The Rodeo Business with the Bridwell Family
By Melissa Mendonca
The Cowboy Way
By Melissa Mendonca
As a thriving rodeo for nearly 100 years, the Red Bluff Round Up attracts those steeped in the Western way of life year-round as well as those who don hats and boots to take a weekend trip to an America they’ve never lived in, but appreciate. All are welcome and all are needed to keep the sport alive.
Behind the scenes at the North State’s premier Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association rodeos – the Red Bluff Round Up from April 21-23 and Redding Rodeo in May – will be a young Red Bluff family that epitomizes the future of professional rodeo, Tim and Haley Bridwell, and their blended mix of six children.
Tim, a native of McArthur, is a rodeo stock contractor with Growney Brothers Rodeo who has focused on building a herd of champion bucking horses and is now developing a herd of bucking bulls. “I’m more interested in the hands-on stuff,” he says. “I like putting on rodeos. I like bucking horses, I like bucking bulls.”
Haley, from Abbeyville, Kan. – “pretty much dead in the center” – helps with the stock and is also an independent contractor serving as the rodeo secretary at around 20 professional rodeos a year. The position puts her front and center with contestants, stock contractors, media and the committees that organize each performance. In a sport that requires its athletes to travel long and hard, often broke and injured, she also becomes a mama bear to cowboys missing family and struggling to make ends meet on the rodeo trail.
Together, they embrace rodeo as a way of life and a way to make a living, steeped in the traditions, but bringing a modern perspective to the sport they love. They keep fans updated on Facebook, even through the off-season, for while there might not be any rodeos happening then, life is busy back on the ranch with mares giving birth to the next generation of bucking stock.
“The one thing that really moves me more than anything else in this business is the raising of a young animal and watching him buck,” says Tim, noting that he chose the now-famous horse Capone from a field of colts early on and placed a friendly bet on his success. In December, Capone went to his second National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas and scored second highest one night. “Next year he’ll be the best in the whole system,” he says with obvious pride.
“The animals become part of our family, too,” says Haley, explaining how she and Tim are blending their families, which include her four boys – Jaden, 14, Jace, 12, Jaret, 8, and Jaxton, 4 – as well as Tim’s girls, Tyler, 12, and Tate, 10.
The couple came together after a few wrong turns down the rodeo road, a terrain that takes its toll on many families and relationships through long, lonely turns, physical pain and financial instability. If a cowboy doesn’t win at a rodeo, he doesn’t get paid. He’s often away from loved ones at long stretches of time.
Drawn early on to the sport, Tim started out as a bull rider. A major injury sidelined him and he was offered a welding job by Don Kish, a breeder of champion bucking bulls in Red Bluff, while he recovered. “I fell in love with steady money,” says Tim. In 2005, he bought into Growney Brothers Rodeo Company and began building its herd of bucking horses, elevating the company previously known primarily for its Kish-raised bulls. The company now takes eight horses to the National Finals Rodeo, the ultimate sign of success in the business.
As for Haley’s history in rodeo, “This is the only life I’ve known,” she says. Her dad and grandpa were stock contractors in Kansas. “My grandma was a rodeo secretary,” she adds. “I took over her position when I was 17 years old.” She studied journalism and marketing in college and brings those skills to their company. Says Tim, “We have a lot more of a following than I could ever have done.”
While Haley smiles at the praise, she insists, “We just have a good ebb and flow as far as what he’s good at and what I’m good at.”
The business keeps the family on the road much of the year, but while they may live and breathe rodeo, it is far from their only form of sustenance. In the winter, Haley coaches youth league basketball, saying, “If there’s one thing I know that’s close to rodeo, it’s basketball.” In the fall, her mom comes to Red Bluff to take care of the kids so young Jaret can play football with the Red Bluff Mighty Mites while his parents finish out the rodeo season.
It takes a lot of commitment and juggling to keep the family thriving. Says Tim, who built his reputation on a fierce determination, “I don’t mind slowing down and taking my time, especially with the kids.” Adds Haley, “We’ve gone through challenges in life where we’ve had to face hardships. Because of that, nothing in business is really that hard.”
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