In today’s world it is not often that you meet a real, working cowboy. When you meet Chipper Nance you know that you have found one.
Nance stands taller than six feet and weighs about 250 pounds. He competed in rodeos as a steer wrestler, or in more old-fashioned terms, a bull dogger. Steer wrestling is known as “the big man’s event.”
Steer wrestlers have to have strength, agility, “a whole truckload of try”, and a good horse.
When you leave the chute to chase the steer you have to approach the steer so that you can lean out of your saddle, lean toward the steer, grab the steer’s horns, go off of the saddle feet first, dig your heels in the ground, and throw the steer to the ground. The winner is the wrestler with the least time.
Steer wrestlers do this feat on horseback, traveling about 30 mph. Rodeo announcers will tell you that this is like leaving the front of a moving truck and grabbing a mailbox at 30 miles per hour.
Nance started steer wrestling in 1970, while still in high school. He was playing football at Bridge City High School for Coach Chief Wilson. A situation came up that caused Wilson to tell Nance he needed to make a choice between football and rodeo. “It was a quick choice, I chose rodeo,” Nance said.
Nance graduated from Bridge City in 1975 and that same year won the championship in steer wrestling at the Tin Top Arena.
Lynn Wallace operated the Tin Top Rodeo for many years and the top cowboys and cowgirls in the area competed every Saturday night. While still in high school Nance competed at Tin Top and held his own with the older, more experienced “bull doggers.”
Longtime rodeo announcer Coleman Peveto was the announced many rodeos in which Nance competed.
“Chipper had the ability to be a professional on the rodeo circuit. He was possibly the best to ever come out of this area,” Peveto said.
Nance competed for 20 years as a steer wrestler. He once threw a steer in 2.9 seconds. In the mid 1980’s he won second place at the PRCA sanctioned YMBL rodeo in Beaumont, Texas. He was competing against professional steer wrestlers and turned in a time of 4.3 seconds. “4.3 will get you in the money in most rodeos,” Peveto said.
In 1990 Nance quit competing as a steer wrestler, but he did not leave rodeo. He turned his talents in to becoming one of the most sought-after pickup men in the area. “I started riding pickup in 1978,” Nance said.
A pickup man has to be fearless and have a horse that is fearless. The pickup men ride into a “storm” and unhook a bareback or saddle bronc rider. Often the rider will grab the pickup man around the waist and be pulled off of the bronc. In that situation, the pickup man has a man’s weight pulling on him as he rides and controls his horse plus the rider’s horse.
Nance has been the pickup man at the Trinity Valley Exposition Rodeo; a PRCA sanctioned rodeo, in Liberty. He has worked for Jerry Nelson, one of the top producers of bucking bulls in the nation, at Nelson’s rodeos and bull sales. Nance has been with Shane Young’s SYJ Productions for nearly 20 years, and gets calls several times a month to work rodeos for various producers who know his abilities.
“I could have gone to New Iberia tonight, but this was closer to home,” Nance said while being interviewed at the Texas Longhorn Club bull riding event.
A pickup man working bull riding has a different job that one working bucking horses. In bull riding, the pickup man has to deal with a bull that refuses to leave the arena and is usually in a bad mood. If the bull cannot be herded out of the arena, then he will have to be roped and dragged out. When the bull is on the rope, he may decide to charge the horse. The horse has to be fast and agile and the rider has to keep his seat like he is glued on it. Once again Nance has good horses.
“My best two horses are the Palominos, Doc and Boar Hog. I get all my horses off of the Gray Estate, they are the best,” Nance said.
When he is not at a rodeo, Nance can often be found working cattle. For 25 years he worked at the Raywood auction barn. He would go to the ranch that had cattle going to the sale at Raywood and herd and tag them and get them ready to be loaded for the trip to the sale barn.
If anyone has a need to have their cattle worked, Nance is available for the job. He does not go alone, however. “He better not go without me,” Connie Nance, his wife, said. Connie and Nance have been married for one year. They both wear scuffed boots and spurs and love to work cattle. Connie also competes as a barrel racer. When you see them together you can see that they are best friends. They are a couple with a love for the cowboy lifestyle.
Nance is soft-spoken and does not brag or boast. He states things as they are and what you see is what you get. Nance has had some rough times in his life but he just keeps going on and doing things “The Cowboy Way.”