Butch Dase (left) and his son Travis, both of Bridgeton, are competing in the Team Roping competition at the Atlantic City Boardwalk Rodeo this weekend.

Ben Fogletto

Butch Dase has no problem looking a horse in the mouth. As an equine dentist who has been practicing for 25 years, the 57-year-old Bridgeton resident has peered into the mouths of thousands of stallions, mares and foals throughout New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania.

"I probably see 10 to 15 horses a day, six days a week," Dase said. "Most of my job entails rounding off sharp teeth with a big file so they can eat better, and it also makes it more comfortable to ride them. It's very physical work, but I've never been bitten or anything like that. Most of them stand good for me. I only see them about once a year, but most of the horses are repeat customers, so they get to know me."

Dase will be riding one at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City on Saturday.

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A longtime rodeo competitor - he used to be one of the country's top steer wrestlers - Dase will be joining his 19-year-old son, Travis, in the team roping event in the fourth annual Boardwalk Rodeo.

"This is my first time competing in Atlantic City and I'm excited about it," Travis Dase said. "I've been roping since I was a little kid. I actually have a picture of me when I was 2 or 3 years old roping a steer dummy. And it's cool that I'm competing with my dad. He used to do team roping with my grandfather (81-year-old Dick Dase), and now I get to do it with my father."

The family's history with horses and rodeos dates back more than 100 years.

Dick Dase was raised in Staten Island, N.Y., in an era when everyone rode horses. He developed an interest in rodeo as a teenager in the 1940s, when he would get together with his friends and stage informal calf-roping contests.

"I grew up in Staten Island when it was God's country," Dick Dase said. "They even had a sheriff's mounted posse that carried guns and patrolled the beach during World War II.

"My (maternal) grandfather, Jim Ailey, was the last mounted mailman there. One year, they stopped using horses and gave the mailmen motorcycles. My grandfather ran off the road and was killed."

Butch Dase started competing in rodeos around Staten Island as an 18-year-old in 1974. Steer wrestling was his specialty, and he became very adept at leaping off a horse and literally grabbing a bull by the horns. Butch was good enough to win the event at a rodeo in New York's Madison Square Garden in 1991.

"As I got older, it got to be too much," Butch Dase said. "To stay on top in any of those events, you really have to work at it, and it started taking a physical toll."

When Dick Dase moved his family to Bridgeton in the 1980s, Butch added team roping to his menu and joined his father on a local circuit that featured weekly events at Cowtown Rodeo in Pilesgrove Township outside Woodstown in Salem County.

In team roping, the "header" rides alongside the steer and ropes it around its horns or neck, then turns it to the left while the "heeler" lassos the steer's hind legs.

"We started competing together around 1980 or 1981," said Dick Dase, who still owns and operates a saddle repair business in his back yard. "We got to where we were pretty good. We made the finals (of the Cowtown Rodeo) three straight years (in 1988-90). I kept at it for a while. I think my last season was in 2006. I have a bad left ankle and a bad right knee, so that ended my rodeo career. I decided it was time to just sit back a little bit."

Every Saturday night this past summer, Dick Dase sat in the stands at Cowtown Rodeo, watching his son and grandson carry on the family tradition.

He'll also be at Boardwalk Hall on Saturday, cheering them on and offering advice.

"He never misses a week at Cowtown unless it's for a medical reason," said Travis, a 2012 Cumberland Regional High School graduate. "I guess you could say he's our coach. He's always giving me a hard time. Always."

Butch and Travis will be among 36 teams competing in team roping this weekend over a two-day span.

Each team only gets one opportunity. Anything between 4 and 5 seconds is considered excellent. Travis said their best time so far this year was 8.2 seconds.

"It would be great to finish first, but the biggest thing is to put on a good performance and let the chips fall where they may," Butch said. "Travis is getting better. He's just going through some growing pains. It's easy to do something in your back yard. It's easy to hit a baseball when your dad is tossing it to you. But you have to learn to do it under pressure. He's been getting better and better and it wouldn't surprise me if we won.

"But the great thing about it is I get to do this with Travis while my father is watching us. It's a family thing."

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