Clay McCallie started riding bucking ponies when he was 4.
At 5-foot-4 and 130 pounds, McCallie, 43, knew from the day he was born that he wanted to ride bulls, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather.
He was in the top 25 bull riders in the world in 1993. A year later, a bad ride resulted in him breaking every bone in his face. After 30 surgeries, he still didn’t think of quitting.
“I didn’t have anything else,” McCallie said.
Looking back, he believes it was God reaching down and telling him, “Hey.”
“God changed my life,” he said. “He moves really hard in my life.”
In 1996, McCallie was in the top 50 bull riders in the PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association) but hung up his spurs after his son was born.
“Your priorities change,” he said. “I knew I was on borrowed time ever since I broke my face.”
McCallie, whose family has been in the rodeo business since 1953, grew up in Benton, Ark., and went on to own a rodeo company until the downed economy caused most of the amateur rodeo businesses to go belly up, he said.
Now, he is kind of a “mother hen” over the herd of nearly 400 animals on the 900-acre Carr Ranch tucked behind windy country roads lined with pine trees just outside of Athens.
In 2005, Pete Carr, a former bareback rider from Dallas, developed Carr Pro Rodeo. In 2013, he purchased Waskom-based Classic Pro Rodeo from his friend and former rodeo traveling partner Scotty Lovelace and renamed that company Pete Carr’s Classic Pro Rodeo.
His business went from 70 horses and 20 bulls competing in eight rodeos a year to nearly 300 horses and 50 bulls in more than 40 events. Carr is one of the biggest rodeo producers in the country, and although he has two businesses, they involve the same livestock and employees and are often collectively referred to as Pete Carr Pro Rodeo.
JACK OF ALL TRADES
McCallie took over the reins as ranch manager about seven months ago, packing up his 14-year-old daughter, Abby, and moving to East Texas.
After he gets his daughter off to school each morning, McCallie and assistant ranch manager Jeremy Hight feed the animals spread out in nine pastures. They go through more than a ton of food a day for the horses and bulls, and McCallie believes they will go through 700 to 900 round bales of hay this year.
By the time they’re done feeding the livestock, its lunchtime, and the ranch hands take a short drive to Malakoff for chicken fried steak or other blue plate specials at Mojo’s Diner.
After a quick nap, they prioritize their day. But no matter what they might have planned, something else might come up to keep them busy. It could be tending to a sick animal or a broken fence, mowing grass, putting out minerals for the herd or playing tour guide to school children or other groups.
“After while I might have to be a plumber and tomorrow I might have to be an electrician, put a roof back on or fix a flat” McCallie said. “It’s not all getting to cowboy.”
McCallie and Hight live in separate houses on the ranch and have a good working relationship. Hight has been living on the ranch since Oct. 1 but has been working for Carr for more than a year.
Hight, 32, grew up on a cattle ranch in Carthage. About seven years ago, he started working as a pickup man. A pickup man rides a horse during the bucking events at a rodeo and is charged with helping get the cowboys off of horses and sometimes roping bulls to get them out of the arena.
“That’s what makes my job so good,” Hight said of working for Carr. “I get to see both ends of it.”
He works with the animals on the beautiful ranch and gets to see them perform under the bright lights, bucking people off at the rodeos.
“I get the best of both worlds,” he said.
BORN TO BUCK
McCallie and Hight spent a recent Wednesday morning sorting 10 bulls and 50 horses out from the rest of the herds to send to Claremore, Okla., for a rodeo.
When headed to a rodeo, the bulls and horses are hauled in 18-wheelers and pickups with gooseneck trailers driven by Hight, bullfighters and other employees, who all have duel jobs. About a dozen people go to put on the rodeos, leaving McCallie behind at the ranch to tend to the remaining animals.
Summer is rodeo season, and the men had 16 rodeos lined up, including the annual Tops in Texas Rodeo in Jacksonville in May. Each horse goes to about 10 to 15 rodeos a year, while the bulls go to just about every one, Hight said. Carr also has about 60 steers used for team roping and bulldogging.
“I love producing high-energy rodeos,” Carr said. “I like walking through the audience and hearing that it was good, that the ticket buyers are happy.”
Byron Underwood, president of the Jacksonville Rodeo Association, said he used Classic Pro Rodeo to produce the Tops in Texas Rodeo and switched to Carr when he bought the business. “Together, it doubled the stock, doubled the performance … it’s great,” he said of Carr buying Classic.
Carr produces rodeos in Arizona, New Mexico, Mississippi and Colorado, as well as the circuit finals in Florida and the NFR (National Finals Rodeo) in Las Vegas. Last year, Carr had 17 horses and 10 bulls in the PRCA finals, which McCallie believes is a record for one producer.
“He has the best stock. … I think we’re very fortunate to have a PRCA rodeo in Jacksonville and to have him as our stock contractor,” Underwood said.
Carr said it doesn’t matter if the animals are bucking in Jacksonville or Cheyenne, Wyo. — he wants them to perform their best to help cowboys make a living riding them.
The horses are bred and trained to buck. Although they raise about 30 colts a year at the ranch, the majority of the horses and all of the already trained bulls come from stock contractors and individuals who raise them.
What people spend on a bull or bronc “can go as high as you want to go,” Hight said. Korzac, a paint stud who sires most of their colts but also still bucks, cost $50,000.
McCallie and Hight know every animal on the ranch by their numbered brand, which is tied to their name. Carr said finding names that best suit each horse and bull is probably the toughest part of the business. “Bulls have to have a masculine name, kind of cool, scary, rough and tough,” he said.
While Carr comes up with most of them, McCallie and Hight throw in their opinions. Names come to them from the animal’s personality, looks or their mother. Horses include Stepmom, Bright Lights, Real Deal, Get Back Jack and Sweet Emotion, while a few of the bulls go by Grave Digger, Medicine Show, Pimp My Ride, Rainbow and Spec.
To McCallie, having favorite horses or bulls is kind of like teaching school.
“You’re going to have ones you like and ones you dislike,” he said.
Although the horses and bulls can seem mean, throwing off cowboys during a rodeo, McCallie and Hight don’t hesitate to get in the pens with them to do their jobs.
“As you see, these horses aren’t wild,” McCallie said.
When it comes to the bulls, Hight said they have to pay a lot of attention to them.
“You can’t be scared of them, but you have to have a good amount of respect for them,” he said.
Carr began riding bucking horses about 1979, during his senior year in high school. He quit riding just before he started a construction company, Resource Commercial Inc., in 1993.
“I had so many good friends in rodeo and loved the sport so much that I wanted to stay involved after I quit riding bucking horses,” Carr said. “The easiest way was producing rodeos and raising livestock, and it’s just morphed into this.
“It’s the lifestyle. It gets in your blood. You want to stay around it and stay involved.”
Carr said his construction business is the fuel that drives the engine.
“Without it, I probably wouldn’t have anything,” he said. “We’ve been around 20 years, and I’ve been very fortunate. I never thought I’d even run a business. Without going to college, to say I’ve been blessed is probably an understatement.”
Hight said Carr takes good care of his employees and asks for their opinion, making them feel like they’re a part of the deal and not just the hired help.
Underwood said they were pleased with Carr’s team.
“We are very excited and looking forward to more years to come. … Carr Pro Rodeo will be back at Jacksonville,” he said.