Dean Oliver of Nampa, Idaho, won eight world championships in rodeo calf roping plus three titles as world champion all-around cowboy. At age eighteen he first attended the Snake River Stampede in Nampa in 1947, watched the action, and decided he would try for a career as a rodeo champion himself.
To be in the rodeo takes a lot of hard work and years and years of practice. I started when I was twenty years old and by the time I was twenty-five was roping pretty well. It took a lot of trying, a lot of mistakes, and a lot of relearning things I had learned wrong before I became good enough to compete against anyone. There was a guy around here named Jake Dyer who showed me a few of the right things. You learn as you go and pick up things from watching other guys. You have to pay your dues.
I was just working for wages when I started. I never did really dream of being a world champion, especially since I started so late. But you get to roping well, and it just happens. Having things click at the right time played a role too. I found a really good horse. I may not have won more than two world championships if I hadn't gotten Mickey when I did. With him it was easy. They say you are lucky if you have one horse in your lifetime that perfectly fits your style of roping. Mickey was mine.
You are a little bit nervous when you go out. You get a little bit keyed up. I think you perform better. If you're kind of dead, so to speak, you might rope that way. When you get on a bull you're taking your life in your hands. Some of them will hurt you. You have to really be alert. You are trying to win and you get excited when you're ready to go.
I liked rodeo better than a nine-to-five job because you are your own boss. You do have to be prepared to give up quite a bit since you're not home that much. You have to think of yourself as an athlete and stay in training just like in professional football and baseball. This means staying away from drinking and smoking, or at least taking these things in moderation. You have to practice when you would rather be doing something else--hunt, fish, golf. You are away from your family spending most of the year in an automobile, motel rooms, and cafes. I often traveled 75,000 miles in a year.
You've got to have an understanding family who is behind you. If they're not, it puts too much pressure on you to win. Nobody can win consistently that way. Every time you go out, you can't be having those kind of worries on your mind, you just can't hack it. When you have children in school, you have to settle for having them with you only during the summer months.
A typical week or two on the rodeo circuit in the mid-sixties could get pretty hectic. For example, one of my weeks began on a Sunday, when I had just got done at Calgary. I came here to the Nampa rodeo, which started on Tuesday. I was here two days, roping Tuesday and Wednesday, getting done sometime around ten o'clock at night. I got on an airplane and flew to Salinas, [California,] got there early in the morning. Up there I would rope in the afternoons, then fly back here for the nights. Then go back to Salinas, and do the same thing. After that I would go to Salt Lake, then Ogden, and then Cheyenne. All this within about ten days. I was probably sleeping three or four hours a night on a plane. You're so busy going, and the money's so good, you don't really get too tired. You're just kind of keyed up and ready to go. You drive when you can, because you've got to get your horse to some of those events.
You hate to give it up, but when you can't win, it ceases being fun. If you start losing your reflexes and the ability to make good runs, it isn't fun. Also, it's very expensive. A guy who has won a lot of money and made his living doing it doesn't want to go just to hear his name called. Anyhow, I didn't. I want to feel like I've got a chance to win some money.
Rodeo really isn't that hard unless you're in the riding events, which can be hard on your body. You take a beating from the bucking horses and bulls. In my events, which are the timed events, it's actually fun. About the only way to get hurt in calf roping is to have your horse fall or something like that.
What most cowboys consider the best rodeo is where you can win the most money. Calgary and Cheyenne come into that category. They have more ropers, so there are more entry fees. That adds more money. But my best rodeo is really right here at Nampa. I've won Nampa ten times. Sometimes I can't believe that a person can win that many times, especially in his hometown. I've won Calgary and others about three or four times...
Rodeo has never really been accepted as a sport event like golf or football on the sports page. Probably most cowboys that win a lot are not well-known outside the circle of Western rodeo people, although there are some exceptions. In other sports some names are a household word. Everybody knows Joe Namath. A cowboy has to be an athlete just as much as those guys. When you ride a bull, you are really doing something.
Andrus | Baker | Hayashida | Hill | Laird | Nelson | Oliver
Simplot | Slickpoo | Sorrels | Trice | Zabala