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Faces of the Rodeo: Getting the animals ready for competition

James Cheng / msnbc.com

Stock handler Floyd Campbell, 59, works with a horse in the stock pens at the National Finals Rodeo on Sunday, Dec. 5, 2010 in Las Vegas. Campbell, a jockey in the Phoenix area, has run an eight-person crew that handles 50 horses for the last two years.

LAS VEGAS – In the world of professional rodeo, the cowboys are only part of the equation. Behind the scenes, there is a whole other world in which the animals reside.

Bulls, steers and calves. Horses for bucking, horses for show and horses for the competitors themselves. Add them all up and there are roughly 700 animals needing to be fed, watered and cared for.

That’s what brought Floyd Campbell to the National Finals Rodeo this week for a third straight year. Campbell, 59, is a professional jockey based in Phoenix who was hired by the NFR to head an eight-man crew to care for 50 of the horses on site.
“I like the horse part,” says Campbell. “Whether it’s a racehorse or a buckin’ horse or a jumping horse, I just really enjoy being with the horses.”

Campbell’s day starts at 4:30 a.m. and continues late into the evening, 18-hour days for 10 straight days. But you won’t hear him complain. He loves the horses and gets to know the personalities of each one.

“You can walk in the stall with some of the horses and they’ll just look at you like. ‘I wish you wouldn’t even bother me,’” he said. “And other ones will come to you because they like people, they’re happy that you’re there. They’re just like people, they’re all individuals.”

James Cheng / msnbc.com

Wade and Carolee Ryan of Woodruff, Utah, pose for a portrait at the 52nd National Final Rodeo, Las Vegas, NV on Dec. 3, 2010. The Ryans are part-time rodeo competitors and also full-time ranchers for Rees Land and Livestock, a company that's been in Carolee's family for five generations.


 Wade and Carolee Ryan of Woodruff, Utah, are also a part of the unseen crew that makes the National Finals Rodeo work. Both are part-time rodeo competitors – Wade is a steer wrestler and team roper, Carolee a barrel racer – and also full-time ranchers for Rees Land and Livestock, a company that’s been in Carolee’s family for five generations.

The Ryans’ job is to run the alternate steers used in the steer wrestling competition. That way, if alternates are needed they won’t be any fresher than the frontline steer when pushed into competition, and the playing field remains level. For the Ryans, it’s a way to stay close to the sport, and the lifestyle, they love.

“I just grew up doing it and that’s all you know,” said Wade Ryan. “If your dad’s a golfer, you’d probably be a golfer. We were raised around horses, raised in the lifestyle, and that’s just kind of who we are.”

See Faces of the Rodeo: The cowboys. Get to know some of the top competitors in rodeo, and find out what they love about their sport.