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September 18, 2014

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2012 WRANGLER NATIONAL FINALS RODEO:

Life on the rodeo circuit costs a lot of bucks

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Leila Navidi

Luke Branquinho of Los Alamos, Calif., wrestles a steer during the final round of the National Finals Rodeo at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas Saturday, December 10, 2011.

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Steer wrestlers Luke Branquinho, Jason Miller, Sean Mulligan and Jake Rinehart sign autographs Sunday morning in the Boot Barn in the Las Vegas Convention Center as Day 4 of the 10-day Wrangler National Finals Rodeo continues.

Champion steer-wrestler Luke Branquinho knows it isn’t easy being a professional cowboy.

He also knows it isn’t cheap.

Branquinho, a contestant in the 2012 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo this month, travels some 280 days a year by car and plane. He drives 100,000 to 120,000 miles and spends $12,000 to $15,000 on fuel alone, given that he drives an RV and hauls horses.

He spends another $17,000 to $20,000 per year on rodeo entry fees. There also are veterinarian bills, hay and grain for the horses, truck payments and rodeo circuit membership dues.

Sponsorship revenue covers most of his costs. But all told, this 32-year-old “bulldogger” from Los Alamos, Calif., enters 60 to 70 tournaments per year and pays $50,000 to $60,000 annually to wrestle cattle for a living.

It could be more, he noted, but that “depends on how you rodeo.”

Branquinho has a lot to show for his efforts. He has won $1.9 million of earnings since joining the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association in 2000. Heading into this year’s NFR, which runs through Dec. 15 at the Thomas & Mack Center, he was ranked No. 4 in the world.

Still, he doesn’t travel alone. To save costs, he typically drives to tournaments with three other steer wrestlers, and they usually all sleep in Branquinho's Toterhome RV. Even though they’re competing for the same money, Branquinho said they help each other out and make life on the road easier.

His 39-foot motorhome sleeps five comfortably and has a kitchen — oven, gas burners, microwave, refrigerator — as well as a shower and bathroom. Branquinho bought the RV himself for $120,000 and has been shelling out $600 to $700 per month to pay it off.

The steer wrestlers bring four horses, who stay in a compartment attached to the RV. At any given time, the cowboys travel with at least six bales of hay, four bags of grain and five to six bags of sawdust shavings.

A bale of hay costs $15 to $21, and grain is $15 to $30. The shavings, which cost $6 to $10 a bag, are spread on the floor of the horse trailer for the animals’ comfort and to soak up their bathroom breaks. The competitors also bring horse medication in case it’s needed on the road, though each tournament has a veterinarian on-site.

And if Branquinho gets injured in the arena, he taps his rodeo medical insurance, which is provided through the PRCA as part of his $500 annual membership dues with the association.

Nevertheless, the NFR is different from other tournaments in at least one respect for Branquinho: He's not sleeping in the RV. He ditched the motorhome for a two-bedroom suite at the Orleans, where he’s staying with his family.

One of his sponsors, Boyd Gaming Corp., owns the resort.

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