Reporting Sara Pelissero
It isn’t everyday that you meet a cowboy living in Minnesota. But it’s even more rare when that cowboy is making strides as the only one in his profession — in the history of the sport.
Meet Jeff Rector.
He’s been working at professional rodeos for roughly half of his life as a pick-up man — a man on horseback who helps get a competitive rider from a bucking horse to safety.
As a pick-up man, Rector is putting Minnesota on the map. He’s known as the sport’s one — and only — African-American pick-up man and thanks to his new wife, he calls Chanhassen home.
“It’s pretty cool because when I ride in an arena I know a lot of people are looking at me because it’s like, ‘Whoa, there’s a black guy,’ you know what I mean?” Rector said, with a laugh. “It’s kind of cool because I gain a lot of respect in fans and people really admire that. I’ve been able to cross the border, break through and make it happen. I think it helps me because I stand out more than the average pick-up man. There’s white pick-up men all over, but when they see me I’m kind of different. It’s definitely been a good thing.”
Rector was born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri where he first found his love of horses. He said he fell in love while watch Westerns on TV and dreaming of the day he’d have a horse all his own.
That day came in the eighth grade when his family bought him his first horse. They kept the horse at a facility in town that just so happened to have an annual Fourth of July rodeo.
“To make a long story short, I ended up meeting the producers of the rodeo as a little kid, just tagging along, kind of getting in the way, learning,” he said. “They actually ended up watching me and knowing I was kind of decent with the horses and they asked if I wanted to come work for them.”
Rector worked there for a few summers but the itch to work the rodeos — and not just in between them — soon became apparent.
“I thought, ‘man, I bet I could do that,’” he said. “One thing led to another and I tried it a few times and I was pretty good at it. It just took off from there.”
Rector received his professional card enabling him to work in professional rodeos in 1995 and he hasn’t looked back since.
At 36, Rector said it’s a dream come true.
“It was just the coolest thing ever to actually be in an arena, in front of people and doing something that you’re good at,” he said.
Sure, there’s a certain level of danger that comes with the job but Rector said it’s not nearly as dangerous as riding bulls. Still, he’s seen his share of dislocated fingers, bruises, cuts and scrapes.
“There’s definitely an element of danger but you’re going into a rodeo arena. No matter what you’re doing … there’s an element of danger,” he said. “But that’s the adrenaline rush, too.”
With 18 years under his belt, Rector said he’s still got his eyes set on one goal — to be the first African-American pick-up man to work the National Finals Rodeo.
“That’s my ultimate goal,” he said. “That’s what I’m shooting for.”
Until then, Rector will be working at this weekend’s World’s Toughest Rodeo at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul — a rodeo he says won’t disappoint.
“It’s a blast. It’ll be a packed house,” he said. “They always have a great crowd here, a lot of action. They always have great cowboys and really good bucking stock.”
The World’s Toughest Rodeo is this Friday and Saturday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Tickets are between $17 and $80. For more information, or to purchase tickets, click here.