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DODGE CITY, Kan. â€“ Cody Cavanaugh, Mike Keiper and Josh Mertens have different thoughts on horsepower than most who are involved with the 2015 Dodge City Roundup Rodeo.
They are an integral part of Wisconsin Freestyle Motocross, which will be one of the featured pieces of entertainment during the five performances of the rodeo, set for 7:45 p.m. Wednesday, July 29-Sunday, Aug. 2. The three athletes will put on a spectacular display of freestyle motocross jumps inside Roundup Arena.
â€śWeâ€™re pretty excited about working that event,â€ť said Cavanaugh, the founder of WIFMX, based in Neenah, Wis. â€śWe always like going to new places. You get to meet the rodeo committee members and usually make good friends that way. Itâ€™s also nice for us to see a different culture.â€ť
The WIFMX players all have extensive motocross experience. Now in their third year as a specialty act in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, Cavanaugh and staff travel the rodeo trail putting on shows that expose some amazing feats on the backs of motorcycles.
â€śOne of the things that make our show unique is that quite a few of us can ride motorcycles and jump four-wheelers,â€ť he said. â€śI like the way weâ€™re diverse in that way.â€ť
Itâ€™s just another big piece of the entertainment pie that is Roundup Rodeo, which was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 2012. It already is a key stop on the ProRodeo trail and will feature hundreds of the top contestants in the game. By combining with WIFMX, the volunteer rodeo committee that produces the annual event is just increasing the value for fans.
â€śWe take a lot of pride in having the very best in rodeo,â€ť said Dr. R.C. Trotter, chairman of the committee. â€śWe have world champions in every performance of our rodeo, and we wanted to bring something else to the table for our great fans to enjoy.
â€śA lot of people come back to our rodeo year after year, and we always want to give them something special to enjoy. I believe having Cody Cavanaugh and his group here will really help make this yearâ€™s rodeo even better.â€ť
Though his primary focus is on riding motorcycles, Cavanaugh grew up in a rodeo family. His parents were raised in South Dakota, and his father grew up on a farm and was part of rodeo as a roper and barrelman.
â€śWhen my parents moved to Wisconsin, we had horses on the farm right away, and we still have a horse-drawn carriage business we still run,â€ť he said. â€śWe have a hobby farm with petting-zoo animals. Thatâ€™s how I had room enough to ride motorcycles around Wisconsin.â€ť
He was outfitted with a three-wheeler at age 3, then moved on to his first dirt bike at 7. He started building little jumps with friends, then the jumps kept getting bigger. He loved the idea of FMX because of what he had seen on television and found it to be a great outlet.
Of course, being outside and active was a big part of how he was raised.
â€śAs a kid, I roped quite a bit, and I come from a horse background,â€ť Cavanaugh said. â€śIn fact, our jumps are set up in a horse pasture.â€ť
The WIFMX team now has a customized ramping system it takes to rodeos all across the country, from Pleasant Grove, Utah, to Park Rapids, Minn., to Dodge City. It takes just a few minutes of set-up time, and the excitement in the arena takes off. Thatâ€™s where Cavanaugh, Keiper and Mertens show off the elaborate tricks theyâ€™ve perfected over the years.
â€śThere is a small crashing curve that comes with learning new tricks,â€ť Cavanaugh said. â€śIf youâ€™re going to push yourself, it can sometimes not end well. With a lot of practice, our confidence grew.
â€śI tell people all the time that weâ€™ve been allowed to do these cool jobs of just riding motorcycles. Find something you like to do and do it all the time.â€ť
It works for the WIFMX team, and for fans that make their way to Roundup Arena.
LOVINGTON, N.M. â€“ Eight decades ago, Jake McClure was the dominant calf roper in rodeo; the Lea County, N.M., cowboy had revolutionized his event and had earned titles at the most prestigious events in the game.
His hometown event, the Lea County Fair and Rodeo, was established in his heyday. This August, the exposition will celebrate its 80th year. Inside the expansive fairgrounds on the eastern edge of Lovington sits Jake McClure Arena, home to one of the most recognized events in ProRodeo.
â€śNo matter the amount of time that goes by, itâ€™s the one thing that brings the county together every year,â€ť said Corey Helton, chairman of the Lea County Fair Board. â€śItâ€™s gotten bigger over the years, especially lately with the concerts and the rodeo. Itâ€™s the one event that the residents of Lea County know is going to happen every year.â€ť
This yearâ€™s celebration is set for Friday, July 31-Saturday, Aug. 8, and will feature a touch of the historic, a splash of the new generation and a bushel of fun. The best part is the admission is just $8 for adults and $6 for children.
â€śA lot of people in this part of the country take pride in the county fair,â€ť Helton said. â€śEvery year it gets better and better, and I think people expect it to be what it is.â€ť
From the great concerts â€“ Ricochet, Cody Johnson, Crowder, Dan & Shay, Scotty McCreery and Gregg Allman â€“ to the various livestock shows to Lea County Xtreme Bulls and the rodeo to the food and carnival, there are numerous reasons why this county fair is such a must-see event.
â€śI think we all know the fair actually started with the kids and showcasing the kidsâ€™ hard work throughout the year with the livestock shows,â€ť Helton said. â€śWe can never lose sight of that. Itâ€™s still about that. Itâ€™s about the sale. Thatâ€™s the big thing about the fair. Yeah, weâ€™ve had the concerts and the rodeo, but without the kids showing animals, do you really have a fair?
â€śThe goal of every fair should be the kids.â€ť
The Lovington event is more than just a county fair. The Lea County Fair and Rodeo has been recognized as one of the top expositions in the region, and thereâ€™s good reason. There is a concert six nights of the nine-day event, and the rodeo will feature the very best in the game, cowboys and cowgirls who will have traveled hundreds of miles to compete in southeastern New Mexico and some of the top animals in the business from Pete Carr Pro Rodeo.
â€śI think one of the things thatâ€™s still part of the 80-year tradition is the rodeo,â€ť Helton said. â€śWe continue to draw the top 10 cowboys in each event.â€ť
Itâ€™s something Jake McClure surely would brag about if he were still on the rodeo trail. Itâ€™s something many people from Lea County talk about each summer as they anticipate the goings-on in Lovington.
â€śWeâ€™re going to be working with the Western Heritage Museum and recognize some of the older people in the community that have contributed so much over the years,â€ť Helton said. â€śWe all wanted to provide something for the people that have contributed something to the heritage of Lea County.â€ť
It should be quite the celebration.
DODGE CITY, Kan. â€“ There are only a handful of accomplishments funnyman Cody Sosebee hasnâ€™t achieved in a strong rodeo career.
Heâ€™s been nominated five times as the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Clown of the Year, including each of the past four seasons. Heâ€™s worked many of the top events in the sportâ€™s history and has been recognized as a premier entertainer. But heâ€™s never worked the Dodge City Roundup Rodeo.
That changes in 2015. For the first time in the eventâ€™s ProRodeo-Hall-of-Fame history, the Arkansas man will be a featured player in the six nights of world-class rodeo action, with the Xtreme Bulls planned for 7:45 p.m. Tuesday, July 28, and five incredible rodeo performances set for 7:45 p.m. Wednesday, July 29-Sunday, Aug. 2, at Roundup Arena.
â€śIâ€™m excited about going there as Iâ€™ve ever been about working any rodeo,â€ť Sosebee said. â€śIâ€™ve passed that rodeo arena every year when I leave my home for Cheyenne (Wyo.), and Iâ€™ve always wanted to be there.
â€śItâ€™s one of the most historic Western towns and one of the most recognized rodeos in the country. Itâ€™s a tradition rich place, and Iâ€™ve been a lot of great places in my career. This is like a feather in your hat when you work an event like Dodge City.â€ť
Itâ€™s an honor to work the elite events in the sport. Not only has he worked Cheyenne, Sosebee also has been a primary entertainer at the River City Rodeo in Omaha, Neb., and the Calgary (Alberta) Stampede.
â€śWhen a committee of the stature of Dodge City asks you to come work their rodeo, itâ€™s like Michael Jordan asking if you want to play a game of basketball,â€ť he said. â€śYou get to work with an A team of personnel and an A team list of stock. Anytime you get to work with people who excel in their field, it only makes me that much better.â€ť
In addition to his clowning nomination, the former competitor also has been nominated for the PRCA Comedy Act of the Year two of the past three seasons. But thereâ€™s much more to Sosebee than meets the eye. Over his lifetime, heâ€™s competed in nearly every rodeo event possible and was at the top of his game in bareback riding.
Itâ€™s part of the life growing up in a family that was heavily involved in rodeo. His father was a pickup man, so Sosebee has been part of the sport as long as he can remember.
â€śI got into clowning by accident by filling in for guys,â€ť said Sosebee, who also owns a barbecue restaurant in his hometown of Charleston, Ark., just 25 miles east of Fort Smith, Ark. â€śI didnâ€™t know where I was going to go with my rodeo career when I quit riding barebacks, and it turned into a good living. I get to see the world.
â€śI live in a community with one four-way stop, and I get to go to Dodge City, Kansas, and a lot of other great places where as soon as you pull into town, you are considered a rock star for a week.â€ť
A born competitor, the clown has made the adjustments he needed to get the true fix after a lifetime of being part of the contest.
â€śIâ€™ve always been a competitor in anything I did, from football to basketball to when I was in freestyle bullfighting,â€ť he said. â€śI miss putting my hand in the rigginâ€™ and nodding my head to be 80 points to win the rodeo, but Iâ€™m a realist. Iâ€™m 43 years old. While most of the guys I rodeoed with have slowed down and have found jobs, I get to be in the arena and get to make a living in rodeo doing something I love.â€ť
Sosebee also plays to his strengths. Bigger than many in the game, he showcases a true athleticism that is rarely seen among men of his stature. Itâ€™s comedy at the purest level.
â€śHaving the ability to laugh at myself is probably my biggest strength,â€ť he said. â€śI donâ€™t take anything too serious. When Iâ€™m watching a comedian, the funniest thing I see is when theyâ€™re honestly open and having a good time. I want the fans to see that Iâ€™m a real person and Iâ€™m having fun, and they can have fun with me.â€ť
Thatâ€™s why Sosebee has excelled as one of the premier rodeo clowns in the game. Thatâ€™s why the volunteer committee is bringing him to town. Itâ€™s another key reason Dodge City Roundup Rodeo is always at the top of the game.
Ram pickups pulling elaborate horse trailers and toting world-class ropers and steer wrestlers have left Pecos, Texas, and Reno, Nev., and are making their ways to locales all across North America.
Theyâ€™re meeting other rigs and customized vans toting bull riders, saddle bronc riders and bareback riders.
This is Cowboy Christmas, the busiest time of the ProRodeo season. It features numerous rodeos located all across the United States and Canada, and each stop offers something for every contestant who makes a living in the sport.
The major stops include Prescott, Ariz.; Window Rock, Ariz.; Cody, Wyo.; Greeley, Colo.; Springdale, Ark.; Molalla, Ore.; St. Paul, Ore.; Livingston, Mont.; and Red Lodge, Mont., just to name a few. The commonality between them is the enticement of large paydays and many miles in between.
â€śThe Fourth is really tough because youâ€™re going on little to no sleep and spend most of your time getting from one place to another,â€ť said Taos Muncy, a two-time world champion saddle bronc rider and one of the key members of the Tate Branch Auto Group team of ProRodeo cowboys. â€śA lot of things can happen, good and bad. Iâ€™ve had terrible Fourths where Iâ€™ve won nothing. Thatâ€™s real humbling.â€ť
As a roughstock cowboy, Muncy and his traveling posse donâ€™t have to haul their own horses. The timed-event cowboys do. No matter the traveling arrangements, the logistics of getting from one place to another can be nightmarish.
Itâ€™s something all cowboys must face, including others on the â€śRiding for the Brandâ€ť team: tie-down roping brothers Clif and Clint Cooper and their legendary father, Roy Cooper; steer roper Marty Jones; and team roping twins Jake and Jim Ross Cooper. All have ties to southeastern New Mexico, just like the Tate Branch Auto Group, which has dealerships in Carlsbad, Artesia and Hobbs.
Though New Mexico is always home, the Tate Branch Auto Group Cowboys will spend the next few weeks on the rodeo trail. They all rodeo for a living and need every dollar they can win, but thereâ€™s much more to it. Dollars equal championship points, and the contestant in each event with the most earnings at the conclusion of the season wins the world championâ€™s gold buckle.
Oftentimes, timed-event hands will have more than one rig on the road during the hectic portion of the season to make sure they capitalize on as many opportunities as possible. That also showcases their talent in riding more than one horse at a time. But having more than one customized vehicle on the road is also helpful to Muncy and his traveling crew.
Right now, for example, he is in the van owned by traveling partner Tyrel Larsen, while Muncyâ€™s is in northern Colorado. Theyâ€™ll fly around to several places before returning to Greeley for the Stampede, then moving on to other rodeos.
â€śFor me, the heavy part of the summer run is from the end of June to the end of July,â€ť he said. â€śIâ€™ll go straight through the next few weeks then on to Calgary (Alberta). Iâ€™ll be going every single day from now until the 13th of July, getting on one to two broncs a day.â€ť
Thatâ€™s just how hectic things can get over a short period of time. When it works out, itâ€™s phenomenal. Muncy has won more than $30,000 over a few days centered around the Fourth of July holiday.
The Corona, N.M., cowboy has been among the top five in the world standings for much of the 2015 season. A recent dry spell has given him even more incentive to make things happen over the next few days.
â€śEverything was going really good until last weekend,â€ť said Muncy, who won the college title in 2007, then followed that with world titles in 2007 and 2011. â€śI went to four rodeos and just had a lot of bad luck. It was just one of those weekends, but those things can turn around. When youâ€™re on fire, you better keep entering and go with the flow. It can turn around quick. Youâ€™ve got to be able to handle the highs and the lows.â€ť
Thatâ€™s the way the rodeo rolls. Itâ€™s why the Tate Branch Auto Group cowboys lean on the support they get from the dealerships and the rest of the team involved.
â€śYou just have to stay positive and go with the flow,â€ť Muncy said. â€śSometimes you have to show up late and get on, but when you get there, you try hard and give it your best. Thatâ€™s all you can ask.â€ť
Thatâ€™s how more gold buckles are crafted.
PECOS, Texas â€“ Neither Ryan Gray nor Pete Carr Pro Rodeoâ€™s Dirty Jacket is a stranger to being part bareback riding scores in the 90s.
They worked together Friday night for a 92-point ride to take the bareback riding lead at the West of the Pecos Rodeo inside Buck Jackson Arena. It is the highest marked bareback ride so far in 2015 in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, and more than three months remain in the regular season.
Gray, an eight-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifier from Cheney, Wash., is the No. 11 bareback rider in this weekâ€™s world standings. With one performance remaining in Pecos, he should collect a big check out of the Worldâ€™s Oldest Rodeo.
Gray is one of just four cowboys who are part of the world record for highest-marked ride in rodeo, posting a 94 on Grass Dancer, another great Pete Carr bucking horse, in Eagle, Colo., in 2009. Gray also won the fifth round of the 2011 NFR with a 90-point ride on Pete Carrâ€™s MGM Deuces Night, which won the 2012 PRCA Bareback Horse of the Year.
Dirty Jacket is the reigning world champion bareback horse and has been voted as one of the top three horses in the game each of the past three seasons. This marks the third time this year that cowboys have exceeded the 90-point barrier on the 11-year-old bay gelding â€“ Jessy Davis was 93 points to win the San Angelo, Texas, Cinch Shootout in February (a non-PRCA event), while Winn Ratliff posted a 90 just two weeks ago to share the title in Weatherford, Texas.
Over his career, Dirty Jacket has been part of 90-point-plus rides numerous times. In 2014, he matched moves with Richmond Champion in Cheyenne, Wyo., and Steven Dent in Stephenville, Texas, for 91 points; those were the highest marked rides of the season. Two seasons ago, young gun Taylor Price won the West of the Pecos buckle with a 91-point ride on Dirty Jacket.
WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. â€“ The Navajo Nation Fourth of July PRCA Rodeo is one of the greatest spectacles in the sport.
Itâ€™s part of Cowboy Christmas, an annual showcase of lucrative rodeos set around the July 4 holiday. More importantly, it features the greatest athletes in the game, from world champion cowboys and cowgirls to some of the most impressive bucking animals from Pete Carr Pro Rodeo.
The rodeo is set for 7 p.m. Thursday, July 2-Saturday, July 4, at Dean C. Jackson Memorial Arena (because Window Rock is on the Navajo Nation, the kickoff each night will be during Mountain Standard Time; it is not the same as Arizona, which does not recognize Daylight Savings time).
â€śI think the thing that makes our rodeo so great is our stock contractor,â€ť said Wanda Nelson, spokeswoman for the Navajo Nation Fair, which produces the annual rodeo. â€śThe last few years, that has been a big thing for us. The contractor and the contestants: weâ€™ve actually had the NFR here in the (Navajo) Nation.â€ť
In addition to numerous world champions that are part of the field, the Window Rock rodeo also will feature world champion bucking animals like Dirty Jacket, the reigning PRCA Bareback Horse of the Year, and two other world champion equine athletes in Big Tex and Real Deal. Thatâ€™s the type of power Pete Carr Pro Rodeo has in the Navajo Nation.
The key is producing an event that is talked about around the Navajo Nation, which has been the case since the Carr team has been part of the Fourth of July event. This yearâ€™s event will include announcer Andy Stewart, a nominee for PRCA Announcer of the Year who is in his fifth year in Window Rock, and funnyman Troy Lerwill, one of the most decorated entertainers in ProRodeo.
Another keen aspect to the three-day rodeo will be the Pete Carr Pro Rodeo bucking stock, another attractive feature for rodeoâ€™s greatest stars. Each of the past two seasons, 27 Carr animals have been selected to buck at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
â€śOverall, heâ€™s just got the top-rated stock,â€ť Nelson said of Carr. â€śHis personality is a great fit for us, and so is his love for rodeo. Heâ€™s been really good to us and has worked really well with us.â€ť
The work is putting on the best rodeo possible for the greatest fans in the game. Thatâ€™s what the Navajo Nation has come to expect with the annual Fourth of July PRCA Rodeo.
DUNCAN, Okla. â€“ Jesse James Kirby has been in this position before.
The veteran cowboy holds the lead in the Prairie Circuitâ€™s saddle bronc riding standings, edging another veteran, Wade Sundell of Coleman, Okla., by about $1,400 with just three months remaining in the 2015 season.
â€śIâ€™ve been in the circuit situation before where I had a good lead and had some guys catch me,â€ť said Kirby, 33, of Dodge City, Kan. â€śBut itâ€™s not up to me. My main thing is taking it one rodeo at a time and letting things fall where they fall.â€ť
It may be clichĂ©, but that philosophy is working quite well for Kirby. Heâ€™s earned five event titles already this season, including three in the circuit, made up of contestants and events primarily in the Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma region.
Heâ€™d like to carry that momentum over to the Chisholm Trail Ram Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 15-Saturday, Oct. 17, at the Stephens County Arena in Duncan. After all, he is the reigning circuit finals champion, winning the average title in 2014 by having the best three-round cumulative score among the finalists.
â€śIâ€™ve been very consistent lately,â€ť said Kirby, who has earned championships at circuit stops in Bennington, Kan.; Strong City, Kan.; and the May rodeo in Duncan. â€śIâ€™m just trying to keep it simple, not worrying about anything and just having fun. When a guy gets to thinking about too much, thatâ€™s when he fights his head and struggles.
â€śIâ€™m just keeping it as easy as possible, lifting on my rein, keeping my chin tucked and having a good spur out.â€ť
No matter how much success one has, the top athletes in the game realize basic fundamentals make the difference between riding well and struggling. There also is the thought to continue doing whatâ€™s working.
â€śI needed to get a little ahead so when I get out of the circuit a little bit, I have a bit of a cushion,â€ť he said, referring to the ProRodeo schedule that will see him traveling across the country and outside the region most of the next three months. â€śI would like to hit Woodward (Okla.) for sure and maybe Pretty Prairie (Kan.) before I head out West. Those are good circuit rodeos, and Woodward adds a lot of money, so thatâ€™s always a big part of it.â€ť
Cowboys and cowgirls not only compete to pay their bills, but each dollar counts as championship points. So far this season, Kirby has pocketed more than $9,100, with $6,481 coming from his earnings inside the Prairie Circuit. He is a three-time year-end circuit champion and a two-time winner of the Chisholm Trail Ram Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo.
â€śIâ€™m going to keep riding the way I have been and hit the circuit rodeos I can,â€ť he said. â€śDuring the week of Dodge City, a guy can hit (Kansas stops in) Dodge City, Hill City, Abilene and Phillipsburg, and there are some others that are co-approved with the circuit. Thatâ€™s a good week to be a circuit cowboy, because theyâ€™re all close together.
â€śIf a guy can draw pretty good that week and have a real good week, it can make a big difference in what it takes to get to the circuit finals.â€ť
Thatâ€™s vital. Only the top 12 contestants in each event earn the right to compete in Duncan the third weekend in October. The world of rodeo features a tiered system; not only do the contestants battle for a spot in the season-ending finale, there are a number of cowboys and cowgirls who also are battling for a spot at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the sportâ€™s grand championship.
As a full-time cowboy, thatâ€™s one of Kirbyâ€™s goals for 2015.
â€śIâ€™ve been on a roll, so Iâ€™m going to go out West and fight with the wolves a little bit,â€ť Kirby said, referring to testing his skills against regular NFR qualifiers and world champions. â€śPraise the Lord, Iâ€™ve been drawing really good and riding really good. Iâ€™m just going to try to take advantage of it and make a little statement that Iâ€™m still here.
â€śIâ€™m going to have fun and do this while I can, because Iâ€™m not going to have much more time doing it.â€ť
As a past circuit champion, Kirby wants to continue to push for another regional title. Qualifying for the circuit finals would be important, and so would performing well once he gets to Duncan, but there also is a bigger prize dangling on the line for the Kansas cowboy.
â€śThe circuitâ€™s always been important to me, because itâ€™s close to home and I like the circuit so much,â€ť he said. â€śBut I also havenâ€™t won the saddle yet at the Ram National Circuit Finals.â€ť
The year-end and finals champion in each event from all 12 ProRodeo circuits qualify for the RNCFR, which takes place in Kissimmee, Fla. Each national champion not only wins a trophy saddle but also a trophy buckle, thousands of dollars and a $20,000 voucher toward a new Ram pickup.
â€śIâ€™d like to have that, especially now that Florida has stepped up and has more added money. If we can still compete and win a lot of money, then weâ€™re going to do that.
â€śThereâ€™s a lot of money in our circuit, too. There are a lot of good rodeos in this circuit and a lot of good people. I want to keep supporting them as much as I can and help the younger guys who are just getting started.â€ť
Kirby has been doing that for his entire ProRodeo career. Thereâ€™s no reason to change now.
She got her chance last week during the 2015 College National Finals Rodeo. She placed among the top 10 in each of the four go-rounds and finished tied for fifth in the final standings in Casper, Wyo.
â€śIt was really good,â€ť said Barnes, a senior from Buckeye, Ariz. â€śMy plan was to be 6 (seconds) on all the first three rounds, and it was great to be able to do that. I wish I wouldâ€™ve had a better run on the last one. My horse lunged when I swung my leg, and she doesnâ€™t usually do that. I lost my balance a little and was longer than I wanted to be (on time).
â€śI think I still wouldâ€™ve been fine, but my string came out of my belt loop, and it got stuck underneath the goat. That slowed me down a lot.â€ť
She posted runs of 6.6, 6.7 and 6.4 seconds in the first three rounds to qualify for the championship round in the No. 2 position behind eventual national champion Loni Pearce of Southern Arkansas University. Barnesâ€™ 7.6-second final run moved her into a two-way tie for fifth place to finish out her college career.
â€śI thought it was a good way to go out,â€ť she said. â€śI wouldâ€™ve loved to own a national title, but being fifth in the nation was pretty neat.â€ť
Barnes was the top finisher among six Northwestern athletes who competed at the collegiate championship, which features the top two teams in the region and the top three regional individuals in each event. Barnes finished the 2014-15 Central Plains Region season No. 2 in the standings behind teammate Shayna Miller of Faith, S.D.
The Northwestern women won the Central Plains Region, so the Rangers had four women part of the CNFR lineup, including breakaway ropers Sammi Lee McGuire of Backus, Minn., and Karley Kile of Overbrook, Kan. The menâ€™s team included team roping header Dalton Richards of Hawkinsville, Ga., and steer wrestler Grayson Allred of Kanarraville, Utah.
Barnes was the only Ranger to qualify for the championship round. Still, the Northwestern women earned 147.5 points and finished 15th in the team standings.
â€śIt was awesome to be part of this team this year,â€ť Barnes said. â€śThese girls were great. I really knew we had the team to win the region this year, and every girl had that set on their minds. Everyone was there for each other. Iâ€™ve been part of a lot of other sports teams, but this was the greatest connection Iâ€™ve ever felt.
â€śThe funny thing was it came in a sport where youâ€™re actually trying to beat one another, but we were more of a team than any other sports team Iâ€™ve been on.â€ť
That made for a special way to close out a career at a college that was more than a thousand miles from home.
â€śMy career at Northwestern was great,â€ť she said. â€śI learned so much about life going away from home and having to do a lot of things on my own. I grew up a lot. I met a lot of great people. I had a great coach in Stockton; he was just awesome, and I wouldnâ€™t want any other coach.
â€śI learned how to win. I learned how to prepare myself for different situations and how not to let one thing keep me down. I learned how to keep going even when thereâ€™s a barrier in front of you. You have to learn to get around the barrier.â€ť
Now the next barrier is in front of Barnes. She changed majors from marketing to elementary education, so she will transfer to Arizona State University to obtain her bachelorâ€™s degree.
â€śI have a colt thatâ€™s pretty good in barrels, so Iâ€™ll rodeo some,â€ť she said. â€śIâ€™ll finish school and go to some rodeos, then get a career.â€ť
PECOS, Texas â€“ The history is there in this West Texas town of more than 8,700 people.
Next week will mark the 133rd year of the West of the Pecos Rodeo, the oldest event in the sport. It takes more than a history book to tell the tale of the big-time rodeo. A lesson in current events is also a valuable tool.
You see, the West of the Pecos Rodeo is the perfect combination of traditional Western values mixed with modern showmanship, thanks in large part to the staff from Pete Carr Pro Rodeo, a Dallas-based livestock company that produces the rodeo. Itâ€™s just what fans expect when they show up for this yearâ€™s event, set for 8 p.m. Wednesday June 24-Saturday, June 27, at Buck Jackson Arena.
â€śOne of the things Pete has helped us with tremendously is because heâ€™s got such a good livestock lineup, heâ€™s got the quality of animals that brings the top cowboys,â€ť said Joe Keese, chairman of the volunteer committee that produces the annual rodeo. â€śThe good news for the fans that follow the sport of rodeo is that no matter what night they come to our rodeo, theyâ€™ll get to see their favorite guys go.â€ť
Carr has a world-class lineup of bucking stars. In fact, no other stock contractor in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association has taken more animals to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo than Carr, who, in each of the past two years, has had 27 animals selected to buck at ProRodeoâ€™s grand championship.
Most of those will be part of the action in Pecos, which is a major stop on the rodeo trail for the greatest cowboys in the game. In fact, Pecos champs are often among the elite that qualify regularly for the NFR.
â€śThe cowboys like coming because of the tradition,â€ť Keese said. â€śWe do lot of things at our rodeo that are to the cowboysâ€™ benefit, and I think they like that.â€ť
â€śWith this arena and our set up, itâ€™s a test of the cowboyâ€™s skills, and itâ€™s tradition. People want that Pecos buckle.â€ť
This yearâ€™s event also will feature Justin Rumford, the three-time reigning PRCA Clown of the Year. Rumford grew up in a rodeo family and has done nearly everything possible in and around a rodeo arena. Now he carries that experience into the role as a key piece of the entertainment pie and the eventâ€™s funnyman.
But heâ€™s just a small part of a big puzzle that is the Pecos rodeo.
â€śAn awful lot of the cowboys filled their permits in Pecos,â€ť Keese said, referring to the development stage of ProRodeo whereby permit-holders must earn a minimum amount of money through competition to be eligible to become members of the PRCA. â€śA lot come back here every year because they came with their granddad, then their dad, and they want to keep that going.â€ť
BIG SPRING, Texas â€“ A small group of fewer than 30 people work year-round for one simple goal: to produce the best Big Spring Cowboy Reunion and Rodeo possible.
â€śI cannot brag enough on the volunteers that help put on our rodeo,â€ť said Dane Driver, a longtime member of the volunteer committee that organizes the annual rodeo, now in its 82nd year. â€śIf it wasnâ€™t for the strength of the individuals on the committee, it wouldnâ€™t happen. Their heart is putting that rodeo on.
â€śThe small-business owners who are on the committee always reroute their time and energy, and they have people in their offices who focus on the rodeo. They have to make major adjustments to their businesses to handle what they handle.â€ť
Driver knows about the work. Heâ€™s the third generation of his family to be involved in aspects of the celebration. By the time the competition begins later this week, the committee will hand over the bulk of the production to the staff from Pete Carr Pro Rodeo, a Dallas-based stock contracting company that has been part of the Big Spring rodeo for more than a decade.
â€śWe are Peteâ€™s first rodeo, and weâ€™re proud of that,â€ť Driver said. â€śI remember when he met with my dad and said what heâ€™s about. Itâ€™s been that and more. Itâ€™s been a hell of a building process watching his company grow. The good thing for us is that heâ€™s grown our production. The production heâ€™s done for us has done nothing but get better.
â€śWhat he does for our production is noticed. A lot of people can put on a rodeo, but very few can put a production on at the level Pete does. He constantly strives to have the best people in the industry with him.â€ť
The Carr firm produces about 30 rodeos a year. Each of the past two seasons, 27 Carr animals were selected to perform at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the sportâ€™s grand finale that takes place in Las Vegas each December.
â€śWhat I really like about Pete is that he has treated us like weâ€™re one of the big winter rodeos,â€ť Driver said. â€śHe doesnâ€™t treat us small even though weâ€™re a small rodeo. He gets a lot of respect for that. It makes the local guys feel like theyâ€™re doing all this for a reason.
â€śWhen our committee hands him the reins, theyâ€™re confident theyâ€™re going to get the best bang for the buck. Peteâ€™s going to carry on and showcase what theyâ€™ve been working their tails off all year long.â€ť
In addition to having a strong production presence and great bucking animals, the Big Spring rodeo also will feature entertainer Troy Lerwill, one of the most decorated funnymen in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.
â€śIâ€™m excited about Troy being back,â€ť Driver said. â€śHe brings a great element to our show. Weâ€™re able to bring something in thatâ€™s different, and weâ€™ve had a lot of people come to our rodeo from out of state. They may not be the typical rodeo fans, but we strive to give them something different so theyâ€™re talking about it the next day. Troy gives us that opportunity.â€ť
Most importantly, though, the Big Spring Cowboy Reunion and Rodeo is about carrying on a tradition that has been running continuously for more than eight decades.
â€śWe feel like we put on an awesome show and have been able to do it 82 years running,â€ť Driver said. â€śWe have a strong history, and we have a good amount of second-, third- and fourth-generation families that are still involved in this rodeo. The history and the legacy of what weâ€™re able to do is what makes me the proudest.â€ť
Economical entertainment and a great legacy is just what the West Texas community is all about.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story appears in the May edition of Women’s Pro Rodeo News, the official publication of the WPRA. It is reproduced with the consent of the WPRA.
The tiny berg of Texhoma rests directly on the Texas-Oklahoma state line in the northern most section of the Panhandle, less than two hours straight north of Amarillo.
Most of the 1,300 people live on the north side of the border in, oddly enough, Texas County, Okla. Just up the road 20 miles is Guymon, the largest city in the region and home of Pioneer Days Rodeo.
It always will be home for Shali Lord. On May 1-3, the Lamar, Colo., cowgirl returned to her olâ€™ stompinâ€™ grounds to win her hometown rodeo for the second time in her career â€“ she earned her first Pioneer Days Rodeo title a decade before in that magical season that produced her only qualification to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
Slider is an athletic bay that now lives just outside Lordâ€™s back door in an eastern Colorado pasture. Now she leans on Freckles Ta Fame, a 6-year-old chestnut stallion owned by Joe and Carla Spitz of Lamar. Can Man is out of Frenchmans Freckles and Dash Ta Fame, holding a strong racing lineage on both sides of his pedigree.
He and Lord placed fourth in both rounds in Guymon and won the average title with a two-run cumulative time of 34.04 seconds, just three-hundredths of a second faster than runner-up Calyssa Thomas.
â€śI think the ground has been the best itâ€™s been in years,â€ť Lord said. â€śThey had some moisture on it, and they try to keep it good and consistent. It was really good and really even throughout slack. My horse really liked it. It was hot on Sunday (the final day), but it was good underneath.â€ť
That worked well for Lord, who earned $4,735 for the victory. It was especially nice considering the fact that the Pioneer Days Rodeo committee will be one of three inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in August, joining committees in Sidney, Iowa, and Red Bluff, Calif.
â€śItâ€™s very exciting,â€ť she said. â€śThatâ€™s a great committee and a great community of rodeo athletes. Itâ€™s really a special recognition for that rodeo and the whole community. The whole county takes a lot of pride in that event.
â€śThat committee has worked at it for years, and itâ€™s one of the top rodeos in the country. They try hard, and itâ€™s a well-deserved acknowledgement.â€ť
Guymon also kick-started an idea of what Lord and the Spitzes can expect out of Can Man. With a couple of solid back-ups in place, Lord plans to spend the next couple of months making a run to see if she can return to the Wrangler NFR after a 10-year hiatus.
â€śHopefully things will fall into place,â€ť she said. â€śA lot of things can change in the summer, and thereâ€™s a lot of money to be won.â€ť
She plans to let Can Man do a lot of the heavy-lifting. He proved himself quite worthy inside Henry C. Hitch Arena, the longtime home of the 83-year-old rodeo. His performance inside the large pen should provide valuable as the summer run of rodeos begins in just a few weeks.
â€śHe loves his job, and he just keeps getting stronger and stronger,â€ť Lord said. â€śHe won a lot of money at the futurities. Iâ€™ve had him about a year. He won money at the first rodeo I took him to last summer.
â€śNothing seems to bother him at the rodeo as far as music or banners or anything. Heâ€™s so much fun to ride and such a pleasure to be around.â€ť
It helps that Can Manâ€™s pedigree allows for a solid combination of being fast with a strong ability to turn well. Itâ€™s something everyone hopes is passed down to his descendants.
â€śHeâ€™s a little different than most studs, because he hauls well,â€ť Lord said. â€śI do pay attention to whatâ€™s around him. I make sure I donâ€™t put anything around him.
â€śHeâ€™s really laid back at home when I exercise him. The minute I go somewhere, you get to the rodeo or the jackpot and he knows where he is and what heâ€™s there for. He gets hyped up and excited. Heâ€™s well aware of what his job is when we get somewhere.â€ť
A personality like that should come in handy on the rodeo trail. She also would like to see how the beautiful red speedster likes the Thomas & Mack Center.
She knows the path to Las Vegas in December is long and winding, but Shali Lord is ready to find her way. She has just the right amount of horsepower to make it happen.
ALVA, Okla. â€“ For every individual accomplishment in college rodeo, there sits a long list of others on the team who are part of every honor, every award.
Thatâ€™s been a vital part of the Northwestern Oklahoma State University rodeo teamâ€™s run through the 2014-15 season and why the Rangers women claimed the Central Plains Region championship. Now they hope that carries over into a solid run during next weekâ€™s College National Finals Rodeo, set for June 14-20 in Casper, Wyo.
â€śI like our girlsâ€™ chances a lot at Casper,â€ť said Stockton Graves, a Northwestern alumnus who coaches the Rangers. â€śThe girls were really focused this year on winning the region. Theyâ€™re really focused on trying to win a national title, too.
â€śMaybe in the past, that hasnâ€™t been the goal with the girls. Itâ€™s always been my goal, but this year itâ€™s their goal, too.â€ť
The women are paced by two goat-tiers, junior Shayna Miller of Faith, S.D., and senior Lauren Barnes of Buckeye, Ariz., who finished first and second, respectively, in the region standings.
They will be joined by a pair of breakaway ropers, senior Karley Kile of Overbrook, Kan., and freshman Sammi McGuire of Backus, Minn., who both finished out of the top three automatic qualifications but still earned the right to compete at the college finale since the team finished among the top two in the region and Kile and McGuire were among the top 30 percent in the breakaway standings.
â€śKarley just got bumped out of making the college finals on her own at the last rodeo,â€ť Graves said. â€śThatâ€™s the thing about having a good womenâ€™s team; we had girls that get to know the college finals were within reach.â€ť
The womenâ€™s team will be joined by two from the menâ€™s team, senior header Dalton Richards of Hawkinsville, Ga., and freshman steer wrestler Grayson Allred of Kanarraville, Utah. Richards finished second among regional headers, while Allred was third.
â€śI thought we shouldâ€™ve qualified more men this year,â€ť Graves said. â€śWe just didnâ€™t take advantage of the situations. Bubba (Allred) did. Daltonâ€™s been strong all year. I was really glad to see Dalton make it. Heâ€™s been fourth the last few years and couldnâ€™t quite get over the hump. I was very proud of him for doing that.
â€śThis year had probably the toughest group of steer wrestlers in this region since Iâ€™ve been coaching. For Bubba to come in as a freshman and do good says something for him. Heâ€™s a good kid and works hard, and I like his attitude.â€ť
A menâ€™s team title is unlikely with just two qualifiers, but Graves still has high expectations for the duo.
â€śI set the goals for them pretty high,â€ť he said. â€śThe odds are that two guys arenâ€™t going to win a national title, but that shouldnâ€™t be their goal anyway. I think they should try to win a national title for themselves. We have yet to have a national champion from here in Alva, and thatâ€™s our goal. I want those kids to compete well.â€ť
That also will be the key for the Rangers women. Miller and Barnes dominated the goat tying in the region â€“ Miller scored 1,005 points, while Barnes was a close second at 900; she was 225 ahead of the third-place cowgirl.
â€śShayna coming in as a junior transfer was very important to our team, but we knew she would do good,â€ť Graves said. â€śShe came in like the rest of them; she was focused and worked hard at it and has accomplished what she wanted to do so far. She was a great asset to the team, but she didnâ€™t win the regional title on her own.
â€śFor Lauren, she just missed he college finals as a freshman. That motivated her a lot to do better and work harder. Laurenâ€™s always been a hard worker. Part of maturing is learning how to win.â€ť
The Rangers have done that quite a bit over the season. That experience, and the right mentality, will help them in Casper.
WEATHERFORD, Texas â€“ Itâ€™s been four years since Big Tex has bucked at a rodeo in bareback riding.
The Pete Carrâ€™s Classic Pro Rodeo horse returns to his original discipline this week during the Parker County Frontier Days and PRCA Rodeo, set for 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 10-Saturday, June 13, at the Parker County Sheriffâ€™s Posse Arena.
Big Tex is a 15-year-old bay gelding sired by the great Night Jacket. In 2010, he was the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Bareback Horse of the Year, and heâ€™s been selected to perform at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo each of the past nine years; his last three have come in saddle bronc riding.
He is one of many top Carr animals that will buck in Weatherford this week, matched with one of the top young bareback riders in the game in Chad Rutherford of Itasca, Texas, a former College National Finals Rodeo qualifier.
There are some incredible match-ups scheduled for the Parker County Sheriffâ€™s Posse Arena, including several elite cowboys matched with some of the best animals in the game. Luke Creasy, the No. 6 bareback rider in the standings, will ride Night Bells, an 11-year-old gelding that has bucked at the NFR five times.
Other bareback riding match-ups include Yvan Jayne, the fourth-ranked bareback rider, on Utopia; Jared Smith, a two-time NFR qualifier, on Good Time Charlie; Taylor Price on Alberta Child; and Winn Ratliff, a two-time NFR qualifier, on Dirty Jacket, the reigning Horse of the Year.
In saddle bronc riding, Wade Sundell, a six-time NFR qualifier, will try his hand on Manhatten Moon, a young horse on which Sundell won the San Angelo Stock Show and Rodeo with a 91-point ride. Other key rides will be Travis Sheets on Gold Coast, Doug Aldridge on Spur Strap, Cort Scheer on Cowboy Cowtown and Bradley Harter on Cool Runnings.
Two-time NFR bull riding qualifier Elliot Jacoby will be matched with Footloose, while four-time qualifier Tate Stratton will battle Missing Parts and Jacob Oâ€™Mara will try his hand on Poker Face, the reserve runner-up bull of the year in 2014.
The Weatherford rodeo has a grand history in the game, and the match-ups have set a strong standard for this yearâ€™s event to be one of the best ever.
CROSBY, Texas â€“ Thereâ€™s a reason why many of the top cowboys in the game have circled the dates on the calendar for the Crosby Fair and Rodeo.
They know theyâ€™ll get the best bucking horses and bulls from Pete Carrâ€™s Classic Pro Rodeo, the firm that produces the annual event set for 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday at Rockâ€™n C Arena.
â€śPete Carr has the bucking horses and bulls that are unreal,â€ť said bareback rider Clint Cannon, a four-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifier from Waller, Texas. â€śWhen I think about Pete Carr, I think about 90-point rides, rock â€™nâ€™ roll music and fans loving it.â€ť
Cannon will be one of several NFR qualifiers scheduled to compete in Crosby. Itâ€™s one of the attractive features the county has when the fair and rodeo takes place each June.
This yearâ€™s event also will feature Cody Teel, the 2012 world champion bull rider from Kountze, Texas, and a three-time NFR qualifier. Itâ€™s more than a close drive from home for Teel; he understands the drawing power the Carr firm has for cowboys.
â€śHeâ€™s got the best bull pen going,â€ť Teel said of Carr. â€śHeâ€™s got my vote for stock contractor of the year. He really tries to put together a good set of bulls, and it shows. There wasnâ€™t one bull you didnâ€™t want to get on. He gives a guy every opportunity to win.
â€śI was more anxious for his rodeos this year because of his bulls. You know youâ€™re going to draw pretty good. It showed this year. All his rodeos had a lot of big scores, which shows how good the bulls really are. He definitely has the deepest set of bulls in rodeo.â€ť
Pete Carr is a two-time nominee for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Associationâ€™s Stock Contractor of the Year. Each of the past two seasons, 27 Carr animals were selected to buck at the NFR, an event record for the number of animals from one contractor.
That kind of firepower makes for an amazing show for rodeo-goers. Of course, having the top stars in town makes a big difference.
â€śPeteâ€™s got an eye for horses, and heâ€™s surrounded himself with people who know what theyâ€™re talking about,â€ť said saddle bronc rider Heith DeMoss, a six-time NFR from Heflin, La. â€śYou want to go to Peteâ€™s rodeos, because youâ€™re going to get on something.â€ť
The key for any competitor is having a chance to win any time they are in the arena. Cowboys know that will be possible in Crosby.
WEATHERFORD, Texas â€“ Pete Carr Pro Rodeoâ€™s Dirty Jacket is the best bucking horse in the business.
The 11-year-old bay gelding is the 2014 Bareback Horse of the Year and has been one of the top three horses in the year-end voting by members of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association each of the past three seasons.
He returns to work in the arena this week at the Parker County Frontier Days and PRCA Rodeo, set for 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 10-Saturday, June 13, at the Parker County Sheriffâ€™s Posse Arena. He is matched with Winn Ratliff, a two-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifier from Leesville, La.
At the 2014 NFR in December, the athletic horse proved the accolades, guiding cowboys to go-round victories both times he bucked inside the Thomas & Mack Center: Richmond Champion of The Woodlands, Texas, won the fifth round, while Caleb Bennett of Tremonton, Utah, claimed the 10th-round title.
â€śThereâ€™s not another horse like him,â€ť said Champion, who also won the Cheyenne (Wyo.) Frontier Days title after a 91-point ride in July. â€śDirty Jacket mightâ€™ve even looked better than he did that day in Cheyenne.â€ť
The fifth and 10th rounds featured the greatest bucking horses in rodeo, an elite list of phenomenal athletes. Even then, Dirty Jacket stood out.
â€śThere wasnâ€™t a bad horse in the pen, but to have Dirty Jacket again at the NFR and to win the round was awesome,â€ť Champion said. â€śThereâ€™s not another night that you get to walk down the alley with that caliber of horse standing all next to each other.
â€śThat same feeling runs in all of us to see that kind of horse lined up for us, just standing outside the Thomas & Mack. Thatâ€™s what dreams are made of in this sport.â€ť
Itâ€™s the same feeling Bennett had when he prepared for the final night of the competition. It had been a rough week for the Utah cowboy, who had placed in just one round prior to the 10th night.
â€śI couldnâ€™t have been more blessed and ask for anything more than to end it the way I did on Dirty Jacket,â€ť he said. â€śItâ€™s a phenomenal horse and definitely one of the ones you want to have in this round.â€ť
The powerful gelding is one of four Pete Carr horses that have received the top honor in bareback riding, joining pasture-mates like Real Deal, Big Tex and MGM Deuces Night. In 2013, when Dirty Jacket was named Reserve World Champion Bareback Horse, he helped cowboys to at least a share of the title 12 of 13 times he performed during the regular season. In 2014, his wins were just as miraculous.
Championâ€™s 91 in Cheyenne was one of two of the highest marked rides of the campaign. The other was by Steven Dent, who rode Dirty Jacket for a matching 91 on the final weekend of the regular season at the Cowboy Capital of the World Rodeo in Stephenville, Texas, in September.
â€śAny time you can draw one that everybody wants, youâ€™re happy with it whether youâ€™re in that situation or itâ€™s a regular-season rodeo,â€ť said Dent, a seven-time NFR qualifier from Mullen, Neb. â€śYou donâ€™t have the opportunity to get on a horse that you can be that many points on and thatâ€™s that fun to get on very often in your life, much less the last week of the year when youâ€™re trying to make the NFR.
â€śThat is a really great horse. There are not very many of them like him that do it every time, that are that electric, jump that high in the air and that you can be that many points on.â€ť
The horse has been selected to buck at the NFR each of the past seven seasons. Earlier this year, Jessy Davis scored 93 points during the Cinch Shootout at the San Angelo Stock Show Rodeo.
â€śHe has a huge frame, but heâ€™s so athletic from nose to tail,â€ť Champion said of the horse. â€śHe just looks like an athlete. If you could pick a horse out of a herd that could jump nine feet in the air, heâ€™s that horse. If youâ€™re going to win a big rodeo, thatâ€™s the horse you want.â€ť
Dirty Jacket is powerful, athletic and consistent, but what makes him a proven winner year after year is in the effort he puts forward every trip. He has the heart of a champion.