One on One with Bubba Buckaloo
In the top five among Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association headers at this season’s halfway mark, Bubba Buckaloo is taking aim at his first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. Buckaloo, 26, lives in Caddo, Okla., with his wife, Josie.
KENDRA SANTOS: You’re having a lot of success with three-time NFR heeler Russell Cardoza this year. When and how did you two hook up?
BUBBA BUCKALOO: When this season started, I called Spencer Mitchell. He’d had knee surgery, so I asked who Russell was going to rodeo with this year. I entered with Russell for the first few rodeos, and we did pretty good, so we just kept roping.
KS: Are you as quiet as Russell?
BB: Probably at first when I don’t know somebody. But once I get to know you, I might talk too much.
KS: What makes you two tick as a team?
BB: I don’t really know. I think we entered the Open Shootout at the US(TRC) Finals when I was 16 years old (which would have made Russell 18 at the time), and came close to winning something. We’ve roped quite a bit since, and that might be the only time we didn’t get a check since. Some teams just kind of have that chemistry, and we seem to have it.
KS: You’ve won rodeos with 12 different guys, including Ernie Bacon, Mike Bacon, Jett Hillman, Wayne Carter, Matt Zancanella, Dakota Kirchenschlager, Cole Davison, Cody Doescher, Chris Young, Dustin Davis, Sawyer Barham and Russell, since first getting your PRCA permit in 2007. Why so many partners?
BB: Zanc and Cole are the only ones I’ve rodeoed much with before. I’ve had a job the last couple years and didn’t rodeo that hard, so I entered with whoever was around when there was a rodeo close.
KS: You work for Dufur Quarter Horses in addition to roping for a living. How long have you worked for Teri and Alan Dufur, and what all do you do for them?
BB: It’ll be two years in November that I’ve been working here. I ride a lot of young rope horses for them here at the ranch when I’m home. They’ve gotten into the racehorse business, and I really like that, too. Terri and Alan are the reason I get to go rodeo. They’re my main sponsor. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be getting to do this.
KS: You’re riding one of their head horses this year, right? Tell me about him.
BB: Two of them, actually. Prowler is a 13-year-old brown stallion, and Fonzie is a 12-year-old palomino gelding. I got Prowler just in time to ride him at Fort Worth this year. We bought him from Logan Olson. He’s amazing. He’s the horse Erich Rogers rode at the NFR last year. We have a lot of horses of the same bloodlines in our program, so he was a good fit for us. He’s just an awesome horse. We’ve had Fonzie about a year. He came from a guy who was working here with us. When he quit, we bought Fonzie from him. I won Tucson on him this year, but he’s a little quirky. If you don’t warm him up enough he might buck with you, like he did at Guymon this year. He’s an awesome horse, he just takes some maintenance. He’s just one of those horses that if you don’t ride him every day might buck with you at the rodeo.
KS: Guys never stop talking about the importance of a good head horse on any team. What percentage of a team’s success rides on the head horse, in your eyes?
BB: I’d say 85 percent. A lot of guys rope really good, but the guys with the best horses are the guys who win every day.
KS: You were born on the Fourth of July, which is such a great cowboy birthday. Tell me about your most memorable birthday so far.
BB: One of my favorite birthdays was a few years ago, when Zanc and I won Mandan, N.D. on the Fourth of July. It’d been a terrible week. We’d been to seven or eight rodeos and hadn’t won anything. So that win was a great birthday present that came at a great time.
KS: Your real name is Tommy Steven. How and when did you become Bubba?
BB: I don’t really remember. Everybody’s called me Bubba since I can remember—my family and all my friends from school. I never remember being called Tommy much, unless it was my mom or my grandma and I was in trouble.
KS: You and Josie were just married on September 27. That makes you newlyweds. How’s married life treating you so far?
BB: It’s awesome. Josie goes everywhere with me, and we have a great relationship. I don’t think I’d want to rodeo without her. I have a flip phone and she has an iPhone, so I wouldn’t make it too far without her.
KS: Your favorite movie is The Cowboys, and your rodeo hero is Clay O’Brien Cooper, who starred in The Cowboys with John Wayne. Tell me why you picked a heeler as your hero, when you’re a header.
BB: I cut my thumb off twice when I was younger. I cut it off the first time when I was 11, and they put it back on. I cut it off again when I was 15, but they didn’t put it back on. I told them to leave it off the second time. All I did was heel before I was 15, and Clay O was the man. I remember watching Clay O in that movie and thinking he was the coolest guy ever—a movie star and a great heeler.
KS: Cheyenne’s this month. Why is the “Daddy of ’em All” your favorite rodeo?
BB: Any check at Cheyenne’s a good one. If you place in a round and the average you have a really good shot at the Finals, because there’s so much money there.
KS: You’ve been at this awhile. Why do you think this is your year?
BB: When I went to work here I’d never had a good year, my good horse was crippled, and Josie and I were thinking about getting married. I thought it was time to give up on the rodeo idea. I got to working here, the Dufurs encouraged me to rodeo and that was the breaking point. They’ve helped me out a lot in so many ways. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be rodeoing and having the success I’m having right now.