The animals used in rodeo events, including bucking horses, bulls, calves and steers, are not the run-of-the mill stock from a neighbor’s field. They are specially bred and highly cared for athletes, owned by professional stock contractors, who spend years learning how to choose stock with qualities of athleticism, attitude and desire to perform – all qualities that bring in the cowboys and the rodeo crowds.
Stock contractors invest a great deal of resources and many years building a reputable herd that will draw talented cowboys and professional rodeos.
Since 2008, Mark “Sparky” Dreesen of J Bar J Ranch in Circle Montana has been the Franklin Rodeo’s stock contractor.
Dreesen has been around horses since he was a small child. His father, a South Dakota rancher, was a stock trader and taught Sparky qualities that make a good herd and management skills that maintain that quality. He also knows rodeos.
When he was in sixth grade Dreesen and his sister went to see the movie The Great American Cowboy.
“It was only the second movie I ever went to; the first was 101 Dalmatians,” Dreesen said. “I told my sister in the middle of the movie, ‘see that guy? That’s gonna be me someday.’ I was hooked.”
Dreesen wanted to be a bareback rider, so he got on any horse that bucked.
“I had a lot of broken bones,” he said.
By the 1980s, he was that guy in the movie; a Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association bareback rider going 8 seconds on some of the most notorious bucking horses and becoming nationally known.
“This is the only country in the world you can truly live out your childhood dreams,” Dreesen said. “It’s important not to crush childhood dreams.”
In the 1980s, Dreesen and his wife Marlene purchased 30 head of bucking horses and entered the rodeo stock contractor business. They began their own breeding program and rodeo company.
“When I started raising horses, I read the book ‘The X Factor’,” Dreesen said.
“It’s about raising thoroughbred horses, but I use the theories. It’s raising horses for performance, just a different performance.”
The business was taking off and by 1995, Dreesen was no longer competing on horses, but rather he was competing with rodeo companies.
In 2004, he merged with the Gold Buckle Rodeo Company and with Bruce Fink of Atlanta, Georgia, moved from amateur and high school rodeos to PRCA sanctioned rodeos.
In 2008, the Dreesens added the famous J Bar J Ranch string of horses, a herd with the legacy of being high quality bucking horses, to their own stock and produced rodeos of the highest quality.
“We bought the J Bar J because if the quality of the stock,” Dreesen said. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to take their best and put them with my best - they only get better.”
J Bar J is known for its horses, but Dreesen uses the same breeding theories with his bulls as he does with his horses. His calves and steers are big and strong presenting roping cowboys with a real challenge.
“We go all over the country but we really like coming to Franklin,” Dreesen said. “Its a very good community and a very good event. I like that they use the money for helping people in need.”