Willie and Loretta Cowan believe in giving back. The Pierre, S.D. couple grew up in hard times, built a home and made a family, all […]
Back When They Bucked With Pete Leibold
Written by: Ruth Nicolaus< Back to Articles
When his grandfather gave him a dollar bill to buy tickets at ten cents each for the pony rides at Hershey Park in Pennsylvania, Pete Leibold was in heaven.
From that first introduction to horses, Pete’s life-long passion for rodeo began.
Born in 1949, he was raised by his grandfather, Wiley Warner, in the suburbs south of Lebanon, Pa. In sixth grade, when he and his grandpa moved to the country, they got a horse. Pete soaked up time with his horse, riding as much as he could. That same year, he asked his grandfather if he could ride to see his Aunt Betty, who lived thirty miles away in New Holland. “It was winter, it was cold, and it took me eight hours to go that far,” Pete chuckled.
When he was fifteen, he began riding steers and young bulls at the Wellsville (Pa.) Frontier Days. Two years later, he was competing at the Cowtown Rodeo in Woodstown Pilesgrove Township in New Jersey. He continued to rodeo after graduating high school in 1967, and two years later, went to a bull riding school in Henryetta, Okla., put on by world champ Jim Shoulders. That same year, he bought his Rodeo Cowboys Association membership (predecessor to the Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association) and filled his permit that summer.
As a youngster, he showed horses in 4-H, and that’s where he met the woman who would be his wife, Bonnie. She also showed horses and barrel raced at Cowtown. They married in 1970.
By this point, he had joined the Delmarva Rodeo Association, with rodeos across Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. (Later, the Delmarva Association was replaced by the American Rodeo Association.)
Pete rode bulls until he was about 28 years old and was too big, he thought. So he began steer wrestling, learning from Mike Rhineer, Sr, at his arena in Willow Street, Pa.
By this point, he had started picking up. Dave Martin, a stock contractor, hired him, and he worked for Dave for many years. He picked up for more than three and a half decades for a host of stock contractors and producers across the Northeast: Martin, Ernie Hostetter, Bob Alexander, for Pennsylvania High School Association, and more.
Rodeo wasn’t his fulltime job. Pete started as a mason tender, then became a stone mason. He also worked as a blacksmith for twelve years.
One day Bonnie asked him when he was going to work for himself. That was the impetus he needed to start his own business as an excavator, and for the next nineteen years, he was self-employed. With his John Deere backhoe, 951 Caterpillar track loader, dump truck and trailer, he made a good living.
Pete remembers some of his best and favorite horses.
One of his first horses was a big registered thoroughbred-quarter horse cross that was 15.2 hands and weighed close to 1,300 lbs. “He was a stout son of a gun,” Pete said. “I often said to my wife, if I’d have had two horses like him, I’d have been mounted in the top ten, as far as picking up went.” He was a barrel horse, too; Bonnie won a fair share on him.
Pete team roped on the horse, named Norton. But Norton had his share of quirks. “After you’d roped six steers, you might as well tie him up and get on another horse,” Pete chuckled. “When you backed him in the box for the seventh time, you could feel it. He’d stand on his hind feet and walk out of the box, straight up in the air. He was like, I’m done.”
When Pete picked up on Norton, he had another unusual characteristic. As soon as the horse heard the gate latch open, he would stand up and walk on his back legs, “just like a Lipizzaner.” But as soon as the buzzer went, Norton was back on all fours, ready to work.
Another notable horse Pete used was one he never owned. Mooch, a bay, was his steady pickup horse for years and was owned by a barrel racer whose daughter had ridden the horse before passing away. She would never sell him, even though Pete asked her to name her price. Mooch could be hazed and heeled on, plus he was used for the barrels, goat tying and pole bending. “He was phenomenal,” Pete said. “He was a great horse. He didn’t get rattled over anything.”
Pete was more than competitor and pickup man. He has judged and been an arena director and co-producer with the late rodeo clown Bobby Paul. Working with youth has been important to him, too. The Leibold arena is often used for practice nights of roping and steer wrestling and has hosted clinics. He’s been active with the Pennsylvania High School Rodeo Association, the Keystone Rodeo Association, and the Central Pa. Youth Rodeo Association, where he served on the board of directors and as the chute dogging director for fifteen years.
The accomplishment at the top of his list is being chosen nineteen consecutive years as pickup man for the APRA finals. Being voted for that role by the APRA roughstock contestants showed how much they appreciated his talents.
With a fulltime job, Pete never traveled far from home to compete. In 1985, he finished in the top three in the ARA (now the American Pro Rodeo Association) in the steer wrestling. At the time, the North American Rodeo Commission held a finals, inviting the top three in each event from the 40-some regional associations across the continent, to compete in El Paso for a week. Pete wasn’t going to go; it was a long ways to haul from Pennsylvania to Texas, and he had the APRA Finals to pick up a few days after he would be done in El Paso.
But Tommy Harvey, president of the ARA at the time, arranged for a horse for Pete to ride in El Paso, so he went. On his first steer, he made a four-second run; his second run didn’t go as well. But he enjoyed it. “It was quite an experience.”
He was also asked to pick up the North American Rodeo Commission Finals, but it required five pickup horses and he didn’t have that many. After he reluctantly turned down the offer, his good friend Mike Rhineer told him he’d have secured the pickup horses for him amongst his rodeo friends. But it was too late.
Pete bulldogged till he was 54 and his knees couldn’t take it anymore. That same year, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, had it removed, and sold his business. That was in 2002, and he’s continued to work for another excavating company. “There’s nothing hard about it,” he quipped. “A man tells me to dig a hole here, I do it. He tells me to cover up a hole there, I do it. Nothing hard about it.”
When Dave Martin began riding bulls as a young man, Pete was riding. “There was no better bull rider than Pete Leibold,” he said. “He was good.”
When Dave began his own stock contracting company, Pete often helped out. “He’d come to the ranch and help try out new stock. I’m sure I got him in trouble more than once for keeping him later than he was supposed to stay,” he said. Pete was as good a steer wrestler as he was a bull rider, Dave noted. “Just like in the bull riding, he was hard to beat.”
Mike Rhineer Jr. knew Pete because his dad, Mike Sr., rodeoed with him.
“He’s the most honest man you’ll ever meet,” Mike Jr. said. “The man will not lie to you.”
Mike, a tie-down roper, team roper and trick roper, pointed out that Pete gave back to the sport of rodeo. “He judged a lot of youth rodeos,” he said. “He was always there to help kids who wanted to learn. It didn’t matter if it was roping, riding, steer wrestling or riding bulls, Pete was there to help.”
He and Bonnie have three children: sons Todd and Cody and daughter Caiti-Ty Leibold. All three excelled in rodeo at the youth, high school, regional and national level.
Pete was never a world champ, but he loved rodeo and it treated him well.
“I would have loved to chase a steer wrestling buckle for a year, just do nothing but steer wrestle. But when you pick up, you’re guaranteed a paycheck. It’s one of those things. I was never a (year-end) champion, but I got some buckles rodeoing.”
He’d do it all over again, if he could.
“I spent a lot of time horseback, and we made a lot of friends going down the road. We met a bunch of super people. We have friends all over the country.”