HEMPSTEAD, Texas – They might be Californians by birth, but John and Sandy Gwatney are Texas by choice.
Rodeo has led the Marquez, Texas, couple all over the country and then some. The sport is also bringing them to town for the Waller County Fair and Rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 30, and Saturday, Oct. 1. Rodeo is still a big part of who John Gwatney is, from his time on the rodeo trail as a competitor to his years helping produce America’s true sport.
“I grew up on the production side of rodeo, too,” said Gwatney, who does multiple tasks for stock contractor Carr Pro Rodeo. “I worked for Cotton Rosser and the Flying U Rodeo Co. As a little kid, I was in charge of feeding No. 16 Oscar, one of the best known bulls in rodeo. It was my job to make sure Oscar was being taken care of.”
Now he serves as a chute boss for Pete Carr, owner of the livestock company that provides animals for the rodeo, now in its inaugural year as part of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. Gwatney handles several duties at all of the rodeos the Carr crew works, from organizing all the timed-event cattle to working with Pete on the production side, making sure everything is handled professionally for the audiences enjoying the show.
It’s just part of what John does that he shares with his wife, Sandy, another key member of the Carr Pro Rodeo staff who will be working the West of the Pecos Rodeo. A card-carrying secretary and timer, Sandy Gwatney is, too, a jack-of-all-trades who coordinates the opening ceremonies with Sherrill Carr and is a big part of the office personnel.
“Both John and Sandy are a huge part of our team,” Carr said. “John runs the entire timed-event end of the rodeo and does a lot of things for our company. Sandy can just do so many things. They’ve been with us the last five years, and I appreciate everything they do.”
The Gwatneys see it as the next part of their lives on the rodeo trail.
“It’s a love of the game,” Sandy said. “John and I met at a rodeo, and shortly thereafter, I started traveling with him while he competed.
“I grew up showing quarter horses. When I was 21, I bought my first head horse. I roped for quite a few years, then kind of got out of it. I met John and learned how to haze, because he was a bulldogger. I started hazing for him almost right away.”
That job as a steer wrestler’s teammate who guides the steers into position was replaced by a lot more – a wedding band and more years working together in just about every capacity imaginable.
“When we moved to Texas, we got the opportunity to meet Mr. Carr and learn how much he loves the sport of rodeo, and with it, the promotion of the sport,” Sandy said. “His drive to do it keeps you coming back. He wants to make his crew a family function. We have a great bunch of people, and Pete has a passion for animals.”
Make no bones about it; John Gwatney is a competitor, not a former bulldogger. He takes a similar approach to the production side of his job, but he knows just how important his tasks are to all those who pay their entry fees in order to compete.
“I’ll slip in there and enter the steer wrestling or team roping from time to time,” he said. “We did make our living on the road pulling a team of bulldogging horses. Through my rodeo history, I’ve actually worked for a couple of national sponsors, and I left both on great terms.
“On one of my other jobs, I’m part of the production crew at the NFR, which I’ve done for the last nine years. I’m the guy who actually is more behind the scenes. I feel the best arena director is the guy that can hide in plain site. I want everybody to think the rodeo just happens and that it went smooth. My goal is to make each performance look seamless.”
And they’ve found a pretty good match in Carr Pro Rodeo.
“Pete thrives to be the best, and he wants to make everything the best it can be, whether it’s putting on an established rodeo in Guymon, Oklahoma, or a new rodeo in Hempstead, Texas,” Sandy Gwatney said. “That rodeo is new to the PRCA this year, and it’s going to be 110 percent, just like we’d do at Guymon or Lovington (N.M.) or Eagle (Colo.).”
There’s a cohesiveness and team concept to the Carr approach to production. It’s why rodeos want to hire Carr Pro Rodeo Co., then sign long-term contracts to keep the organization around. It’s why some of the greatest in the sport are part of it all; from 18-time world champion steer roper Guy Allen, a pickup man who works with Paul Peterson, one of the most sought-after pickup men in the business who has worked the NFR three times.
“Bucking horses are Pete Carr’s passion, but with his passion, he’s not satisfied every year,” John Gwatney said. “Every winter he spends his time to make the herd even better. Whether it’s a new stud or a new mare or a bull everyone’s heard about, he’s going to try to get it. You’ve got to take your hat off to a guy like that.
“Instead of trying to make a living, Pete’s reinvesting and trying to make it better.”