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CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) – He keeps the rodeo running quickly, and he gets to see all the action from the best spot in the arena.

Darrel Barron is the chute boss and likens himself to a circus ringmaster.

“It’s great to be a chute boss,” Barron says with a grin as bright as the reflection from his mirrored sunglasses.

He’s been running the chutes at Cheyenne Frontier Days for 18 years. Before that he competed at the rodeo in bareback and steer wrestling. He made it to the CFD bareback finals in 1975.

Now he and his wife compete together in team roping at other rodeos. Darrel is the header, his wife the heeler.

He understands what it takes to give cowboys the best chance of winning the big purse.

“Sometimes they start to load up the animals too early,” he says. “You don’t want the animal standing around.”

Before the rodeo begins each day, Barron picks up a list of competitors and the bull or bronc they have drawn.

“Since you’re bucking so much stock here, you want to have a routine,” he says. “The unknown bothers everyone. Rodeo cowboys are hard to change.”

He starts all rough stock events from the same chute.

“It’s Chute 4 traditionally, but not always,” he says. Sometimes an animal isn’t ready to go, and Barron has to make a last-minute decision to start from another chute.

His responsibility is great, and the cowboys depend on his calls.

“I make sure both the contestant and the animal have a fair opportunity to compete,” Barron says while sitting behind the east side chutes before the rodeo kicked off Sunday.

“I determine the time we cinch the animals and when we start bucking them. We keep it going real smooth and fast.”

Barron says knowing when and how hard to cinch an animal takes common sense.

Usually bulls and broncs are cinched between 90 and 120 seconds before they’re bucked.

“If you do it too soon, it takes the steam out of them,” he says.

An animal’s bucking means the difference between a cowboy walking away with his pockets full or sleeping in his car at the next event.

Barron looks at his watch, stands up and heads for the arena gate. He pulls the day’s chute line-up out of storage in his green leather cowboy boots and confers with his staff.

The bulls trot in from the alley, and the chute dividers are closed behind them. Cowboys who were pulling on their boots moments before in the Cowboy Ready Area fall into place next to the bull they are about to ride.

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Bull ropes are strapped around the 1,500-pound animals, and the cowboys begin preparing for what they hope will be an 8-second ride.

As the Dandies parade around the arena, the bull riders tighten and buckle their chaps. The bulls stand by calmly. Clowns and the medics enter the arena. Barron waves to the barrelman to take his place.

He barely gets his barrel set when Barron gives the nod for the first chute to be opened. The rider doesn’t make it to a full ride, and the bull takes off to the north side of the arena.

It’s too far to wait for the bull to come back. Barron shouts to the pickup men, “Hold him.”

He nods and the next gate is pulled.

Each time a bull is cleared from the arena, Barron checks to make sure his crew is safe.

When the first set of bulls and broncs have run for the day, Barron pulls off his hat and wipes his brow. He heads for a drink of water, his khaki shirt darkened with sweat.

Minutes later he is back in the arena ready for the next go-round.

“Some guys hang around the rodeo forever,” Barron says. “I’m pretty hard on myself and better know when to quit.”

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