From his firm handshake to his strong and confident manner with horses, you would never guess that Bob Pivetti is going to be 81 years old next month. You would be less likely to guess that Pivetti will be competing in the upcoming San Benito County Saddle Horse Show & Rodeo for the 70th time in a row.
Seventy-one times actually, but he does not count last year’s truncated event.
“They had it, but it was just long enough to wet your whistle,” he said. “I went to it, but I don’t count it. This year, I went to the office to sign up and said ‘I want to get 70 as my number’ to mark the number of times I have done it. They had someone else lined up for it, but I managed to get it.”
Pivetti grew up in Hollister and discovered his love for horses and the rodeo at an early age, winning his very first event.
“I was probably about eight when I started riding,” he said. “I did not know anything about the horse show, but they put me in it when I was 10. They had a thing for the best little outfit, by different age groups. They got me dressed up, I rode out, and I won. And I guess that put the hook in my mouth big time.”
While it would still be some time before he could take on more difficult events, Pivetti kept riding and becoming more skilled. When he was 12, he worked the summer to buy his first saddle, coming up with the extravagant amount of $300 with help from his parents, his aunt and uncle, and his grandmother.
When Pivetti was around 14, he started to show in the junior stock horse class.
“You go down in a figure-eight pattern then stop and turn around,” he said. “I tried all the kids’ classes that I could get in—ribbon races and things like that. Then as I got older I graduated up to cattle. I got interested in riding bulls when I was in high school, but you had to be 16 and my birthday was two weeks after the Bolado Park rodeo.”
He got his chance the next year.
“The first year I rode, I got fourth place,” he said. “When you are 17, you’re not afraid of anything. The second year, in 1960, I won it then won it again in ’61, ’63, and ’64. You have to be pretty strong, though. I rode a lot of horses, hauled hay, and dug holes. The bull riders today work with trainers and gyms, and they have special diets. I didn’t have all that. But you have to prepare—you better have your hammers cocked when you get in with the bull.”
After 1964, Pivetti rode bulls for a few more years, continuing to place, until he felt too old to go on.
“I didn’t practice enough to keep riding bulls,” he said. “I gained a little weight, got married. I was still young, but I had to choose events where I could still compete. So I stuck with the stock horses.”
Preparing for the rodeo has become a natural part of Pivetti’s yearly routine.
“Right around April,” he said, “everything is dialed in. I’ve had really good horses over the years and I get them in shape working cattle, I practice roping and get everything ready. By the time I get to Bolado Park, I have been working at it for three months. But I go out to brandings and cattle sortings, so when I am competing, a lot of it is muscle memory.”
As he takes on fewer events for himself, he has been encouraging his children and grandchildren to ride. His grand-nephew, Vincent Nino, 18, is one of his star pupils.
“Bob is an icon,” said Pivetti’s niece and Vincent’s mother, Danielle Nino. “My son, Vince, and my uncle have always had a very good connection and he has let him use his really nice cutting horses for the last two years. He taught him how to perfect the art, and since then he has become a really good cutter. He really cares and would do anything to help him follow in his footsteps.”
Pivetti will be participating in the cattle sorting on June 25, though he has entered other events.
“I was in the figure-eight eliminations but I got eliminated,” he said. “I had an old horse I used to have that was perfect for that and over the years, I have won it twice. But she died six months ago and I got a new horse. It’s my fault—I didn’t practice enough with him and he didn’t give me a good shot.”
While Pivetti was eliminated from one event this year, he will continue to work with the rodeo in the future.
“I know I am old because there are a lot of things I can’t do,” he said. “Three years ago I had my knee replaced and last year I had open-heart surgery. It was either that or I would have been walking around with a time bomb in my chest. But you can only take it one day at a time. I can still ride. I am glad I am as old as I am because it is better than the alternative. And I will keep doing the rodeo for as long as I can. ”
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