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High school rodeo cowboys work in the arena alongside their dad

High school rodeo cowboys work in the arena alongside their dad

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HAZARD — It’s a family affair when the Heikels work a rodeo.

Lance and his sons Cinch and Riggin work as pickup men at high school rodeos across the state, according to a press release from the Adams County Ag Society.

A pickup man’s duties are to help the rider safely dismount from a bucking horse. The pickup man takes off the bucking horse’s back cinch and flank strap and maneuvers his own horse close to the action.

It’s not a job for the faint of heart, and it helps if the pickup man is a good horseman.

Lance started picking up in 1992 by working for regional rodeo associations and for PRCA stock contractors.

Older son Cinch, who is 18, started with his dad at Nebraska State High School Rodeo Association rodeos five years ago, and 15-year-old Riggin started this year.

It’s more than just what goes on in the arena, however. Pickup men often help feed and sort cattle, and if the boys choose to stay out late with friends, Lance still makes them get up and get to work. He tells them, “you’re hired to do a job. There isn’t any sleeping in.”

The boys are no strangers to hard work. While their dad works at the Kearney sale barn, they take care of the family’s cattle herd.

Being a pickup man requires the ability to be a good horseman and read livestock, Lance said.

“You have to have livestock-savvy,” he said, “and be able to read animals. And you have to ride a good horse.”

The Heikels have good partners, as Lance calls their horses. They raise most of their own, and use them for more than just picking up at rodeos. They ranch and compete on them, both in high school rodeo and at ranch rodeos.

“We have a theory at our place,” he said. “They have to do all the above or we don’t keep them.”

Being on good horses makes picking up easier. “You have to ride a good horse. If you have a good one underneath you, it makes it 10 times easier.”

Cinch is a 2021 graduate of Pleasanton High School and Riggin will be a sophomore at Pleasanton High this fall. Both boys compete in the Nebraska State High School Rodeo Association, in the tie-down roping and the team roping. Last year, Cinch finished as reserve state champ header and qualified for the National High School Finals Rodeo in the team roping, heading for Hunter Heath.

Cinch has some rodeos lined out for this summer to work as a pickup man. Then, this fall, he’ll attend horseshoeing school, and be back to work, shoeing horses, working for local ranchers, and picking up at rodeos. Riggin will be in the high school rodeo arenas, alongside his dad, picking up.

Being a pickup man provides a front seat to the action in the arena, Lance said.

“If your (equine) partner is good, the horses are bucking and the cowboys are riding, there’s no better feeling in the world.

“Picking up is really just about being a cowboy.”

Riggin, who heels for Everett Blackburn, will compete June 17-19 at the Nebraska State High School Finals Rodeo in Hastings. The rodeo takes place at the Adams County Fairgrounds.

The first round is 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.on June 17; the second round is 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. June 18. The finals are at 1 p.m. June 19.

For more information, visit or, or call 402-462-3247.

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