Montana’s Rempel named Pickup Man of Year, has picked up at WNFR more than any other
Gary Rempel, Ft. Shaw, Montana, was one of five finalists for the honor, which was awarded to him during the PRCA’s annual Awards Banquet on Dec. 6 in Las Vegas.
It’s only one of many honors the Canadian-born cowboy has received throughout his life.
Rempel, who was born in Elrose, Saskatchewan in 1951, has been selected to pick up at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo nine times (1998, 2000-01, 03, 07-08, 10, 13 and 16), more than any other pickup man, and has picked up the Canadian Finals Rodeo nineteen times. He has worked the Montana Circuit Finals Rodeo eight times, the Columbia Circuit Finals Rodeo twice, and the RAM National Circuit Finals three times.
Rempel has picked up the Calgary Stampede every year since 1985, and picks up primarily for Calgary Stampede’s stock contracting firm.
He grew up on the Matador Ranch near Kyle, Sask., and was a tie-down and team roper before learning to pick up. He learned the skill in part from his dad, John, a pickup man, and Wayne Vold, who taught him the “finer points,” Rempel said.
Picking up cowboys after the eight second buzzer sounds might look simple, he said, if everything is going right. But there’s more to it than the average fan realizes. “There’s a lot to being in the right spot at the right time,” Rempel said, “keeping yourself in a position to where you’re able to get the cowboy picked up without getting him hurt, and being in the right spot so you don’t get yourself hurt.”
Rempel has a herd of horses at home, “too many,” he says, and his six-horse trailer is full when he takes off for a rodeo. Depending on how many performances a rodeo is, and how many cowboys are entered, he uses a different number of horses. In Denver at the National Western Stock Show and Rodeo, Saturdays and Sundays have three performances, and pickup horses are saddled at 9 am and not unsaddled till 10 pm. Rempel usually has four or five “really good solid horses” he travels with, and another one or two who are young prospects. He’s always looking to start new horses but says it is difficult to start them at rodeos when he is “counted on to do a job.”
One of the best parts of the job is the friends he makes on the road. “There are so many friends you get to see once a year, and it’s neat to get to the rodeo, knowing they’re excited to see you, and you get to see them.” As a pickup man, he also has the best seat in the house, “unless it’s raining and you can’t see across the arena,” he said. “Then it’s not so shiny.”
At the age of 66, Rempel is working on the second generation of bareback and bronc riders, picking up the sons of the cowboys he worked with twenty years ago.
In addition to the Calgary Stampede, Rempel works the National Western in Denver, San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo, Rodeo Houston, the Pendleton Stampede, Ellensburg, Wash., the Chase Hawks Memorial Rodeo, and more.
He is married to Jody and has two children and two grandchildren.
Five finalists for pickup man of the year are selected by the PRCA’s bareback and saddle bronc riders. Pickup men who have worked eight rodeos and twenty performances are eligible for the award, which was created in 2015. After five finalists have been determined, voting on the winner is done by committees (one vote per rodeo committee) and PRCA contract members.
The other finalists for 2017 Pickup Man of the Year are Shawn Calhoun, Brandon, Miss.; Will O’Connell, Zwingle, Iowa; Shandon Stalls, McLean, Texas; and Jeremy Willis, Elkhart, Texas. The 2015 winner was Matt Twitchell, Venice, Utah, and the 2016 winner was Chase Cervi, Roggen, Colorado.