Archive for May, 2011

postheadericon Plenty of high-flying action on tap for Claremore rodeo

CLAREMORE, Okla. – Rodeo is America’s original extreme sport, and every year its greatest athletes make their way to Rogers County to fight for the thousands of dollars in prize money available at the Will Rogers Stampede.

This year marks the 65th anniversary of Claremore’s rodeo, and the producers of the annual event are making the celebration a showcase for everyone in the region.

“We know we’ve got a great show with the competition, but we want to give the fans everything they’re looking for in the way of entertainment,” said David Petty, the rodeo’s chairman.

Sky-diver Bobby Reid will be parachuting the U.S. flag as part of an elaborate opening during each of the three performances of the rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Friday-Sunday at Will Rogers Stampede Arena just off East Blue Starr Drive in Claremore.

“Bobby does this kind of thing at events all across the country, and we wanted to kick off each night of our rodeo with a bang,” Petty said. “I think this is a great way to honor America and to honor our sport of rodeo.”

The Will Rogers Stampede will feature outstanding athletes, both human and animal. From the talented bucking horses and bulls to the phenomenal timed-event horses that make the difference in a championship and finishing out of the money. There will be plenty of horse power this year with a record 564 entries.

Quite possibly the fastest animals in the competition will be in barrel racing, an event sanctioned by the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association. In fact, the ladies in the organization rewarded the Will Rogers Stampede with its 2010 Justin Best Footing award for the Prairie Circuit, the ProRodeo region involving contestants and events from Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska.

“The ground is a big deal in every timed event in rodeo, but good ground is essential in barrel racing,” said Tana Poppino, a three-time qualifier to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. “Without quality ground, it can really make a difference in the competition.”

The recognition is quite an honor for the volunteers who work hard all year to provide the best opportunity for all those contestants.

“When you look at the hours these people put in to make that ground so good, you know how much work it took,” Petty said. “It’s a pretty special feeling that the WPRA selected our rodeo, because it was a statement made by the competitors, the ladies that ran at our rodeo and all the other rodeos in the circuit.”

postheadericon The future’s so Bright …

When Matt Bright won the Guymon Pioneer Days Rodeo in the Oklahoma Panhandle earlier this month, it was a great sign for the Tennessee cowboy who now lives near Fort Worth, Texas.

Matt Bright

Matt Bright

Bright suffered a fracture of his lumbar spine last December when the Carr Pro Rodeo horse Real Deal rared in the chute during the eighth go-round of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas. He spent a lot of time on the sidelines, but since he returned to the game, he’s earned two bareback riding victories – in Guymon and in Shreveport, La.

Still, his late start means he has a lot of ground to make up if he intends to finish the 2011 regular season among the top 15 in the world standings, thereby earning his second straight trip to the NFR.

“Look at Justin McDaniel,” Bright said of the 2008 bareback riding world champion. “He doesn’t even start rodeoing hard until later in the year, but he still makes the finals.”

In fact, McDaniel had back surgery in February 2010 and didn’t return to competition until June. Still, he earned nearly $82,000 in less than four months, qualified for the NFR, then won the average during the 10-round championship. McDaniel won more than $103,000 last December in Vegas and moved to No. 2 in the world standings.

That”s motivation for some, but they have to look on the Bright side. Matt sure does.

postheadericon Learning curve …

Casey Sisk has always been a cowboy. That’s just the way of life for the Corona, N.M., man, who is still looking for his breakout season in ProRodeo.

Sisk is hot on the rodeo trail this season, traveling the circuit with some of the best in the business: Cody Taton, the 2009 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo saddle bronc riding winner who serves as the event representative; Taos Muncy, three-time NFR qualifier who won the world title in 2007; and Isaac Diaz, two-time NFR qualifier.

This isn’t Sisk’s rookie year, but it seems like it. The 25-year-old cowboy has spent the last couple of seasons on the sideline trying to overcome injuries, so this year he’s trying to compensate for time lost. That means hauling from one rodeo to another with some of the best in the game.

“Taos and I grew up together, and we’ve practiced together since we were little,” Sisk said. “It’s good to be able to travel with guys like that. Your buddies give you that motivation to want to do good.”

So how did Sisk join the crew?

“I asked Cody and Taos last year that, since I was healthy, if I could jump in with them,” he said.  “I think my riding has improved tremendously just by going with them guys. It’s been good getting that motivation and mental game back.”

postheadericon I don’t have the words

I’m a writer. I make a living putting words together in order to tell stories, share experiences and arouse passions.

There are no words that will take away the pain of loss, and in the case of the family and friends of Kim Asay, I offer my prayers and my heart to you in her death. Kim, the mother of NFR qualifer Kanin Asay and bronc rider Kaleb Asay, died Wednesday in a horse-related accident.

I never got to know Kim, but I’m proud to say I’ve become acquainted with Kanin, a wonderful bull rider and, from many others tell me, one of the best people this world has. He’s polite, he’s kind and he’s giving. He’s also a Christian, and I suspect he and others will lean heavily on their faith in the coming days.

Tragedy is nothing new in the world of rodeo, but this is a case where I reach into my “thankful” bag and appreciate all the things I have close to me. I hope you do, too.

postheadericon Olson’s act is mighty special for Will Rogers Stampede

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.

Jerry Wayne Olson acknowledges the crowd at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo while leading his horse, Justin Boots, out of the arena at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas in December 2009. Olson will be the featured specialty act at this year's Will Rogers Stampede, with three performances set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 27-Sunday, May 29.  PRCA ProRodeo Photo/Kerri Allardyce

Jerry Wayne Olson acknowledges the crowd at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo while leading his horse, Justin Boots, out of the arena at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas in December 2009. Olson will be the featured specialty act at this year's Will Rogers Stampede, with three performances set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 27-Sunday, May 29. PRCA ProRodeo Photo/Kerri Allardyce

“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 2011 Will Rogers Stampede, which will have three performances set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 27-Sunday, May 29, 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.

postheadericon Hall family is a big part of Will Rogers Stampede history

CLAREMORE, Okla. – There’s a lot of history in the Will Rogers Stampede PRCA Rodeo, and Dell Hall has seen his share.

National Finals Rodeo barrel racer Jeanne Anderson, left, of White City, Kan., visits with stock contractor Dell Hall, owner of Rafter H Livestock Co., on before one of the performances at last year's Will Rogers Stampede. Hall has provided the stock for Claremore's rodeo for more than 25 years.

National Finals Rodeo barrel racer Jeanne Anderson, left, of White City, Kan., visits with stock contractor Dell Hall, owner of Rafter H Livestock Co., on before one of the performances at last year's Will Rogers Stampede. Hall has provided the stock for Claremore's rodeo for more than 25 years.

Hall is the owner of Rafter H Rodeo Livestock Co., and he’s been the stock contractor for the Claremore annual rodeo since 1975, his first year in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.

“Claremore was the first PRCA rodeo that my dad actually had on his own,” said Shelley Hall, Dell’s daughter and a key member of the stock-contracting firm. “He signed a contract with them the very first year he was a member of the PRCA. We have been here ever since.”

And that means a lot to the locals in Rogers County, too.

“The first contract was written on a paper napkin at Dot’s Café,” said David Petty, chairman of the rodeo, which will have performances beginning at 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 27-Sunday, May 29.

Over the years, Rafter H has consistently had some of the best bucking animals in the region, if not the entire country. Two bulls, No. 105 and Skoal’s King Kong, were named the best in the PRCA – 105 in 1981 and ’84, and Skoal’s King Kong in 1998 – and the horse Alibi was the saddle bronc riding horse of the year in 1983. Those are just the top of the list of honors for the Halls’ animal athletes.

Headquartered in Tahlequah, Okla., Rafter H was formed in 1961. The 49 years since have seen Hall bucking beasts in some of the biggest rodeos in the country, including those that are voted by the cowboys to be part of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the year-ending championship that has taken place in Las Vegas since 1985.

“He consistently has as even a pen of bucking stock as anybody in the business,” Petty said. “It’s an honor to have your stock at the NFR, and he consistently sends them there and to the Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo.

“Dell’s always done a good job for us in Claremore. He’s always done what he said he was going to do.”

That, it seems, is part of the package for people who hire Rafter H.

“To put on a good rodeo, you have to have a good crew – the people you have working for you and the people you are working with,” Shelley Hall said. “Everyone has to be on the same page for your rodeo to be the best and to be successful.

“The goal is to put on the best rodeo you can to make people want to come back each year.”

That method seems to work pretty well at the Will Rogers Stampede, now in its 65th year. The love of the rodeo has been passed along the generations.

“I think what’s special about the Will Rogers Stampede is that it is a homecoming to all the rodeo and ranching people in the area,” Shelley Hall said. “Every year, you see people you haven’t seen in years, and they all gather at the rodeo to visit and see old friends. Lots of old cowboys that competed at the rodeo over the years show up to watch the bucking horses and bulls.

“Dad always wants to put on the very best rodeo he can at Claremore, because the people in the stands know a good rodeo when they see it.”

postheadericon Ellick, Rivinius returning ‘home’ to fight bulls in Claremore

CLAREMORE, Okla. – Greek Ellick Sr. lives here, just like many members of his family.

Originally from Verdigris, this part of Oklahoma is home. Before retiring to the Claremore Nursing Home, he was a rodeo clown and a spur maker, recognized as one of the best in the country.

Now his son, Greek Ellick Jr., carries on that family tradition, donning greasepaint for rodeo arenas across the country when he’s not tooling with metal. On Memorial Day weekend, the younger generation returns to his Claremore roots to fight bulls and entertain the crowds at the Will Rogers Stampede PRCA Rodeo.

“I love what I do,” said Ellick Jr., who will fight bulls with Josh Rivinius of Elgin, N.D., during the three performances that start at 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 27-Sunday, May 29. “I’m going to clown rodeos and fight bulls. That’s what I was born and bred to do. I realized the love for the sport and what I enjoy doing, so I’m doing it.

“I was fortunate enough to be good enough to do it for a living. I’ve had a really neat career. The future is really wide open.”

The younger Ellick was born in Claremore in 1964 and graduated high school in Dexter, Kan. He attended Butler County Community College in El Dorado, Kan., chasing his dreams and living the life he’d seen for so many years.

“I went to college on a rodeo scholarship, working all three roughstock events,” he said. “Then I picked up my (bullfighting) baggies and pursued my career in rodeo as fast and hard as I could run. My dad was a rodeo clown, so I’m a second-generation rodeo clown and bullfighter. I’m from the old school, where you put on the makeup to make ’em laugh, then at the end of the rodeo you scare ’em.”

Rivinius first came to Claremore in 2003 and has shown so much ability in so many aspects of the job that he’s still part of the show.

“They keep having me back, so I keep coming back,” said Rivinius, 33. “It’s a good rodeo to come back to with all the history there. It’s got a lot of good people on the committee.”

The Dakotan got his start in the rodeo business as a lad, competing through high school-level competitions.

“I grew up in a rodeo, ranchy family,” he said. “After I graduated high school, I decided I wanted to fight bulls. I went to a three-day school, and it just took off from there.”

Over his career, he’s been named the North Dakota bullfighter of the year six times and has fought at the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association tour finale in Omaha, Neb., twice. He’s also worked the Badlands Circuit Finals Rodeo five times.

“I think to be a good bullfighter, it’s just being able to read animals and playing it out in your head before it all happens, then reacting when it happens,” Rivinius said, referring to the turmoil that is involved in bull riding, especially the undecided nature of when or how the bull rider gets off the animal. “Watching everything as it unfolds, and you just pick your shot where you need to go. If you just go back to the basics, it all kind of takes care of itself.”

This year marks the third straight that Ellick returns to work his hometown rodeo. It’s not only a family reunion, but also a working reunion, because Ellick will reconnect with Rivinius the event’s stock provider, Dell Hall and the Rafter H Rodeo Livestock Co.

“We actually work a lot of Dell Hall rodeos together, so I get to see all those folks again,” Ellick said. “Josh is great. There are those certain guys you don’t click with in the arena, but Josh is not one of those. You look forward to seeing him, and you look forward to fighting bulls with him.

“He’s probably one of the most on-time bullfighters out there in terms of being in the right position when he needs to be.”

That’s an important aspect in bullfighting, where the contestants try to gain control of the nearly two tons of bucking beast to help keep the bull riders and others in the arena out of harm’s way. The bullfighters use tremendous athleticism and have no problem using their hands to get the bull’s attention away from a fallen cowboy.

“It definitely makes it easier when you’re working with somebody you get along with or you know is going to be holding up his end of the deal,” Rivinius said. “Greek and I have worked tog ether a good handful of times, and when you’re with him, everybody knows what they’re doing.”

Ellick feels the same way.

“If I ever get knocked down, I don’t have to worry about it because I know Josh will be there,” Ellick said. “As a bullfighter, you know you can take that extra step and get in a little deeper because you know you’ve got someone in the arena who’s got your back.”

Over his career, Ellick said, he’s been tremendously blessed. By following in his father’s footsteps, he’s seen nearly everything before in some fashion or another.

“Most guys don’t’ get the opportunity to work with their dad and just enjoy them for the professionals that they are,” he said. “I respected my dad very highly I the arena. He was extremely good at what he did, and I took all the good points I could and applied it to what I do. I try to learn something from everybody I work with and apply it to what I’m doing.”

And like Ellick, Rivinius’ return to Rogers County is like old-home week.

“I’ve been there long enough that I know a lot of people in Claremore,” Rivinius said. “The hospitality there is second to none. It’s just like coming home for the family reunion.”

postheadericon Toney anxious to bring great rodeo back to his hometown

LAMONI, Iowa – There’s something about the rodeo dust on the rodeo trail that gets into a cowboy’s blood.

That’s the life Talton Toney lives, whether it’s on his place just north of Lamoni or while producing bull ridings, barrel races and rodeos throughout the Midwest. It’s a lifestyle, too, and something Toney carries proudly with his wife, Terri, and their children.

“This is what I love to do,” said Toney, who operates T&C Rodeo Co. with his wife.

Together with partners from throughout the community, T&C Rodeo is producing the fourth annual Lamoni Bulls & Barrels Bash beginning at 7 p.m. Sunday, May 29. The bull riding will be sanctioned by the Crossroads Pro Rodeo Association, and the barrel racing will be sanctioned by the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association. That just adds to the excitement, because an event like this will draw the very best in the business to south central Iowa.

“We try to put on the best show possible in Lamoni, since it’s my hometown,” said Toney, who has partnered with several local businesses in producing this year’s festivities. “It’s great that American State Bank has stepped on board with us this year, along with the Lamoni Livestock Auction, Bank of the West and KAAN, the radio station out of Bethany. We’ve also had a long relationship with Pettijohn Auto Center in Bethany, which is part of the Ram Rodeo program.

“We’ve got several other local organizations that will be part of the program, and I’m excited to have them all on board.”

The focus of the entertainment package will be the dangerous bull riding action inside the arena, where 140-pound cowboys try to match their skills against some of the most ruthless bucking beasts in the land. In addition, the Lamoni Bulls & Barrels Bash will feature the extreme speed of WPRA barrel racing, where cowgirls will circle the cloverleaf pattern horseback in mind-altering speeds. The fastest run wins.

This is all the creation of Toney, who began his rodeo career nearly 30 years ago riding steers. In fact, he was a champion steer rider, an event set for the youth who hope to ride bucking bulls and horses as they grow older. That’s just what Toney did.

“I rode bulls and bareback horses, and I started in 1991,” he said. “Then I got hurt, stepped on. I took some time off because I was expected to have a liver transplant, then the liver started heeling itself so I didn’t have to have one.”

Toney was also involved in a horrific car wreck in 1993 that put him in a coma for 10 days. He bounced back from it all and competed in rodeo until three years ago.

“I won a lot of rodeos but never won any year-end titles,” Toney said. “But when you’re around rodeo, you see what makes it special. That’s what I want to bring to our events, especially the one in my hometown.”

postheadericon Congratulations to Trevor Brazile

Trevor Brazile became the first $4 million cowboy, surpassing the mark this weekend. See the story HERE.

postheadericon Tough as (thumb) nails

Many of the great storylines in rodeo are about the overall toughness of the cowboys and cowgirls that are part of the sport.

Chaney Latham

Chaney Latham

They know how to work hard, and they realize that hard work is what it takes to be successful. They have the mindset it takes to block out the pain in order to take care of business, whether it’s caring for livestock or riding a wild, bucking beast.

Chaney Latham is a cowgirl who comes from a ranch-raised family. Both her parents were raised on ranches, Lori in South Dakota and Craig in Wyoming. They moved to Texas County, Okla., in 1980s to attend Oklahoma Panhandle State University, and they’ve remained in Goodwell, Okla., since. That’s where Chaney and her younger sister, Sadie, have been raised.

It’s also where they continue the legacy of being cowgirls. One aspect of that job, especially for the Lathams, is rodeo. Craig Latham was a nine-time saddle bronc riding qualifier to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. Now he’s the rodeo coach at his alma mater. One of his prized student-athletes is Chaney.

A few weeks ago during the Panhandle State rodeo, the final event of the Central Plains Region season, Chaney was competing in team roping with her boyfriend, Tyrel Larsen. As she roped, her right thumb became entangled in the lasso; she was yanked off her horse and drug across the arena.

This was a freak deal, but it sometimes happens in the roping world. Oftentimes the digit is severed, and there are plenty of great team ropers who have learned to compete at a high level with either a portion of the thumb or without it altogether.

Fortunately for Chaney Latham, the thumb remained attached in the horrifying incident, but it was broken to the point that surgery was required. Asked if she’ll compete in team roping, Chaney just shrugs and says her mom is strongly suggesting she not. I’m eager to hear the final take, but I’d lean toward Lori’s suggestion. I’m a dad; I’m supposed to think that way.

Besides, I type for a living. I’d like to keep my digits attached if at all possible.

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