LAS VEGAS — As Luke Snyder’s professional career as a PBR bull rider draws nearer to the end, it’s been less emotional for him – at least outwardly – than it has for his father, or as Luke likes to say, “My ole man.”
Mike Snyder has been there with Luke since he got on his first steer when he was 9 years old.
The elder Snyder encouraged and supported his only son throughout his entire career at the amateur and professional level, and he even pushed his son to make the most of his skills in spite of the conflicting emotions of watching his only child transition from steers to bulls.
As the most dangerous game in the world, bull riding isn’t without risk.
“Steers weren’t so scary,” Mike recalled. “What’s scary was when he started getting on bulls when he was about 13 or 14, just a little guy. That’s pretty scary for a dad … especially when you know what could happen. I’m pretty relieved it’s all worked out the way it has.”
Mike was with Luke at all his amateur events and was there to pull his rope for him, but, once he was 18 and turned pro, dad stepped aside and from then on has proudly watched from the stands.
In the past 13 years, Luke established himself as one of the greats in PBR history.
He won the World Finals event as a rookie and went on to compete in a record 275 consecutive Built Ford Tough Series events. That’s 10 years without missing an event in a sport in which there’s an old saying, “It’s not if you’re going to get hurt. It’s a matter of when and how bad.”
He competed in Las Vegas last month at the World Finals for the 13th and final time of his career.
“It’s pretty emotional,” said Mike, standing behind the chutes. For the first time since Luke was an amateur, Mike pulled his son’s rope in each of the five long rounds that week. “It brings back a lot of memories.”
He added, “I probably pulled him a thousand times or more as an amateur. It’s nice to end it this way.”
Keith Ryan Cartwright speaks with Luke Snyder in Nashville, Tenn., about his decision to retire this year and the announcement of THE AMERICAN.
Much like two-time World Champion Chris Shivers, who retired a year earlier and was inducted into the Ring of Honor during the Heroes & Legends Celebration the night before the opening round of this year’s Finals, Luke never competed in anything other than a PBR-sanctioned event as a professional.
From the time he turned pro in 2001 until his retirement this year, Luke only rode bulls at PBR events in five countries – Canada, Australia, Mexico and Brazil in addition to the U.S. – around the world.
“He wanted to be here his whole life,” Mike said. “When he rode steers he always wore PBR stickers on his equipment and when he got here I just knew he was going to run with it and he did.”
Early on, Mike impressed upon his son the importance of being ready to take advantage of opportunities.
In the end, which actually comes in another 10 days at a PBR event in Australia, Luke may well have taken more advantage of the opportunities afforded to him by the PBR – in and especially out of the arena – than any other rider in the organization’s 20-year history.
“And the PBR offers those opportunities,” Mike said. “Growing up, when I was going to rodeos and watching the cowboys and stuff, it was a different thing then. You could travel your whole career up and down the road and when you were done you were broke and busted up at that, but now – when Luke grew up watching these cowboys on the TV – you see an opportunity to travel by jet, see the world and make a lot of money.
“That’s why I encouraged him, where maybe 20, 30 years ago I wouldn’t have encouraged him to be a cowboy. It’s worth it now. It’s worth the risk.”
Luke is currently in Australia, where he’s traveled and competed more than a dozen times throughout his career, for a series of three one-day PBR events.
This weekend, he’ll be competing in Townsville at the Troy Dunn Invitational, and then a week later he’ll nod his head in Tamworth for one last time, even though he considers the World Finals his swan-song, so to speak.
Mike isn’t with him for this last trip, but, at this point, that’s nothing new.
“That’s been going on his whole career,” he said. “I’ve been waiting around by the phone – it seems like my whole life – waiting for calls.”
The younger Snyder decided last year – shortly after marrying his longtime girlfriend Jennifer Manna – that 2013 would be his last season (even though he waited until August to make it publically known). Earlier this year, he spoke with Australian organizer Glen Young and committed to making one last trip – as a professional bull rider – to the Land Down Under.
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Like Australia, Las Vegas was good to Luke.
He won a third of his $1.7 million in career earnings in Sin City.
Vegas and the PBR was good for his ole man too.
“Shoot, this town, coming here is so emotional for both of us,” said Mike, who by the time he’s done recalling this particular thought, both the left and right side of his face is framed with a stream of tears. “Through the PBR, I met my wife out here, so we both—this town has been so lucky for us. The closer it gets to Sunday the harder it gets to talk about all this stuff without getting a little choked up.
“All week I’ve been saying it’s not going to be nothing, but, like I say, just talking to you now and the more people start bringing it up, the more it starts to sink in, but it’s not a sad weekend.”
Mike feels like Luke could show up in New York and contend again next season, but is supportive of his son’s decision to begin the next chapter in a life set up in no small part because of the career he had in the PBR.
Luke has said he and Jen, who recently bought a home in Springfield, Mo., plan to start a family.
“It’s given him everything,” Mike said. “I’m ready to see him move on. He’s got a good solid future ahead of him.”
He’ll host the Luke Snyder Invitational – the first of, perhaps, many Touring Pro Division events he’ll attach his name to – on Saturday, Dec. 21, in San Antonio, Texas. Luke has also mentioned eventually having one in Missouri as well.
He’ll still be involved with the PBR, Bass Pro Shops and WinStar World Casino.
In any case, as a dad, Mike is just glad his son’s dream of always being a bull rider worked out.
“I couldn’t be prouder of him,” he concluded. “He’s my only son and my chest is just busting every time I hang out with him. I’m so proud of him and he couldn’t have turned out any better.”
Follow Keith Ryan Cartwright on Twitter @PBR_KRC.
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