“It’s an exciting job that I really enjoy doing.”
Andy Eck of Redfield is emphatic about his desire to serve as a pickup man at rodeos throughout the Midwest.
Yet, sometimes Eck is the unsung hero of arena action. Attention from the announcer and bleacher filled spectators is directed to the cowboy spurring his bronc anticipating ride completion buzzer.
That’s when Eck’s tedious most important job begins making sure the cowboy is safely dismounted from the bucking horse. The contestant gets applause while the pickup man’s efforts are generally just taken for granted, even ignored.
Still Eck’s work is yet not completed as the typically still bucking; running bronc must be safely penned. “It’s essential to get the arena cleared efficiently to keep the rodeo action alive for the paying spectators,” he declared.
“The cowboys and contractors appreciate what we do. That’s what counts for their safety and care of the quality livestock” Eck insisted.
However, the Bourbon County rancher quickly clarifies; it’s all a team effort.
“There are two pickup men working together for the safety of the cowboy and the bronc,” Eck pointed out. “I have the opportunity to work with some of the best pickup men in the business in my opinion.”
Two additional expressions of appreciation were emphasized by the professional cowboy. “Number one I am thankful for my God. It wouldn’t be possible without the blessings from my Holy Savior,” Eck professed. “I praise the Lord each day for the great life he’s given me and never let pride get in my way.
“Every time I ride into the arena, I pray to my God for guidance and safety for everyone at the rodeo,” he added.
“If it wasn’t for my wife Shanna, the boys and I wouldn’t be able to do what we do. She’s always at our side helping and encouraging us,” Eck affirmed. “Shanna has gone to work for 27 years at Gates Rubber in Iola. Then she comes home ready to help with the cattle and whatever needs done at the ranch or a rodeo.”
Highlight for Eck’s career came at the recent Prairie Circuit Professional Rodeo Finals in Duncan, Oklahoma. “It was a privilege to be selected to work that major rodeo featuring the top cowboys and livestock of this region,” Eck appreciated.
“What made the rodeo even more exciting for me was working with Rex Bugbee, who I really admire,” Eck added. “Rex is an Emporia native who picks up at many major rodeos around the country. He is truly an outstanding pickup man; the cowboys and rodeo contractors appreciate his great work.”
Making his first circuit finals to serve as a pickup man was even more special for Eck. “It was the 20th anniversary since I last competed there in the bareback bronc riding,” he noted. “That was kind of unusual and really meant a lot to me too.”
Actually Eck always wanted to be a cowboy and has followed his dream fulfilling it today as a working rancher. “I grew up at St. Marys and Spring Hill before coming to Bourbon County,” he said. “We have a cow herd, background cattle, and do a lot of cowboy day work for others in the area.”
Competing in the bareback bronc riding as a teenager, Eck earned a rodeo scholarship to attend Fort Scott Community College. “That was a great experience being on the team riding at National Intercollege Rodeos Association rodeos,” he said. “John Luthi was an outstanding coach, and we had top cowboys and cowgirls; my lifetime friends.”
From amateur and college ranks, Eck’s bareback bronc riding abilities led him to the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. “I competed throughout the country and qualified for the Prairie Circuit Finals several years,” he calculated.
Then as a professional rancher as well, Eck was sought for rodeo teams of other ranchers he worked for. “I enjoyed being on the teams and competing at ranch rodeos and in the Working Ranch Cowboys Association,” he said. “I haven’t done that much lately because I’d rather be a rodeo pickup man and keep busy doing that.”
Eck works most of the rodeos served by New Frontier Rodeo Company owned by Jimmy Crowther of Gypsum. “I am anxious to help contractors who call for my services when there isn’t a rodeo booked,” he confirmed.
Horsepower is key ingredient to being a rodeo pickup man. “I have a handful of great horses I use for picking up,” Eck verified.
To fit Eck’s criteria a pickup horse must “have ability, be willing, controllable and go where he’s pointed.”
The horses in Eck’s pickup remuda are described as “big, stout Quarter Horses with plenty of speed. I have one off the track that has some Thoroughbred and that sure doesn’t hurt anything,” he contended.
Majority of the horses have been trained entirely by Eck. “That way they know me and I know them. We can work with each other,” he stated. “Still I don’t start using a horse for picking up until they’re five or six years old. They must be mature enough to handle the tough work physically and mentally.”
Cowboy blood has extended into Eck’s sons who all are involved in the ranch work and rodeo. They include Colt, 17; Bryce, 15, and Trent, 12.
“Colt and Bryce ride in the Kansas High School Rodeo Association, and Trent is getting started too,” Dad said proudly. “Their Mom is their biggest supporter. We couldn’t ranch or rodeo without Shanna’s continued encouragement.”
Both of the older boys ride bareback broncs like their dad did, and Bryce also competes in saddle bronc riding. “I see them advancing in their rodeo careers possibly into college rodeo maybe even Fort Scott as well,” Dad said. “The boys are real cowboys turning into top riders.”
Additionally the Eck sons are following in their dad’s boot steps with an attraction for picking up rodeo broncs. “I’ve had my boys pickup with me a number of times since they were even younger. That is really exciting,” he admitted.
In addition to the family cowherd and backgrounding operations, Eck looks after other ranchers’ cowherds and custom grazes cattle. “We buy all of our feed, but it’s still always a challenge to find grass for grazing. I try to take care of it the best possible,” he commented.
The Eck cowboys are also called on to start and train colts for other owners over a wide area. “We ride a lot of young horses and with our cattle operations they’ll get plenty of work experience,” Eck said.
“With day work, the rodeo schedule, and it all, there’s never a dull moment. We keep busy,” Eck added.
No slowdown or change in sight for the rancher, cowboy, demanded professional rodeo pickup man.
“I sure plan to keep doing what I’m doing. It’s so exciting and enjoyable working with my family, the cowboys, the contractors and the livestock,” Andy Eck avowed. “I’m so blessed by my God, my family and the life I’ve been given.”