Corralling information on Web

Rodeo: Cowboys use the Internet to size up horses and bulls and keep track of their standings on the circuit.

February 14, 2000|By Brett Hoffman | Brett Hoffman,Knight Ridder/Tribune

FORT WORTH, Texas -- While Wall Street executives rise early and surf the Internet to check their stocks, rodeo cowboys are beginning to rise early and ride the Internet to check their stock.

Meet Robert Bowers, a cyber cowboy who carries his laptop across the North American rodeo circuit. The description of every bull that Bowers has mounted from the Calgary Stampede to the Fort Worth Stock Show Rodeo is logged in his computer.

If that's not enough, Bowers has a small satellite dish attached to the back of the camper of his shiny blue pickup truck. Inside the state-of-the-art camper are a television and a stereo.

Unlike the circuit of a half-century ago, when cowboys learned about the patterns of bucking horses and bulls by word of mouth, cowboys now swap yarns about rodeo stock on the Internet through Web sites and e-mail.

Bowers, a 1999 National Finals Rodeo bull-riding qualifier, said he can learn about a bull he has drawn by reading reports and commentary about star bucking bulls on Internet sites such as the Professional Bull Riders (pbrnow.com).

After reading the reports, Bowers can find the answers to questions: Is the bull tough or mediocre? Does the bull spin to the right or the left? Has the bull been to the National Finals Rodeo or the PBR Finals?

"When I get on the Internet and learn that you've drawn a tough bull, it makes me feel better about coming to the rodeo, and it makes me more confident," he said. "If I read that I've drawn a sorry bull and the rodeo is far away, then I'm not going to buy a $1,000 plane ticket to come and get on him if I don't believe that I can win anything."

Bowers said he became computer-savvy when he attended Montana State on a rodeo scholarship. But Bowers, who is a year away from completing a bachelor's degree in business, is among a small percentage of competitors who carry computers on the road and use them on a daily basis.

Though many cowboys are benefiting from computers, their wives and girlfriends are the ones who sit at home and punch the keys. While her fiance, Justin Daugherty, was en route to his first National Finals Rodeo last year in bull riding, Sarah Busch said she was on the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association's Web site (www.prorodeo. com) every Tuesday afternoon to punch up the weekly standings.

"We would print the standings out and put them up on the board," Busch said. "We used the standings as a goal setter."

Montana resident Kay Mortensen said she tracks her husband, Dan, a five-time world saddle bronc champion, through the Internet. Many of the rodeos that her husband enters, such as the Fort Worth Stock Show, have Web sites and post the results.

"He's home one day, and he's gone the next, so I can get on the Internet and find out what's going on with him," said Mortensen, who estimated that he is on the road more than 200 days a year.

In addition to the Internet, Mortensen also communicates with her husband by cellular phone from their remote hometown of Manhattan, Mont., which is near Bozeman.

"He calls me a lot when he's driving," she said. "We'll pass about 20 or 30 minutes a day on the cell phone. We're apart a lot, so cell phones help keep the family together. Thank God for cell phones."

Cowboys also enter rodeos through a sophisticated computer system that matches 750 sanctioned events with their personal schedules. And many rodeos now use computerized, electronic scoreboards to sort scores and post the rankings, with large TV screens to show instant replays of the rides.

"When my father ran this rodeo [from the 1940s through 1970s], he never dreamed of having instant replay TV," Fort Worth Stock Show president and general manager Bob Watt said. "But it's something that you need to have."

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