Though the spotlights may shine on the athletes in the arena, there’s an essential player in rodeo who works tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure everything flows smoothly: the rodeo secretary.
Sandy Gwatney has been a rodeo secretary for nearly 20 years. A lifelong horsewoman, she grew up showing Quarter Horses and picked up team roping in her late teens. Subsequently, she met her husband, John, at a local PRCA rodeo and hazed for him for several years when he competed in steer wrestling. Gwatney soon decided to get more involved in the production side of rodeo.
“I bought my timer’s card for the PRCA in 1996,” she says, “then went to the PRCA secretary school in 1999. It was a week-long clinic at the PRCA office.”
As a rodeo secretary, Gwatney certainly knows her stuff. In 2016, she was awarded both the PRCA Secretary of the Year award and the WPRA Mildred Farris Secretary of the Year award. She’s is the first to win both awards in the same year.
Gwatney’s job as a rodeo secretary is to handle the many operational and administrative duties for each rodeo she’s contracted to work. She is the liaison between the rodeo committee, stock contractor, judges, timers, announcers, and contestants. At the local level, many secretaries are responsible for taking the contestants’ entries, creating day sheets, posting the timed event and rough stock draws, and calculating payout. The professional level is more technologically advanced, as the PRCA and WPRA have centralized systems to take entries.
It’s a job that requires a great deal of organization and a deep reserve of patience. Gwatney understands the needs of the contestants and stock contractors alike, and is sympathetic if they get a little grouchy. She says, “Having been on the competitor side, it sure helped to learn what cowboys need, and why they’re sometimes short with you—they just drove 12 hours to get here!”
Gwatney best describes her rodeo office as “organized chaos.” She must effectively manage high levels of stress, deadlines, and hungry, sleep-deprived cowboys—and she does it all with a smile.
“I just like doing my job,” she says. “I try to make the rodeo world a better place… and keep the world wanting more rodeo.”
The best part of the job is developing close relationships with competitors, stock contractors, and other rodeo personnel.
“I have a hundred boys out there who send me ‘Happy Mother’s Day’ texts, or just call me randomly,” Gwatney says warmly.
It’s more than a job. It’s more than rodeo. It’s family.
GET INVOLVED ...
• The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association is the largest and oldest rodeo sanctioning body in the world. Before the PRCA will allow you to secretary a rodeo, you must attend their training session. For more information on how to become involved, call the PRCA at 719-593-8840 or visit prorodeo.com.
• A great way to start timing is by contacting the National High School Rodeo Association at nhsra.com. They can put you in touch with your local district or state high school rodeo association. Volunteer to time local rodeos to gain experience before moving to the professional ranks.
• You may also have jackpot team ropings or barrel races in your area. Asking your cowboy network if they know of any is a great way to learn about local events.
Sandy Gwatney has been a professional rodeo secretary for 19 years. “I do it for the love of the game,” she says. She spends about 75 percent of her time on the road, and has incredible passion for what she does. She feels fortunate to travel with her husband to most events.