DODGE CITY, Kan. – There’s a great deal about Robbie Hodges’ job as a rodeo clown that he adores, but there’s one thing that stands out.
“I just love being in that barrel and being a guy the bull riders can count on,” Hodges said, referring to his primary position as barrelman and an island of protection for cowboys during bull riding. “To me, not focusing on the barrel is a disservice to all the other generations that worked the barrel so well. If I could back up time, I would have loved to work with Ted Kimzey or one of those other guys.”
He’ll have his chance to showcase not only his life-preserving skills in a custom-made aluminum barrel, but he will also display his down-home, comedic talents during Dodge City Roundup Rodeo, set for 7:45 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 2-Sunday, Aug. 6, at Roundup Arena; Dodge City Xtreme Bulls is set for 7:45 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 1.
It will be his first time working Roundup Rodeo, an event that was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 2012. It’s the largest event of its kind in Kansas, and it celebrates the community’s Western heritage while also showcasing how the sport is played in today’s society.
“First of all, you’ve got the stock contractor of the year with Frontier Rodeo, and you’ve got an announcer the caliber of Boyd Polhamus,” said Hodges, an 18-time nominee for various end-of-the-year awards like Clown of the Year, Comedy Act of the Year and the Coors Man in the Can. “It’s ridiculous that a rodeo that’s only been going since 1977 is so well know and has the same status for rodeos that are twice as old.
“You’re not a rodeo guy if you haven’t been to Dodge City.”
Hodges is definitely a rodeo guy. It’s what took him from being a passive child to someone who stands out in a crowd. It’s a reflection of how he came to be “Rockin’ ” Robbie Hodges, a comedian, a battle-tested barrelman, a musician and a doting father.
“I’d say my comedy is non-traditional,” he said. “Me being a non-traditional rodeo clown, I wear a jersey and shorts instead of baggies. My No. 1 deal is working that barrel, which has got me everything in this business. I would rather have the respect of my friends or my peers than anything.”
He has that, and he’ll be on center stage at Roundup Arena. Even in his 50s, Hodges is agile and can move in a barrel better than some folks his age move without one. He not only positions himself in the arena during bull riding, but he will throw himself and his barrel into the fray of a wreck in order to save the bull riders and bullfighters if the situation arises.
It comes from a variety of ways, but a big part of what makes Hodges so good is his understanding of the rodeo production process. He began as a competitor, riding bareback horses for a living. Ever the entertainer, he easily made that transition to the other side of the rodeo spectrum. All that history helps him do a better job.
He’s been recognized for it. In addition to his nominations, he was selected to be the barrelman at the National Finals Rodeo, the sport’s championship.
“Doing the NFR was amazing and the greatest achievement of a picked-on kid from Georgia,” Hodges said. “That was back when the bull riders voted for the barrelman like they do the bullfighters, so that made it pretty special.”
It’s an honor to work ProRodeo’s grand finale, whether it’s by a vote of the contestants or being hired by the organizers. In Dodge City, Hodges was hired by the volunteer committee that produces Roundup Rodeo.
“Robbie’s been around, and we thought he’d be a good fit for Roundup,” said Dr. R.C. Trotter, president of the Roundup committee. “We love bringing fresh faces to our rodeo, because they add a lot of their own personalities to what we do every year, and that’s what we expect with Robbie.”
Hodges has a distinct personality, and it’s worked in his favor. He’s a renowned rodeo clown, has been involved with NASCAR and loves to play music, even recording some of his work for all to enjoy. Through each piece in the puzzle that makes up his life, he has always leaned on rodeo.
“Rodeo got me out of being a bullied kid,” Hodges said. “From the third to the eighth grade, I was bullied, then I started riding broncs, and that got me out of that. I have a well-rounded life from what I’ve gotten to enjoy. I’ve been able to do so much, and it’s all because of rodeo.”