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On The Trail with Frontier Rodeo Company
Written by: Courtesy< Back to Articles
story by Cassandra Robledo
Jerry Nelson’s love for rodeo began in 1991 when a friend invited Jerry and his family to their ranch in south Texas. As the son of a professional baseball player and raised in the city, he didn’t know a thing about rodeo.
“The first rodeo I went to, shoot, I didn’t know how you dressed. I was an oilfield guy,” Jerry said. “I wore a short sleeve shirt, a baseball cap and a pair of tennis shoes.”
Fast forward 27 years later Jerry went from leasing 1,900 acres to owning 8,000 acres and leasing some. Today, his ranch covers a vast 9,000 acres across the prairies near Freedom, Oklahoma, with 400 head of bucking horses, 70 rodeo bulls and about 350 commercial cows.
During the first few years after being introduced to the rodeo scene, Jerry helped produce amateur rodeos. Jerry said he worked his way from the ground up, doing everything from untying calves to working the back pens. The entrepreneur and rodeo stock contractor credits his success to his work ethic and long hours worked.
“I’m still having fun,” Jerry said.
In 1993, Jerry built an indoor arena and bought his first set of bulls. He began taking bulls to local amateur rodeos until 1997 when he bought his first pro rodeo card. That same year, he went to one of Harry Vold’s sales in Colorado to buy cows in order to begin his own breeding program.
Instead of buying the cows he originally planned to buy, Jerry said he left the sale with 10 mares. These mares began his new venture into the bucking horse business, “and the rest is history.”
Maple Syrup and Big Medicine are two of the most significant horses born out of the mares Jerry bought from Harry Vold. Maple Syrup is one of the first bucking horses he raised. She was talented enough to make multiple trips to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo and now serves as a broodmare. Big Medicine is Jerry’s stud horse who has sired some of rodeo’s biggest names such as Medicine Woman and Maple Leaf.
Jerry began Frontier Rodeo Co. at his home in Beaumont, Texas. In 1998, his friend Dan Mundorf bought 100 acres and moved from south Texas to Freedom, Oklahoma. Not long after Dan moved, he leased 1,900 acres in Freedom and began moving his growing operation, leaving Dan in charge.
Soon after moving to Oklahoma, Dan decided to get out of the horse business. Dan introduced Jerry to Heath Stewart who was hired on not long after. Growing up in a rodeo family, Heath is no stranger to the rodeo world and happily took the job.
With the same goals, work ethic and love for the industry in mind, Heath gained Jerry’s trust and respect. In 2005, Heath began running the ranch and is now rodeo manager. Jerry said Heath has made Frontier Rodeo what it is today.
“Most of the reason we’re successful is because of Heath.”
Heath and Jerry have created a world-class operation with some of the best and most recognizable bucking horse bloodlines in the country.
“Heath and Jerry have built together an awesome operation,” said Butch Stewart, Heath’s father and coworker. “We’re so proud of them.”
The first time Frontier Rodeo Co.’s bucking stock made an appearance at the WNFR was in 2005 when they took one horse and three bulls, Heath said. Last year, Heath took 18 horses and 2 bulls to Las Vegas, Nevada, for the 2017 WNFR.
Frontier starts the rodeo circuit year the second week of January each year. Heath and his staff travel across the U.S. to work up to 25 rodeos a year. For each rodeo, six to eight employees and at least five truckloads of livestock make the trip, Heath explained.
“The success for Frontier Rodeo Co. is all the people who work for it,” Heath said. “It’s not just me. It’s the people who stay here at the ranch and feed, the pickup men, the guys loading the stock, driving the trucks, announcers and secretaries.”
The work ethic and professionalism of Heath and his employees quickly gained the respect of many different rodeo organizations throughout the country, said Steven Money, rodeo director for Spanish Fork, Utah’s PRCA Rodeo. Steven commended Heath for the quality of work and livestock he brings each year to Spanish Fork.
“It’s real exciting to see Frontier come in each year,” Steven said. “We both have the same goals to have the best stock for the contestants.”
Steven said because Frontier Rodeo helps put on such a great rodeo each year, both Steven and Frontier Rodeo Co. were recognized at the 2017 WNFR. Steven received 2017 Committee Man of the Year and Frontier Rodeo Co. received the 2017 Stock Contractor of the Year award for the third consecutive year.
Part of Frontier’s success is due to the strategic breeding program set in place to keep new livestock coming each year, said Butch. Selective breeding and training have allowed Frontier to own some of rodeo’s most well known bucking horses such as: Medicine Woman, Full Baggage, Maple Leaf, Show Stomper, Delta Ship and Bad Medicine. Medicine Woman is a 4X PRCA Saddle Bronc Horse of the Year. She is second in the PRCA record books for the most wins (2011-2014-2015-2016). Full Baggage is a 2X PRCA Bareback Horse of the Year (2011 & 2013), and Maple Leaf was the 2013 PRCA Saddle Bronc Horse of the Year. Frontier Rodeo Company has also been awarded the Remuda Award by the PRCA in 2012 & 2016. This award is given to a PRCA Stock Contractor for providing a high caliber herd of bucking horses.
Every May, Heath and his employees load 70 to 80 young horses and take them to Guymon, Oklahoma, to buck at Robert Etbauer’s arena for their first trip. During the three-hour drive home, Jerry said his wife, Beverly Nelson, names most of the horses. Both Heath and Beverly come up with unique names for all of the horses they keep each year.
Butch described the yearly cycle that expands up until a horse turns six. Butch said each year their foals are born, yearlings are weaned, 2 year olds are moved and 3 year olds are bucked. The 3 year olds that make the cut are turned out until they turn 4 then bucked at a few local college rodeos, Heath said. Then they are turned out until they turn 6. At age 6, they are developed enough physically to begin their debut on the rodeo circuit.
“A lot of people don’t understand that it takes that long to bring a horse along to where you can use them in the rodeo field,” Butch said. “That’s why we have a cycle.”
Jerry, Heath, and everyone employed at Frontier have all participated in creating one of rodeo’s largest and most successful stock contracting companies in the country.
“My reason for success in the rodeo company is good family and good employees,” Jerry said. “That’s what makes it work.”
Donnie Gay, eight-time PRCA World champion bull-rider, and Jerry’s pilot and general manager, also contributes to making Frontier Rodeo what it is today. Donnie has worked for Frontier Rodeo for the past 12 years and is in charge of public relations, sponsorship meetings and commentating events for the company.
Twenty years ago, Jerry pulled up to Rodeo Houston, his first PRCA rodeo as a stock contractor. A lot has changed in the industry since then, including the quality of rodeos and livestock, said Jerry. One thing that has not changed, however, is Frontier Rodeo.
“We’ve been doing the same thing and don’t plan on changing,” Jerry said.
Since their very first rodeo, the Frontier Rodeo Co. team has worked to put on a show and leave a good impression each time they pull into an arena.
“We try to be as professional as we can, and we try to put on the best rodeo there is,” Heath said. “We try to make it as even for every contestant who enters the rodeo. That’s our goal. When we leave a city after doing the rodeo that year, we want the people in that town to leave talking about it until they’re so excited to come back and buy a ticket for next year,” he said.