For 30 years, Mark Baker was a rodeo pickup man. The pickup man rides in after bareback and saddle bronc riders complete their rides and safely helps them off their horses.
“The pickup man is the guy that is out in the arena called the life saver,” said Baker, 56, of Roanoke.
This “lifesaver” was recently honored as one of the best pickup men in rodeo when he was inducted into the Texas Cowboy Rodeo Hall of Fame in the personnel category.
“This is the highest honor that you could ever receive to be nominated by your peers for such a great achievement that you’ve worked all your life for,” said Baker. “You never expected it. It was very exciting. You’re very surprised about it. I never even knew I was a candidate until I got it. So it just meant the world to me and my family.”
Baker’s wife of 31 years, Brenda, agreed.
“Oh, I’m just very proud of him. This is one of the highest honors that he could get.”
Baker was born in Fort Worth and embraced the rodeo lifestyle early on. At the age of 13, he went to work for “an old cowboy” named Texas Kid Jr.
“I rode horses and broke colts for him and that’s kind of where I got started,” Baker recalled.
In high school, Baker went to work for Jack Ratjen at the Kowbell Rodeo.
“He taught me how to be a cowboy inside the arena and out, and he taught me how to be a rancher and a farmer, the skills I use today,” he said.
Baker competed in bareback riding as a young man and got a Professional Cowboy Rodeo Association permit in 1972. After earning $2,500 in winnings, he earned his PCRA card in 1974. In 1975, he went to work for the Billy Minnick Rodeo Co. and began his career as a pickup man.
Sometimes things got a little harrowing, like when Baker had to jump off his own horse onto a bareback horse because the rider was stuck underneath. He “bulldogged” the horse until the rider could break loose.
“It was just part of my job. It just goes with it,” Baker said
Over the years, he suffered some injuries including a couple of broken ribs and a broken arm, but it was a career he loved.
He traveled the country working most of rodeo’s major events including the National Finals Rodeo, the Super Bowl of the sport. Pickup men selected to work the finals are chosen by the riders and considered the best in their field.
Baker’s final rodeo appearance was in 2006 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas during the Pace Picante Pro Tour Finals.
Baker now works for Hillwood Land and Cattle, managing ranching and farming operations for Hillwood’s 17,000-acre AllianceTexas development including Circle T Ranch.