NACOGDOCHES, Texas – They are horseback in the arena more than any other cowboy at any given rodeo.
As highly visible as the pickup men are, they’re at their best when they are virtually anonymous. Their roles are to be unseen, to allow the action of the competition dictate the performance and to showcase the athletes in the middle of a world-class contest.
For Pete Carr Pro Rodeo, Jeremy Willis and Josh Edwards fit those roles perfectly.
“Working for Pete Carr Pro Rodeo has been a blessing,” said Willis, a former bareback rider who is still living his dreams on the rodeo trail. “Pete always hires really good people, then he trusts them to do what they do.
“He buys and raises a lot of good horses, and he trusts you to handle them the way they need to be handled. It’s nice to be trusted with horses that are so valuable. It says a lot about how he feels about us.”
Willis and Edwards will be a big part of the Nacogdoches Pro Rodeo & Steer Show, set for 7:45 p.m. Thursday, March 24-Saturday, March 26. There they will showcase their true cowboy talents throughout every performance.
“For me, picking up culminates all of the things I enjoy doing,” Edwards said. “I was a timed-event contestant for years, but I was raised on ranching and cattle. Picking up is a culmination of all things cowboy.
“I like to train colts and start horses. I get to rope a little bit and catch broncs. I like the job requirements.”
The requirements are many. In addition to their tasks during each performance, Willis and Edwards also care for their own horses as well as all the livestock that are part of the rodeo. From feeding to sorting, there are many segments to the preparatory work that takes place.
Once the performances begin, they ensure the timing of the production and serve as a rescue squad for the cowboys in bareback riding and saddle bronc riding while also being protectors on horseback during bull riding.
“Bareback riding and bronc riding are my favorite parts of the rodeo,” Edwards said. “We get to watch the horses buck, and we’ve got the best seats in the house.”
The cowboys appreciate it, too. Both men have been selected to work some of the biggest events in the game. Willis has been selected to pick up at the RAM Texas Circuit Finals Rodeo three straight years and also has worked the RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo; he was one of the finalists for the 2015 Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s Pickup Man of the Year.
“That’s a pretty good feeling,” Willis said. “The best thing about it is knowing you’re appreciated, that the guys you’re trying to help appreciate what you’re doing.”
Edwards also has been honored to work major events, including the 2014 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
“Getting selected to do the National Finals Rodeo is the biggest thing that’s happened to me as a pickup man,” Edwards said. “As a professional rodeo cowboy and a professional pickup man, there’s not a greater honor than that.
“There are just as many proud moments as an individual; those are all the rodeos I love going to, the people I’ve met and working those high-caliber events. Without those events, I never would’ve gotten to showcase what I could do and ultimately be selected to work the National Finals Rodeo.”
The tandem has worked together quite often through the years, and they’ve developed a rapport.
“I know where he’s going to be and what he’s going to do without looking around,” Willis said of Edwards. “Our minds set everything the same way without talking or even strategizing. We can just read the situation and know where each other’s going to be.”
That serves everyone involved and helps further cement Pete Carr Pro Rodeo as one of the top firms in ProRodeo.
“Just like with any professional entity or organization, continuity is the large part of success,” Edwards said of the Carr crew. “You really get to know someone and how they work and how you work with them. You develop a working relationship, and that carries over to the rest of the year.
“If you watch the guys that are really good at this, 85 percent to 90 percent is positioning. It’s reading the animals and anticipating where you need to be when the buzzer goes off to be in the right place.”
Edwards and Willis are in the right place together inside the rodeo arena.