Dixie Roundup’s bare essential: Bar T Rodeo, sustaining western way of life

ST. GEORGE – Rodeo is a tough way to make a living. It’s a day-to-day commitment that gives no quarter. Herds need to be tended to. Animals need to be bred and cared for. Rough stock needs to be moved from rodeo to rodeo with the utmost care.

The Bar T Rodeo company has done just that for more than 60 years. This week, the Bar T brought their world-class bucking horses and bulls to the Dixie Roundup in St. George.

“There’s lots of reasons why the Dixie Roundup is special,” Wendie Flitton, owner of the Bar T, said. “There’s no other rodeo arena that I’ve been to in all my 53 years of rodeoing all over the western United States that has it in a football stadium like that.”

The venue is unique and so are the people, she said, adding: “They just enjoy the rodeo. It’s a tradition to them.”

Tradition is top value to Flitton. She and her husband Jeff Flitton are the third-generation owners of the Bar T. More than 60 years ago, Swanny Kerby, Wendie Flitton’s grandfather, trailed a string of wild mustangs and range bulls to his first rodeo in Moab and the Bar T Rodeo company was born.

For the past 35 years, the Bar T has bred bucking horses that are so exceptionally talented that the Bar T herd is one of the most sought after in the world.

It hasn’t been easy. Most family-owned rodeo stock companies survive on the razor’s edge, only one misfortune away from seeing all they have built disappear. The Bar T family has been lucky, and it’s a big family. The Flittons count their more than 600 head of stock as part of their clan.

“We cry when they’re hurt,” Wendie Flitton said. “We stand and cheer like it’s your kids at a baseball game when they do well and score big. That is the whole reason why we’re in the rodeo business. We dearly love our animals.”

Corey Navarre meets his match on a Bar T Rodeo bull during a previous Dixie Roundup St. George Utah | Photo courtesy Bar T Rodeo company
Corey Navarre meets his match on a Bar T Rodeo bull during a previous Dixie Roundup, St. George, Utah, date unspecified | Photo courtesy Bar T Rodeo company, St. George News

That love and pride was evident as Jeff Flitton toured the stock pens at the Dixie Sunbowl this week. He took the time to tell the story of each animal and its bloodlines. He told why each animal is special and what it brings to a rodeo performance.

It may be a cowboy’s lot in life to keep a wary eye on the future. Nothing is guaranteed, not even the future of the western way of life or the Bar T Rodeo company.

“It’s sure a big slice of Americana I guess would be what you’d say, and it’s something that we’d like to be able to carry on,” Jeff Flitton said. “Part of our mission statement is to carry on a tradition to the next generations and hand the torch off. That’s what we hope Cody can do. I hope that he’s able to do that.”

Cody Flitton, their son, is the foreman of the outfit. He and his wife Linda are on track to take over the Bar T when the time comes. Cody Flitton is a classic cowboy. He has a quiet intensity, a sly sense of humor and he’s a man of few words except when he’s talking about the animals he loves.

“Every one of these horses in this pen, we’ve raised,” he said, looking over a group of his family’s world-class horses. “They all go back to a mare that was probably known as a soured saddle horse at one time.”

He explained how, long ago, horses that couldn’t be broken for riding became the perfect parents for performance horses.

“These horses are more of a fight than flight animal. That’s why they ended up in rodeo,” he said. “They didn’t have a purpose outside of that and would have probably ended up, in those days, just butchered for meat because they didn’t have a purpose outside of rodeo. So we’ve taken that animal into this world, given them a purpose, given them a meaning.”

The horses are bred to be strong so their natural instinct to buck can be indulged without putting the animal in danger.

“This is kind of my pride,” he said. “This is kind of my love, these rodeo horses here.”

Now that the Dixie Roundup is over, the Bar T will pack up, go home and get ready for the next rodeo. For 17 weeks this year, they’ve been on the road sharing their heritage with rodeo fans. Wendie Flitton said her crew has slept little and worked hard but it’s a job worth doing.

“The western way of life is really an important thing for people to keep. That’s what our country was founded on,” she said. “It’s an important thing for kids today. The only way they’re going to see a horse, a lot of times, or a bull or a steer or a calf or a cow, is at a fair or a rodeo. I think it’s an important part of our tradition and our heritage.”


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