BOISE, Idaho -- Robert Burney has been riding horses almost his entire life, and it finally came to a point where the 25-year-old who grew up in Emmett had to make a big decision.
Rodeo or horse racing.
"They are both just as fun," said Burney, who competed in bareback, saddle bronc and bull riding on amateur and junior rodeo circuits.
Burney started with a promising jockey career, experiencing success at Portland Meadows in Oregon and Emerald Downs near Seattle.
He walked away to give rodeo a go -- but that didn't work out too well.
In rodeo, cowboys only get paid if they finish at or near the top of their event, kind of like a commission-based sales job where you only get paid if you sell.
Traveling from rodeo to rodeo in hopes of a payday was taxing, too. So Burney made the decision to return to horse racing.
"(In horse racing), they pay you to ride," he said. "I'm better at this, and it's a little easier on the body."
Burney is now a full-time jockey at Les Bois Park in Boise, and he's off to a strong start this season. He has ridden seven winners, including a whopping five on Kentucky Derby Day. He will ride in eight of the 10 races scheduled Wednesday night.
"That's the first day I had ever won five races," Burney said. "All of the horses ran good. Sometimes it's kind of hard to get beat."
In addition to being paid for just getting on a horse, jockeys get a percentage of the purse earned by horses that do well. There also are income opportunities for galloping horses each morning.
Burney's decision was made easier by the return of live racing at Les Bois, which was dormant for three years before returning last summer.
"It's good to be back here," said Burney, who lives on a small farm with his father in Sand Hollow in Payette County.
"And even though Boise (racing) is still small, it is growing and up-and-coming. Plus, it's a beautiful place to live."
Burney didn't just luck into good horses and early success at Les Bois. Respected and longtime trainer Rodney Hyde said the jockey has worked to gain the attention of owners and trainers.
"He's a standup kid and you know what you're getting," Hyde said. "When he was at Portland Meadows, which is a step up from here, he worked his butt off. He would gallop 16 to 18 head a day starting at 6 a.m. He worked his tail off, and finally some of the (trainers/owners) gave him a shot."
Burney won 51 races at Portland Meadows during the 2009-10 winter season and had 21 wins, many on long shots, on his resume at Emerald Downs before leaving for rodeo.
"Horses seem to run for him," Emerald Downs trainer Larry Wolf told the Daily Racing Form in 2009.
Burney said his experience in rodeo on animals that were trying to buck him off helps him in horse racing. He said he is extremely comfortable when horses are in the gate or in traffic, things that often are problems for young, inexperienced jockeys.
"There's a lot of technique and I've had some good teachers," Burney said, who specifically mentioned former jockey Vince Ward, who has won more than $2.9 million in career earnings.
Hyde said Burney doesn't claim to know it all and is receptive to suggestions and coaching.
"He's willing and eager and has got very, very good hands," Hyde said. "He's beyond his years experience wise. He's a great kid. I hope he sticks with it."
Burney said he would like to ride for a few more years and then stay involved with the sport as a trainer and horse owner.
He plans to chase his goal the same way as he approaches his current job.
"Get up early and try hard," Burney said. "Enjoy myself and don't overthink it."