Like tackling mailboxes

Granville teacher Greg Bennett takes ‘cow tipping’ to another level

Granville physical education teacher Greg Bennett said rodeo announcers like to compare what he does for fun to jumping out of a moving car.

That’s not the best part, however, because Bennett said to complete that popular analogy “you need to follow up that jump from a car by trying to tackle the first mailbox you come to.”

That, he said, is how people frequently describe steer wrestling, a sport he loves.

When the 18th annual Adirondack Charity Stampede kicked off Friday night at the Glens Falls Civic Center, Bennett was waiting, not for his chance to tackle another mailbox, but rather to see how some of his friends would do as they rode two of his horses in the competition.

Saturday, Bennett got his chance, but it was hardly, as the saying goes, his first rodeo.

From Lake Luzerne, Bennett graduated from Glens Falls High School, but by the time he graduated he had already discovered steer wrestling. Bennett said his parents have a riding stable near Lake Venare, and living within a stone’s throw of the Painted Pony Ranch he was exposed to rodeo from a young age.

“That was the start,” he said. 

“I started bull-dogging when I was probably 15 or 16, steer wrestling,” Bennett said. Bennett said his brother drove him over to compete for the very first time to Kennedy’s Auction in Hudson Falls. Although there were only four competitors, he won $100.

“I just stayed hooked and I kept going with it,” he said.

Bennett said he continued to compete in rodeos through high school and while in college, even earning scholarships for rodeo at two colleges.

After finishing with college, Bennett was teaching at South Glens Falls High School and going to rodeos on weekends, during the summer and during vacations, continuing to journey all over the country to compete.

“I’ve been everywhere from Alberta, Canada, up in Patoka, to Tucson, Ariz.; I’ve been everywhere,” Bennett said.

Bennett said he was trying to make it in the National Finals Rodea, or NFR.

“It’s like the Super Bowl of rodeo,” he said. “I gave two years to it – I stopped teaching in 2006 to go after that dream and won the next year.”

In 2007 he won the Dodge National Circuit finals.

The country is divided into 12 circuits, and each sends two champions into the final – 24 competitors qualify, two from each circuit, and they compete for the championship.

The year ended with a shoulder injury, which made Bennett begin to think about a career that is a little easier on the body. 

“‘Boy, I’m almost 40. I’ve got to go back and I’ve got to teach again. I can’t keep going like I want to,’” Bennett recalled thinking.

Bennett said playing football and steer wrestling are both violent, but rodeo takes a greater toll on the body, as evidenced by his three knee ACL operations and two shoulder operations, along with various other ailments, aches and pains.

“You’re not physically getting hit, but if you make a mistake, it’s much worse because you’ve got two horses that each weigh 1,000 pounds, a steer that weighs 500 pounds, and you’re all within five feet of each other, and you’re crawling off your horse going 35 mph, and if you make a mistake it’s…bad,” he said.

Now, with a steady job teaching physical education in the high school, Bennett said he continues to do both.

Although the number of rodeos for him has gone down, Bennett said that means 40 or 50 instead of more than 100 per year. 

But rodeos are not exactly in good supply locally, particularly those that pay well. Bennett said he has logged a lot of hours riding or driving around the country. 

“If it’s 24 hours’ drive – it’s close, I’ll do that in a weekend,” he said. “I’ll just hook up my truck and trailer, put the horses in the back and go… Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma – if you can drive there in 24 hours, it’s not a bad drive.” 

When asked what a bad drive would be, he thought for a second before replying, “There really aren’t, I guess. It depends on who you talk to.

“It’s nothing for me to leave here right after school ends, go to Mount Pleasant, Michigan then have to be in Greely, Colorado the next day in Cody, Wyoming, the next day in Ponocka, Alberta the next day in Livingston, Montana and in five days go and do all of that and be home,” Bennett said.

That kind of travel takes its toll as well. Bennett said he averages about 100,000 miles a year, “and wears out a lot of tires.”

The competition, Bennett said, lasts only seconds, and in the course of hitting a number of rodeos in one short stretch he might be there all day or just in time “to warm up your horses, run your steer and go on to the next one. You might be there for an hour (or) you might be there all day.”

“It takes a toll; it’s tough,” he said. 

One time, when still teaching at South Glens Falls, Bennett recalled he left late Friday night with three other friends.

“We ran steers Saturday in Tulsa, Okla., and when they dropped me off at school it was 6:30 in the morning. I walked into school, showered – went and taught class. I was in Tulsa for a grand total of three hours; the rest of the time was in the truck,” he said. 

The reason for all of the effort and time, Bennett said – pay for that particular event was about $5,000 for 10 seconds of work, or less. 

Winning, however, even for the best, hopefully happens at about a 50 percent rate, meaning winning money at every other rodeo. “If you can win 50 percent of the rodeos you go to, you’re doing very well in that sport,” he said.

“When I won the national deal there, I was at Pokatelo, Idaho and I didn’t win any money until I got to Pokatelo. All in five days I went from Montgomery, Ala.; Austin, Texas; Pokatelo Idaho. I was by myself, I had me and three dogs with me and on that trip, I didn’t win anything until I got to Pokatelo, then I won a truck, which was $57,000, I won $12,500 in cash and then I got some ‘mount money’ from another kid so it was about $18,000 in cash, so it was well worth it.”

Having returned to teaching, Bennett said there are some rodeos he can no longer go to that he would like to, such as Houston. The potential prize money, just for steer wrestling, the one event he specializes in and concentrates on, could be as much as $65,000.

“It’s nice in this economy to be able to do that because that’s more than I make in one year of teaching,” he said.

Although the prize money is considerably smaller at Glens Falls, Bennett said he likes it because it’s close to home and he has been to each one, except one year when he was hurt. Friday afternoon he said he liked his chances but they depended heavily upon what steer he drew.

“It’s all in the draw. I’ve already got the two or three picked out that I know I want and I hope I get ‘em,” he said. 

Bennett said the process begins with the rider backed up into the corner of the arena. The steer is released and runs away down the arena floor. Depending on the size of the arena the head start he must give the steer varies, but when the steer reaches a certain point the rider can go after it. Helping the rider is a ‘hazer’ another rider who parallels the cowboy that is about to jump onto the steer. The steer wrestler must then make the transition from a speeding horse, going in some cases upwards of 35 mph, onto the steer but along side it, in a position to turn its head in an effort to throw it to the ground. If you’ve done it right, that process takes about fi
ve seconds.

 

A Bum Steer. Bennett said he had only one steer he wanted to stay away from – and that was the one he drew on his only run Saturday. Bennett got off good and had the steer where he said he should have had a great time, but the critter did not cooperate. Bennett’s time was better than others, but he did not finish in the money. Some consolation? He wasn’t 1,000 miles from home. 

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