CLAREMORE, Okla. – Jerry Wayne Olson is an entertainer who loves it when thousands of people crowd around an arena to watch him work.
But that’s not his favorite part of being a specialty act in ProRodeo.
“I just love being around the horses and livestock and being able to do what you do,” said Olson, who will be featured at the Will Rogers Stampede, which will have three performances set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 25-Sunday, May 27, at Will Rogers Stampede Arena just off East Blue Starr Drive in Claremore.
“As far as the entertaining part of the job, we want to entertain the people and have them satisfied. For me, though, it’s as much about working with the animals as anything. I enjoy working with the horses and the other animals.”
Olson Specialty Acts has been in the entertainment business for decades, and Olson has been at it almost all of his life. He started at 18 months old when he would sit on his father’s shoulders as his dad rode on the back of two horses. The rodeo entertainment business seemed to come easily for Olson, who travels the circuit with his wife, Judy, whom he met at a rodeo in southwestern Iowa in the mid-1970s.
“In college, I started Roman riding,” he said, referring to the method of riding two horses while standing with one leg on each animal. “I’ve just been around a long time. I got my pro card in 1974.”
In his nearly 40 years in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, Olson has been heavily involved in the sport. He was one of the organization’s directors for a number of years, and he’s worked hundreds of rodeos. In fact, this isn’t his first stop in Rogers County.
“We’ve had Jerry Wayne before when he had his buffalo act,” said Bob Morton, co-chairman of the volunteer committee that produces the annual rodeo. “In fact, his dad brought his buffalo act here before. They’re good showmen, and they’re good people.”
In 1988, he was named the PRCA’s Specialty Act of the Year, and recently he worked the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. He has a liberty horse act with his pal, Justin Boots, an 18-year-old palomino; a miniature horse act with Scout; and a trick roping act, something that might be special for folks who know their Rogers County history and Will Rogers.
“Jerry Wayne is an icon in the rodeo specialty act business,” said Scott Grover, the Stampede’s arena announcer. “He’s been around forever. It’s always an honor to get to work with someone who has been to the NFR and worked every big rodeo in the world. He is a future hall-of-famer.”
Jerry Wayne and Judy Olson shared their talents with fans for years. By 1980, Judy was Roman riding in their act, and she did it until the early 1990s. When Jerry Wayne realized knee injuries wouldn’t allow his own Roman riding, he focused on working with animals. His first liberty horse act introduced the world to Dude, and it wasn’t long before the family tradition of having a trained buffalo was part of his act, too.
“I worked both Dude and the buffalo until about 1999, then I started working on this horse, Justin Boots,” said Olson, who points out that his wife’s role in the show has changed over the show. “She refers to herself as the PPP, the Professional Prop Person. People don’t realize that driving the truck for J.B. to jump into is very hard. You can’t go too fast or too slow; you’ve got to be consistent all the time. Plus she handles everything. I don’t have to worry about anything because she has everything ready for me.”
The work hasn’t always been very easy. Olson’s knees got so bad a dozen years ago that he retired. In 2001, he had both knees replaced. After a few years away from the game, his body felt good enough to take to the road again, and he works up to 40 events a year.
“I decided I feel so good that I’d go out and take off like a mad man,” he said. “This is what I’ve always done, and I like it. I like the cowboys and the committeemen. I like the people. People are involved in this sport because they love it, and that’s the same with me.
“Rodeo is a love industry; you’ve got to love it to do it.”
That passion, it seems, has been passed along the branches of the family tree, but also it’s something Olson shares with the animals that are part of the act, especially Justin Boots.
“The only drawback to J.B. is he’s a little bit on the lazy side,” Olson said. “Other than that’s, he’s been a really good horse. He likes what he does and is very responsive.”
And he’s very talented, just like Olson.
I admire those guys, I'd be too afraid to break something to try that job!