Professional Rodeo Cowboy, Bradley Harter, is on the road in his Capri truck camper over 200 nights and 90,000 miles a year. Climb on, strap in, and wait for the chute to open…
In the time it takes you to read the first couple sentences of this article, a professional Rodeo Cowboy has risked tremendous pain, serious injury, or worse.
If they can endure the punishing bucks of a furious bronco, and hang on for the full eight second duration, they earn points. Score highly enough and work enough rodeos, a Rodeo Cowboy can win enough prize money to make a good living.
Does that sound nuts? Well, let’s put a few things into perspective.
Many of us commute to work every day, risking all-too-common distracted and/or aggressive drivers, and passing car accidents. Then we sit in a chair and work eight hours a day, not exercising, and probably not eating as well as we should. Then we put our hard earned money into the public casino known as the stock market.
Does that sound nuts? It should!
Here’s the kicker; many Rodeo Cowboys travel in truck campers, criss-crossing the United States and Canada year-round, and racking up the kind of miles normally associated with long-haul truckers. They’re often accompanied by their fellow Rodeo Cowboy buddies, and enjoy roadside attractions and National Parks along the way.
Maybe we all would be better off riding wild bucking broncos.
Of course most of us wouldn’t last eight-tenths of a second on a real rodeo bronco, and would likely require immediate medical assistance, and possibly the professional services of a coroner. There are better ways to shake up your life.
To paint the full picture of what it’s really like to be a truck camping, cross-country traveling, bronco riding professional Rodeo Cowboy, we talked to Bradley Harter. Not only has Bradley lived the life, but he’s made it work as he chases his dream of being a world champion Rodeo Cowboy. Something tells me he’s about to have a few more fans.
Above: Bradley Harter and his 2015 Capri Retreat
TCM: Before we get to your rodeo career, tell us how you got into truck camping.
Bradley: I was a senior in high school and I was traveling to high school rodeos and amateur rodeos. Every week I was traveling somewhere. I was not making enough money to stay at a hotel, so I would sleep anywhere in my pickup truck to make it work.
For my graduation present my parents bought me Capri Camper. They knew I’d be doing the college rodeo circuit, and I’d be traveling every week. I was so excited that I moved into the front yard in my camper.
That camper had two beds, a shower, and a television, so my buddies and I could run around Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. It was a good fit and it grew from there.
Above: Bradley on a horse called Red Man at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas
TCM: There’s a long history with rodeo cowboys using Capri Campers. Why is a Capri a good fit for the rodeo cowboy?
Bradley: As a rodeo cowboy, I travel over 90,000 miles per year. When I am not driving you can find me either laid up in the camper watching television or catching up on my sleep. My lifestyle requires constant travel so I have to rest on the go.
A Capri Camper answers all my needs. It’s affordable, comfortable, economical and, above all, I believe a necessity to a professional rodeo athlete. I have owned and traveled with a Capri Camper since 2000, and average 200 overnights a year.
My camper offers all the amenities of home including a shower, sink, refrigerator, table, entertainment center and, of course, the most important feature; a comfortable bed. With the options that Capri has to offer, I am always at home.
The initial cost of the Capri will pays for itself in a year and a half. Every Capri I’ve owned has paid for itself. My rookie year I won a Capri camper.
Above: Bradley’s rig, a 2002 Dodge 2500 and 2015 Capri Retreat
TCM: 200 nights and 90,000 miles a year in a truck camper rig is extraordinary. That’s about what long-haul truck drivers do.
Bradley: Most of the time I’m only in a city for about eight hours before I’m on to the next rodeo. With the camper, I don’t have to purchase a hotel room in every city, which can begin to incur great cost with my amount of travel.
I go to sleep and wake up and I couldn’t tell you if I was in my front yard, a Walmart, or in Seattle. I could be anywhere in the world. That’s how comfortable I am in my camper.
With the refrigerator, I am also able to eat more economically, and healthier. That’s very important since my sport is physically demanding. I am able to create my own meals on the road. This cuts down dramatically the amount of times I have to eat out and eat fast food. In my line of work, a camper is the most economical way to travel.
Above: Bradley riding at the Pendleton Round-Up
TCM: How did you become a rodeo cowboy?
Bradley: I grew up on a ranch in central Texas. As a kid, I was always on horses. In 1984 my dad gave me an VHS tape of the 1984 National Finals Rodeo. I wore that tape out.
My dad rode broncs and I looked up to him. I wanted to grow up and be a professional rodeo cowboy. My parents helped me and took me to youth rodeos. My brother is three years older than I am, so we grew up competing in rodeos together. My brother wasn’t as interested in riding. He was more interested in roping.
My dad bought me a bronc saddle, and in high school, I entered a saddle bronc ride. It then became an every weekend deal. Once I moved off to college, Tom Reeves, a World Champion took me under his wing, and taught me how to get to the next level. That’s how I got to the top of my game. 2002 was my rookie year.
I earned a college degree in business administration. Since then I’ve been traveling and working rodeos.
TCM: For those of us who did not grow up on a ranch in central Texas, what is a bronc?
Bradley: A bronc is also called a bronco, and is essentially an unpredictable horse that bucks. Bronco literally means “rough” in Spanish.
Centuries ago, there were guys on cattle drives moving cattle. There was always a horse that no one could ride. There was always a guy who thought he could ride the horse that no one could ride. That’s where the competition came from. The horse that couldn’t be rode, and cowboy that couldn’t be throwed. Over the years it has evolved.
The horses are brought to the events by the contractors who raise horses that are genetically there to buck. They are not riding horses, and they don’t want you on their backs.
TCM: How do they select the horse you ride?
Bradley: They call that the luck of the draw. We draw our horse out of a hat. It’s a huge aspect of the whole deal. You want one that bucks hard, and ones that are more showy.
The horses travel on the same circuit as the riders. I have been on some horses seven to eight times during my career. One horse in particular I’ve ridden ten times. You may never get the best horse because you don’t draw it.
Four to five days ahead we’ll find out which horse we have. If I draw Killer Bee, and he’s a weaker horse, I know I can’t win because I can’t get a high enough score, especially if my five buddies draw a better horse. If that happens, I might stay home, and not ride. It wouldn’t be good to buy fuel for 1,000 miles if you pick a horse you can’t win on. There is a business mentality to it.
Above: One of Bradley’s all time favorite horses in the world, Painted Feathers of Stace Smith at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas. She is a mare and I have won a rodeo on her son, Exposed Feather, as well.
TCM: Tell us about the experience of competition.
Bradley: Each competition is 8 seconds long. You start out in the chute that loads the horse, which is confined. The rules are that I have to ride one handed; one hand on the halter, and one on the saddle. When the gate opens, the time starts. It’s like a dancing partner. I get in time with the horse. They are trying to throw you, and you have to balance.
It’s a rhythm, and the more I stay in proper positioning, the more points I get. If I fall off before the 8 seconds, I get a zero. I can get 50 points from how much horse bucks and 50 points from how well I ride.
There’s never been a 100 earned. My highest has been 92 and I’ve gotten a 91 several times. I think the world’s record is 95. I try to keep my riding percentage in the 90th percentile.
TCM: Have you ever gotten thrown off and hurt?
Bradley: It’s something you try to avoid, but it’s inevitable. You are going to get bucked off. You get sore, broken bones, bad knees, and knocked out.
TCM: Why do it if you’re going to get hurt like that?
Bradley: It all goes back to when you’re a kid and everybody wants to go to the World Series or be a top NFL football player. I wanted to be a world champion rodeo cowboy.
This is what I enjoy. It’s about riding a great horse that no one else can ride. I win money, and I do it well. I love riding bucking horses.
When I retire it will be a sad day. It’s the best job. I can travel around the world and do what I love, and don’t have to go to work every day.
TCM: How many competitions do you participate in a year?
Bradley: I travel to over 100 hundred cities and compete in over 100 rodeos throughout the United States and Canada annually. All I take is my equipment; my saddle, bronc, boots and spurs.
In today’s time a rodeo cowboy does not let grass grow under his feet. We are always on the move. The more rodeos that we can get to, the more money we can win.
TCM: That’s a lot of time away from home. Do you have a family?
Bradley: I have a great wife who understands my goals. It’s hard that I’m gone that much. I also have a six year old and a year-and-a-half old. My wife loves the rodeo and understands. This past summer I left on June 17th to go to Reno and didn’t come back until October 1st. It’s a lot of miles and late nights, but it’s worth it.
Our big rodeo weekend is the 4th of July. That week I do ten to twelve rodeos. The weekends I’m rodeoing, they’re off barbecuing. My family comes with me every chance they get. They want to be involved.
Above: The Calgary Stampede Rodeo – Bradley on a horse called Firewater at the Calgary Stampede; 83 points with a torn groin.
The second week of July we went to Calgary for a week. My wife and two kids flew in and we got a RV spot. At 2:00pm everyday we went to the rodeo. Then we camped out at the RV spot and enjoyed family time. After Calgary, we traveled down to Wyoming and Colorado together. We were able to see the mountains and go fishing. They stayed with me for two weeks and then flew home. It was a blast to have them with me, and spend time with them.
Above: Bradley’s son, Houston, at his youth rodeo talking to one of the local celebrities, a Tim McGraw look a like
TCM: Where do you camp when you are working rodeo events?
Bradley: You get to knowing the rodeo places. It’s the same camping area, and same restaurants. It’s all familiar. You get into a routine and, when you return, it seems like you were there yesterday, but it was a year ago.
When we go to Houston, Texas, there is a great camping location and they have people who set up a barbecue. They provide ice cream and have playgrounds. It’s a good family atmosphere.
Above: The generator and fresh water tank make it possible to dry camp at the rodeo events
About 85% of the time, there is a camping section of the arena for the contestants. There will be hundreds of RVs, and everybody camps out there. Everyone will try to find a plug-in. I have good generator and fuel, so it’s like a tailgating experience.
Most of the camping I do is dry camping. Everything runs off my diesel truck and the two truck batteries. I’m not sitting in one spot for very long, so I won’t run the truck’s batteries down. As long as I have a generator and plenty of fuel, I’m good. I have 30 gallons of water to shower. My refrigerator is full.
Sometimes we have three guys traveling in the camper going to shows. I have the biggest Capri model, so we have plenty of room. We have all the necessities of home. It might be 5:00am when we drive into town. We don’t have to pay for a hotel room when we only have five hours to rest before a rodeo.
Above: Sometimes Bradley travels with other contestants via the truck camper or plane. In the picture above nine riders, a pilot, all of their saddles and bags in an eight seated plane. They flew from Dodge City, Kansas to Centinal Butte, North Dakota. From left to right, Will Smith (not the actor), Sterling Crawley, Jacobs Crawley, Bryce Miller, Nat Stratton, me, Hieth Demoss, Cody Taton, And Louie Brunson.
TCM: You travel with other rodeo contestants?
Bradley: Yes, we split the driving. We might drive 1,200 miles in 24 hours. I’ve gone by myself, but I don’t like to. Splitting driving also splits up the fuel costs. We’re all best friends even though we compete against each other. We strive to be the best, and encourage each other. We’re actually competing against the horse.
Above: Bradley’s son, Houston, bass fishing in southern Louisiana
TCM: Tell us about your camping lifestyle when you’re not competing.
Bradley: We do get time off to enjoy the camper for recreation. When that opportunity presents itself, I travel with a barbecue grill, golf clubs, and a fishing pole.
Traveling throughout North America, I am able to enjoy some of our nations greatest National Parks and landscapes with my Capri Camper. In these locations, I will relax, barbecue, and fish right outside of my camper.
Above: Camping in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
TCM: Now that sounds like a nice break. What are some of your favorite National Parks?
Bradley: This past summer we were able to visit Yellowstone National Park which was amazing. My traveling partners and I were able to camp out and enjoy all the amenities of home with the Capri. It was a great experience.
We also had a couple of days off this summer and found heaven on Earth in Oregon. It was an unbelievable golf course with a RV park on the Hood River. We could stay in the camper, barbecue, and play golf – all right out of my camper’s back door.
I am even able to enjoy my camper when I am at home. My six year old son believes the camper is our man cave. After spending countless nights in my camper on the road, my son requires us to sleep in the camper in our backyard when I get home. It is what has become known as “Guys Night”. I love it. They are special times. My son would live in the camper full-time if he had the option. He loves it.
TCM: That’s too funny. I’m sure you’ve gained some new truck camping fans with your story. Is there anything else that you’d like to add?
Bradley: What I do for a living gives me an opportunity to enjoy my job and my travels. If I have three days off, and I’m traveling through Wyoming, I’ll go to Yellowstone. If I didn’t have camper, and I was in a car, I wouldn’t be able to do that. I can also take my family along. The camper gives me the quality of life to do that. I’m on the road working, but I am also able to be a run of the mill tourist.
I’d rather stay in my camper. It’s my home.
Truck: 2002 Dodge 2500, Diesel, 4×2, long bed, single rear wheel
Camper: 2015 Capri Retreat
Tie-downs/turnbuckles: Four Bolts