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The Life of a Stock Contractor

VALE – A low rumble fills the back pens of Vale’s Shamrock Arena. 

The deep rhythmic tone slows and Brian Bain’s voice cuts through the air. 

“Bronc,” he shouts. 

The rumble quickens again, and he presses his body against a rusty green gate. Dust fills the air as a bucking horse thunders past him and into the pen with the others. Then, the gate clanks, the horses settle and silence follows. 

Bain sorts horses before the Vale 4th of July Rodeo on July 3. “You’re going to get run over a lot before you learn their tendencies,” he said. Most of Bain’s work revolves around handling and managing his livestock, which weigh well over 1000 pounds. “If a nice one steps on your toe, you are going to break your foot,” said Bain. That’s why he has tools like his flag stick, the rattle paddle and the prod. The tools don’t hurt the animals badly, they simply communicate with them and get their attention. “We don’t need them to be plump and gentle, but we have to be able to move them form place to place,” said Bain. He said handling the animals is all about communication and mutual respect. (The Enterprise/ISAAC WASSERMAN)

This happens over and over again, most of the time in smooth fashion. 

Sometimes, the horse gets stubborn and decides it wants to go backwards or into a different pen. That’s when the sound of Bain’s stern orders and the quick flapping of his flag stick encouraging the horse forward are heard. 

Brian Bain, a third generation stock contractor, in his trailer at the Vale 4th of July Rodeo in Vale on July 4. (The Enterprise/ISAAC WASSERMAN)

Bain is a stock contractor from Powell Butte, operating in a family partnership as B Bar D. He supplies the horses to the Vale 4th of July Rodeo. 

Each day before the competitors, fans and vendors show up, Bain, his crew and his animals are the only ones on the rodeo grounds. 

When the horses are sorted and sweat begins to blotch his tee shirts, his hat finally comes off and he settles into the shade. It’s a rare moment of rest in what Bain describes as a rush and rest kind of job. 

The sound of Dwayne Johnson’s voice fills the silence in the crowded motel room as Bain and his crew of boys rest with the movie “Red Notice” playing on the small TV in the background. “Nothing ever changed around here,” said Bain about the Bates Motel where he remembers staying with his family when he was just a mutton buster at the Vale 4th of July Rodeo. (The Enterprise/ISAAC WASSERMAN)

But, as the parking lot fills, Bain stands in the tack room doorway of his horse trailer getting ready for the event. He grabs his cowboy hat and slowly pulls his Western-style button shirt over his shoulders, covering the tattoo on his right bicep — a backwards “R,” “B,” for his great grandfather Ronald Bain — his family’s brand.

It was his family that got him into stock contracting, not by encouragement but by circumstance. The brand on Bain’s left arm is the same symbol that his great-grandfather put on his horses. His grandfather and father branded their horses with the Bain brand when they became stock contractors too. 

“This is what the Bain family does,” he said. 

Bain encourages a cowboy at the Vale 4th of July Rodeo in Vale, Ore. on July 2. Bain’s job during the rodeo is to tighten the flank strap just enough so the animal feels it, but it isn’t hurting them. (The Enterprise/ISAAC WASSERMAN)

It was his grandfather and father who taught him how to raise bucking horses on the family ranch and treat them as athletes. He learned how to understand their characteristics and behaviors. He learned how to tell if his broncs were healthy to buck. 

A saddle bronc rider gets bucked off during the rodeo on July 3. Bain explains that though the horses are genetically bred to buck, the bucking action is provoked by the flank strap which is placed on the animal like a belt. (The Enterprise/ISAAC WASSERMAN)

He learned the logistics of moving the animals through pens and the art of tightening the flank strap just enough to not hurt but induce it to buck well. 

He learned young, running his first rodeo without his dad’s help at just 16. 

He also learned the rodeo lifestyle. “As soon as I was old enough to be put in a car seat I was on the road,” said Bain. 

As a kid, he traveled the West with his family, taking stock to rodeo after rodeo. Through his teens and 20s he paused contracting when he began to compete professionally, placing 14th in the world standings in 2012 in bareback riding. 

Now, 40, Bain is back on the road back as a stock contractor but also a mentor. His nephew, 17-year-old Parker Buchanan travels with him. And like Bain, Buchanan too grew up around rodeo.

In Vale, the sun begins to set as the two work in synchronicity hanging flank straps — the booming voice of the rodeo announcer filling the thick, hot air. Bain walks over periodically to check on his protégé, giving him advice.

 The two break out in laughter toward the beginning of the evening but fall quiet as the sun dips under the horizon. Buchanan admires the family legacy and wants to continue it himself one day. 

“If you get to learn from anyone, you want to learn from him,” said Bain’s nephew Parker Buchanan, 17, who stands with Bain at the Vale 4th of July Rodeo in Vale on July 4. Buchanan wants to take over the business someday and keep the family legacy alive. (The Enterprise/ISAAC WASSERMAN)

The Vale 4th of July Rodeo is one of 17 rodeos that Bain will service this season. 

“I take a pillow and a blanket everywhere. Then you always have a little piece of home with you,” said Bain.

The exhaustion of constant travel and busy schedule are worth it to him. He says he does it because he loves it. Plus, rodeo is what is familiar to him. 

“I wouldn’t know how to do anything different,” said Bain.  

After four days in Vale, Bain leaves the way he came — a billowing cloud of dust erupting from behind his horse trailer in Shamrock Arena’s nearly empty parking lot, another rodeo behind him.

Brian Bain, a third-generation stock contractor, stands in his trailer on July 4. The backwards “R,” “B” tattoo on his right shoulder is the family brand. The brand was created by and stands for Robert Bain, Bain’s great grandfather. All of the family’s horses to this day are branded with the same symbol. (The Enterprise/ISAAC WASSERMAN)

News tip? Contact reporter Isaac Wasserman at [email protected].

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