsung heroes of the sport of rodeo. They are part of an elite set of cowboys ready to ride into the eye of the action to help the competitor dismount safely and escort the bucking animal out of the arena. Some of the best horsemanship skills are showcased seconds after the whistle has blown when the pickup men ride in to provide a safe zone for the competitor.
A pickup man requires polished horsemanship skills and precise timing to facilitate a seamless transition for the competitor and stock during the fierce rodeo action. Their role may go unnoticed, until they are required to defuse a situation with their specialized skills making the team indispensable to rodeo.
Across arenas in the Midwest, you will find Ryan Hanna, of Berthold, North Dakota, quietly mounted off to the side of the action, ready to move in swiftly after the whistle blows. Hanna’s presence in the arena brings reassurance to the cowboys behind the chute knowing his dedication to their safety is immeasurable.
Hanna takes us down the path of how he started, the doors of opportunities, and the heart of being a pickup man.
Growing up in a rodeo family, you were able to see firsthand all facets of rodeo, with the pickup man profession capturing your attention. Who or what influenced you to try your hand as a pickup man?
“My family was heavily involved in the Figure 4 Rodeo Company, helping produce mainly NDRA rodeos and occasionally high school rodeos. It was a family affair with everyone taking a part; Uncle Dean announced the action; pickup men were Uncle Lynn and Gary, along with my dad, Dennis; timing and secretary work was performed by Aunt Gynell and Shirley, including my mom, Gayle; the kids carried all the flags and swept the arena. This went on until the late 80s, generating a stack of childhood memories. Summer could not come fast enough.”
“I was off to a great start in high school, with what could have been a hall of fame career in the bareback riding, but I got hung up in New Town and damaged my elbow. By the time my courage came back, I had grown 6 inches, so I hung up my chaps. In the meantime, I started team roping and steer wrestling, which both have treated me well over the years.”
“After I retired from steer wrestling, Russell Kling asked if I would be interested in picking up, it was an easy yes for me. Joe and Wally Blankenship were picking up at most of Kling’s events at the time. They kindly took me under their wing. After a few years, contractors were adding me to their roster of rodeo personnel. Dale Kling and C5 Rodeo helped me acquire my PRCA card, and it started to snowball from there. My wife, Susan, is my main support, enjoying every moment, so we have just let it grow. Shane Gunderson and Bailey Pro Rodeo crew have kept us busy for the past ten years. We have done work for most all the contractors in the north, and we are grateful for all of them.”
The pickup man profession requires specialized skills to carry out a crucial role in helping the rough stock competitors to safe ground. Unpack the preparation that goes into being your best to provide aid to the competitors.
“Growing up on a ranch, all I ever wanted to be was a ‘good cowboy.’ As the years passed by, it was evident that horsemanship, stockmanship, roping skills, and dedication are a requirement to excel; none of which can be attained without wanting them. To this day, I am constantly evolving and working on growing better in each area.”
“With the advent of the Cowboy Channel, I can watch replays of the rodeos when I get home to observe a spectator view. This angle is a powerful tool showing me what I could have done better or something I may need to change with a horse to how I could have helped the other pickup man do his job better.”
“Being 100 percent in as a team player is crucial as a pickup man. During a course of a year, I may work with 20 to 25 different pickup men, so you must be flexible to everyone’s different tendencies if things are going to go well. From working with the highest-level pickup men to helping someone get started, it is always fun for me.”
Your career has taken you to some prestigious rodeo venues, adding to your impressive resume. Please share with us one of your most vivid and/or notable rodeos you performed at and why it was memorable.
“This profession has taken my family to a lot of great places and allowed us to meet so many great people. In the early years, we were fortunate to pick up at Stace Smith’s World Bucking Horse Futurity at South Point in Las Vegas, which led to three years of a rodeo called the Boyd Gaming Cinch Chute Out at the Orleans Casino. This fall we were invited to the Cinch Playoff’s Governor’s Cup in Sioux Falls, South Dakota which was an unbelievable event.”
“As great as those events are, we receive just as much enjoyment from all the different places we have been to with the various contractors we work for. We have also been voted in by the NDRA and Badlands Circuit members over the years to pick up at their finals, being an honor to be on the home turf.”
Success of a pickup man is shared with his reliable equine team, who has the heart and willingness to ride into close range of the action and stay there until the job is done. Take us down the path of the requirements and the training that goes into a solid reliable pickup man horse.
“From the beginning, I took the job seriously, knowing all levels of riders are counting on me to help them reach safe ground. Plus, the contractors rely on pickup men to take care of their stock, during the dismount, and when being escorted out. Having said that, horsepower has always been a very high priority. We have been through roughly 40 horses in the last decade; some just don’t make the cut, a few got old, and few sustained unfortunate injuries. When we start a new prospect, we make sure it hits the practice pen and/or in a rodeo with two other pickup men. Trusting the horse is essential, so we do not take many risks on a young prospect. Things happen, and occasionally they might make a mistake, but we try to minimalize it the best we can.”
“We have been doing about 100 performances a year, so we invest in the best tack and a dependable rig to make sure we get there. The entries of the rodeo usually dictate how many or which horses we take. We try to always have at least 5 professional level horses on the front line with up to 5 more in training.”
As your career grows, your passion and skill amplify along with your WHY. What is your career vision and why do you love your profession?
“At 47 years old, I continue to enjoy everything about the sport of rodeo, maybe not night-time driving. It probably consumes more of my thoughts than it should at this point in my life, but Lord willing, we plan to keep going for a few more years. We also ranch and will be expanding our farming duties with the passing of my dad in August, so we will try to keep the miles traveled a little closer to home.”
“Our son, Hayes, has been picking up through his high school years and is now in college. We will be turning over most of our amateur and high school rodeos to him as contractors will allow. We hope to add some rodeos we haven’t done before on those weekends. We try to embrace the new opportunities unless it looks like we will lose a lot of money, LOL.”
Before we turn off the arena lights, do you have a quote or bible verse that inspires you?
“This profession is not for the faint of heart. You get a front row seat for every kind of wreck and hang up. Sometimes you can help them out smoothly, and sometimes they wake you up at night for years. Eyes are always on you, and people have high expectations for you to protect the athlete and stock. Missing a loop on a bull when a rider is knocked out with 3000 people yelling at you, weighs heavy on the mind and heart. Praying for wisdom is where I go for help; James 1:5 “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”