Mark Swingler got started in the rodeo business as a competitor and went from bull rider to bullfighter to entertainer.
Dave Arnold got started in rodeo because he had some outstanding border collies that worked well with sheep. When a friend recommended Arnold take his animals to the Dodge City, Kan., a mutton busting stock-contracting career began.
Together they will bring their flavor of fun and frivolity to the Guymon Pioneer Days Rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 6; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 7; and 2 p.m. Sunday, May 8, at Henry C. Hitch Pioneer Arena.
“It’s just a great rodeo, and I’m always excited to come to Guymon,” said Arnold, who lives in Ashland, Kan. “The way Guymon does it pre-performance takes away a lot of the stress I might have if I did the mutton busting during the performance. I’d like to see more people come to the rodeo earlier in Guymon so they could see the kids ride. It’s a lot of fun, and I think everybody would enjoy it.”
The 2011 rodeo will mark the ninth straight year Arnold and his herd have made their way to the Oklahoma Panhandle. Arnold said he enjoys the atmosphere and working with the Guymon committee of volunteers. That’s something Swingler will get to see first-hand when he arrives in town the week of the rodeo. He realizes his job as a funnyman/barrelman is to help the rodeo be as entertaining as possible.
“I don’t want anybody to think I’m working,” said Swingler of Austin, Texas. “Humor and laughter is contagious. Nobody wants to see anybody work. They want to have fun. That’s why you have spoofs when the act goes south.
“Plus I like the fresh stuff. I kind of use my wit and my humor with my surroundings. You just look up in the stands, and you’ve got enough material for a long time.”
Swingler has been in the business most of his life. He began as a bull rider, then took a shot at protecting fallen cowboys as a bullfighter. In fact, that’s how Swingler got his start in ProRodeo.
“I started in 1987, and I actually fought bulls until 1992,” he said. “It was kind of old school back then, when you fought bulls and did the comedy. I was mainly fighting bulls, but I found myself enjoying the entertaining part. By 1993, I worked one into the other. By 1994, my bullfighting cleats were hung up.”
In the years since, Swingler has been nominated for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Clown of the Year and Comedy Act of the Year. He has a nice load of entertaining acts, but his specialty is the “walk-and-talk,” where he observes the goings-on in and out of the arena and maintains the level of excitement for fans.
“I’m not what we call a canned person,” he said. “I don’t have a routine. I have acts, and even when I work Denver and 23 performances they have there, I was rotating seven acts. With the walking and talking, I just go with the flow. I’m one of those guys that says what everybody’s thinking, so I don’t know what’s going to happen. A lot of that depends on the announcers, but it’s a blast.
“I learned a long time ago that if you have a great performance, you usually forget what you did because it was just spontaneous and you just go with the flow. If you try to repeat it, it’s not going to work.”
There is no repeating in mutton busting; wild sheep won’t allow for that. But it’s always entertaining, from the little girl who holds on long after the sheep has spit the bit to the names given to the animals: Baaaaaaad to the Bone, Sheepless in Sheattle, etc.
“Ken Stonecipher comes up with those names in Guymon, and I steal them,” Arnold said of the longtime Pioneer Days Rodeo committeeman who also serves as one of the arena announcers. “When I go to a rodeo, I’ll pick out a list of sheep names and give them to the announcer that’s calling the mutton busting.”
Arnold said he contracted 50 performances in the 2010 rodeo season, while turning out 1,030 sheep in the fun competition at rodeos. So how did he become a rodeo stock contractor?
“A friend of mine, a guy I’d sold a dog to, was on the Round-Up committee in Dodge City,” Arnold said of the large western Kansas rodeo that takes place each August. “They’d had mutton busting at Round-Up before, and apparently it was a wreck. I guess they couldn’t get the sheep out of the arena, and someone suggested they needed someone with a good dog.
“They were putting on the PBR event in 1995, so my friend contacted me. That first year went very well, and everybody seemed to like it.”
Rodeo isn’t Arnold’s primary business, but it’s something he has loved since he was a youngster competing in the sport.
“I make my living with cows,” he said. “I have 400 head of momma cows. I got into border collies about 1987, and we started out with a few sheep to train the dogs on.”
The rest has led him around the region hauling sheep and watching his dogs work.
“I enjoy the atmosphere around rodeo,” Arnold said. “I get to go to a bunch of rodeos in the summer, and I always draw a check, which is something I didn’t do when I tried to calf rope in high school.”
Plus he gets to put smiles on thousands of fans each year. That’s a wonderful benefit he shares with Swingler.
“I just enjoy entertaining people, seeing them enjoy themselves,” Swingler said. “If I can get people to forget about their worldly troubles or what’s going on at work for just two and a half hours, then I feel like I’m successful.”