'For the love of the sport'
When Trevor Reiste was in kindergarten, he was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up. Without any hesitation, he responded: his dream was to be a professional cowboy.
The answer was not a surprise. Reiste, originally from Linden, was born into a family of calf ropers and barrel racers, and grew up around rodeo events. As a child, he loved watching John Wayne movies. He was riding ponies before he would walk. And his favorite pair of shoes was a set of cowboy boots he insisted on wearing everywhere, including to bed.
Now 24, Reiste has turned his childhood dream of being a full-time cowboy into a reality through his career as a professional bull rider. With a ranking from the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) as one of the top riders in the country under his belt, he has his sights set on qualifying for the prestigious National Finals Rodeo this December.
“I guess I’d be a third generation cowboy, it’s all (I’ve) ever dreamed of,” Reiste said. “My grandpa, he rode a little bit, and my great uncle, he rodeod. And (my) dad was a calf roper. It was something I was exposed to my whole life, I was just raised around it.”
Reiste got the first taste of his future career when he was just eight years old. Growing up, he spent many of his summers climbing onto the backs of sheep for the mutton busting competitions at the Dallas County Fair. But his heart was always set on a much bigger ride. He wanted to try his hand at riding calves.
Both of his parents immediately balked at the idea, worried it was too dangerous. Although the calves were much smaller than full grown bulls, they were still powerful. However, after Reiste’s pleadings, they finally gave in, thinking if they let him try it once, his curiosity would be satisfied, and he would drop the idea.
“Of course you know my first instinct was no, but he kept asking, and he kept asking,” his mother Lisa Reiste said. “From day one, it’s almost like we didn’t really have a choice. That’s what (he) was going to do.”
Little did Reiste’s parents know that climbing onto that very first calf would spark a passion in their son that would carry on for years to come, and turn into not just a hobby, but a career.
“(My dad) figured once I did it one time, I’d be over it, I wouldn’t want to do it anymore,” Reiste said. “It was actually the exact opposite. I was hooked.”
By the time Reiste was a teenager enrolled in Panorama High School, he had worked his way up to riding full grown bulls, and was starting to get serious. Unlike typical high school students who spent their weekends hanging out with friends or enjoying down time, Reiste was out working the rodeo circuit, riding every chance he could get.
At the suggestion of Wade Sundell — a champion saddle bronc rider from Iowa — Reiste had started wrestling in sixth grade as a way to strengthen his bull riding abilities. He continued wrestling all throughout high school as a member of the Panthers team as his interest in bull riding grew (although he did not ride during wrestling season to avoid injury). Wrestling helped build muscle and physical strength, and also instilled mental toughness, both of which are needed in bull riding.
“It really worked on body control, and with riding bulls, you gotta really know your body,” Reiste said. “You gotta work on your feel and strength and power, and know how to adjust out of a bad situation to make it work for you. Wrestling and bull riding both are very mentally tough, so you gotta keep the right mindset all the time.”
It was through wrestling that Reiste met Coach Jason Kirtley, who quickly became a mentor to the young bull rider, both on and off the mat. Not only did Kirtley train Reiste in wrestling, leading him to a sixth place finish at the state tournament his junior year, he also helped create workout programs to make him a better rider even after he graduated from school.
Kirtley said that the determination Reiste showed in going after what he wanted was impressive at such a young age, and his dedication to being the best he could be at both wrestling and bull riding made him unique. He never let anyone tell him something was out of his reach, a trait he still carries with him today.
“He was always told, ‘You’re too small, you’re not athletic enough to wrestle,’” Kirtley said. “So what did he do? He went and lifted weights and got stronger and bigger and quicker. And it’s the same thing with his bull riding. He got told he wasn’t big enough, and he went and trained and got stronger. He’s just a really tenacious kid. He’s one of those kids you have that you’re thankful you got to work with because they don’t come around very often.”
Making a Name
After graduating from Panorama High School in 2011, Reiste packed his bags and hit the road to make his dreams of becoming a professional bull rider a reality.
Over the past few years, he has dedicated his life to making a name for himself in the rodeo world, riding in close to 100 competitions last year alone. He travels all over the country to compete, from Florida, Georgia and Texas, to Alabama, Tennessee and Utah, and is rarely at his home in New Providence, Iowa. It is not uncommon for him to ride in a rodeo, load his gear, then drive 18 hours to hit another one the next day.
His goal since he was young has been to qualify for the PRCA National Finals Rodeo (NFR), which is held at the end of every year. The competition is widely acknowledged as one of the best in the world. Only the top 15 contestants from across the country, in standard rodeo events like saddle bronc riding, barrel racing and bull riding, qualify to compete, based on the amount of money they win during the regular season.
At this time last year, Reiste was not even in the top 100 contestants. But by the September 30 cut off for NFR qualification, he had worked his way to 22nd, falling short of making it into the competition by $20,000. After regrouping and training harder in the gym and with practice riding, Reiste came out strong this year. Although it is only a few months into rodeo season, he is currently ranked ninth, putting him in position to attend this year’s NFR in Las Vegas.
“Being in the top 15 is pretty dang good, being there right now is good,” Reiste said. “But the cut off date is September 30, a lot can happen between then and now. I’ve still got a long ways to go. I try not to think about it. I’m just gonna do the best I can and see where I end up.”
With the knowledge that he has what it takes to succeed in the rodeo ring, Reiste has formed a new goal for himself as time has gone by: to not only qualify for the NFR, but to one day win the entire competition. Kirtley believes that given his determination, and willingness to better himself every day, Reiste will meet his new goal within the next few years.
“It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, if you set a goal for something and you work hard for it, it will happen,” Reiste said. “Somewhere along the line I said I want to make a living at this. And if you want to make a living at it, you just have to put a lot of work into it, and be constantly critiquing yourself. You ride your bulls, and you’ll make it where you want to go.”
In a sport where the risk of injury is high, Reiste said it is his faith, positive mindset and ability to “get tough” that gets him by.
Despite a running list of past injuries that includes a broken elbow, ankle and nose, an injured hand, multiple concussions, numerous bumps and bruises, and torn ligaments in his knees, he still climbs onto every bull, every week, without fear he will get hurt. And even when he does get stomped on by an angry bull, or hung up in the rope draped across its back, he comes back ride after ride. Rather than stop at any point, he has adjusted his riding style to accommodate injuries, pushed off reparative surgeries so as not to interrupt rodeo season and ridden through pain.
“It never fails, when you think about getting hurt, that’s when you’re gonna get hurt,” Reiste said. “You always have to have a very positive mindset and always believe in yourself. The safest place on a bull 99 percent of the time is when you stay on their back. So when you ride them and you get a clean get off, you’re most likely not going to get hurt. It’s all for the love of the sport, it’s about being the best at our sport. It’s like when you’re a football player and you get hit by a linebacker and can’t get up. Why does he want to come back to it? It’s for the love of the game.”
When he climbs into the chutes at rodeos, Reiste does not allow himself to think about the ride ahead. Instead, he concentrates on his breathing and lets his mind go blank. And every time the metal gate swings open, and the several thousand pound bull underneath him charges into the arena, he never looks at the timer to check if he’s stayed on for the eight seconds needed to score and try to win prize money. If you’re looking at the timer, or focusing on anything besides staying on your ride, you’re probably not going to make it past the first jump, he said.
“Everything happens too quick,” Reiste said. “If you’re thinking about what you’re gonna do, the bull’s probably gonna beat you. You’ve gotta ride him off pure reaction. I just keep riding until I hear that buzzer then try to get off as safely as I can. I just try to ride all of them for 10 seconds, then I know I’ve got them rode for the eight.”
Lisa Reiste said that when her son first started getting serious about his bull riding, those eight seconds were terrifying. With every one that ticked by as she sat in the audience, and every jump of the bull, she worried. She has seen Reiste get thrown off, stepped on and injured. But with every fall she has watched him get back up and keep chasing his passion, no matter the cost. And that makes those eight seconds easier these days, she said.
“There’s not too many people that get to do what they love,” Lisa Reiste said. “And his love for bull riding is bigger than anything, and as parents, you’re extremely proud of any of your kids when they’re living their dream, and able to do it successfully. I’m nervous, just like any mom no matter what. You kinda become accustomed, and there’s no way to stop him. And I wouldn’t want to stop him from his dream. You just want the best for (your kids.)”
At 24, Reiste still has years left to spend riding bucking bulls. But like any other athlete, he knows that retirement will come knocking on his door much sooner than those of individuals in most professions. While there is still a lot he hopes to achieve in the rodeo circuit, when he can no longer ride, he plans to follow in his father’s foot steps and become a farrier.
“Just like all sports, you do get too old for it,” Reiste said. “Hopefully the better shape that I am (in), the more I take care of my body, the longer I can do it. But I can’t do it forever. I’ll just do it as long as I can.”