Four cowboys, two horses and Winston the Jack Russell terrier. These seven stand at the far end of the rodeo arena, waiting for a calf to break loose from the bucking chute so the cowboy and horse can corral it. In nearly ten seconds, the calf is released and tied up by its hooves, and the cowboy has done his job. Winston watches the whole thing off to the side.
Winston’s life is full of eating, sleeping, playing and, best of all, accompanying his best friend to the rodeo grounds. Throughout the day, he may spend his time exploring the land or watching his horse companions train for their next competition. It’s every dog’s dream, and one that many get to experience in San Luis Obispo.
Winston’s owner, Maggie Usher, is a bioresource and agricultural engineering senior on the Cal Poly Rodeo team. She said Winston, like many of Cal Poly’s rodeo dogs, is the perfect companion to bring to the rodeo grounds.
“I travel a lot by myself and so it’s so nice to have a little dog around; he just chills in his front seat,” Usher said. “It’s fun to have a little companion running around.”
Usher said Winston loves the team and gets along well with her two horses, Watson and Roany. Oftentimes, while Usher is busy practicing, Winston will be playing fetch with another teammate or resting in an air-conditioned trailer. If he’s wandered away and Usher can’t find him, she’ll whistle and he comes running.
“Everybody feels like Winston’s their dog,” she said.
Besides his horse and human pals, Winston has a four-legged friend, Ellie, on the team who is known as the “cowboy corgi” — a name that comes from her mixed Queensland heeler and tri-colored corgi breed.
“You can always catch her sitting in the passenger seat of the dually,” the corgi’s owner, Jesslyn, said. “She’s been the best travel partner and she does everything with me at the ranch, as well.”
Aerospace engineering junior Ava Coletto said, in addition to attending practices and competitions, many rodeo dogs will also go to livestock vet appointments and hoof trimmings.
“Every cowboy has got their dog,” Coletto said.
Coletto first got her cattle dog, Juno, when she was a freshman living in the dorms. Since Juno was a puppy, he’s been accompanying her to the rodeo grounds.
It took time, Coletto said, to train him to be around horses. He learned not to bite their heels after realizing they would chase after him.
“After a while, he kind of sucked up to them,” she said. “My horses will literally let him eat out of their food dish.”
It is important for horses to become comfortable with having dogs around so they don’t get scared and hurt themselves or their owners, according to Coletto. Dogs can be high energy and unpredictable, so it’s important that horses feel comfortable around them.
“Those dogs are so amazing, they take everything in stride,” Coletto said. “The world could blow up and those dogs are like, ‘I got it, don’t worry about it’ … they don’t freak out, a whisker does not twitch … everything is business to them.”
While most dogs do not have daily jobs on Cal Poly’s rodeo grounds, due to the available equipment, some of the rodeo dogs help out at nearby ranches. Their tasks may include herding livestock or protecting sheep, according to coach Ben Londo.
He said Cal Poly’s rodeo dogs don’t have consistent jobs, “outside of being a support animal for students going through … finals crises and all the things of being a young adolescent.”
Londo has six border collies of his own — Rose, Pose, Blitz, Koi, Ali and Zoe — who work on his and his wife’s ranch outside of San Luis Obispo.
“A working cattle dog can replace five or six good cowboys when gathering and moving cattle out here in this country,” Londo said. A job that may take him up to four hours by himself could be shortened to one hour with the help of his dogs, he said.
“There’s a long history of agriculture and dogs and man’s best friend,” Londo said.
Dogs fit well into the world of rodeo, and the larger agricultural industry, due to their ability to travel, their friendly nature and their ability to socialize with other animals, he said. His dogs have chased and played with horses, running back and forth across the arena.
A newer addition to the rodeo team is a 5-month-old long-haired wiener dog named Tito. While his owner, Mia, is out riding horses, Tito spends his time watching her and digging holes. Tito has a whole life ahead of him, one that will be filled with muddy feet, horse kisses and plenty of love from his two- and four-legged companions.