Archive for September, 2012

postheadericon Kansas City is rodeo’s last chance

Contestants on the bubble hope American Royal pushes them toward the NFR

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Wrangler National Finals Rodeo is a major goal of every cowboy and cowgirl who has ever competed in the sport.

There’s just one problem: Only the top 15 contestants in each event at the conclusion of the regular season qualify for ProRodeo’s grand finale, which takes place each December in Las Vegas. With the 2012 campaign winding to a close on Sept. 30, there is a mad scramble to fill those coveted spots.

Jared Keylon

Jared Keylon

“It’s a little scary, especially for someone like me who’s never made it to the finals before,” said Jared Keylon, the 15th-ranked bareback rider from Uniontown, Kan., near Fort Scott. “It can add a lot of pressure. I don’t feel like I’ve had it bad in any regard, but it hasn’t went real well lately.”

He’s hoping a little hometown karma will cure what’s been ailing him late this season during the American Royal Rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 28, and Saturday, Sept. 29, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 30, at Hale Arena in the American Royal complex. Keylon spent much of the season in the top 10 in the standings and only fell to the bottom hole this week.

“It’s pretty frustrating, because I’ve been in this position before and had a chance to make it to the finals,” said Keylon, who finished 16th in 2009, just one spot out of a trip to the Nevada desert. “I’ve been in there all year long, and now I have to win everything I can to go. It’s definitely been hard, but it’s been fun.

“When you’re in this position, it’s very exciting.”

Josh Peek

Josh Peek

Yes, it is. Josh Peek can attest. Peek, a six-time NFR qualifier from Pueblo, Colo., has competed in Las Vegas in both steer wrestling and tie-down roping. This year, he’s trying to move up just a few spots in both events – he is 20th in steer wrestling and 19th in tie-down roping.

“The American Royal is in a position that it’s a last-chance rodeo for a lot of guys,” Peek said. “It gives the guys that are from 20th to 13th in the standings a chance to make up some grounds. At the end of the year, Kansas City is a very good rodeo to be able to attend.”

The rush that comes with the chase has worked for Peek in the past. But he knows it’s better to secure a spot in the NFR much sooner as to avoid the anxiety.

“The end of the year has always been great for me, but this year’s been tough,” he said. “I’m definitely going to these next few rodeos with everything I can. If it doesn’t work out, then I’ll just have to work harder.”

Justin McDaniel

Justin McDaniel

Bareback rider Justin McDaniel of Porum, Okla., knows how important a strong finish is. In each of his four NFR qualifications, McDaniel has utilized a late-season push to earn his spot in the top 15.

“The first time I went to the finals in 2007, I was 15th in August,” said McDaniel, who moved up from 19th to 14th in the last three weeks. “It’s nothing new to me. The fall has always been good to me.

“I’ve had years where I’ve been injured earlier in the year, then it comes to clutch time, and I have to make it work at the end. You’ve just got to lay it all on the line and go for it.”

That’s going to happen in every event each of the three nights of the American Royal Rodeo. It’s just more flavor to an already exciting event.

“It’s going to come down to the last day, so it’s going to be exciting,” McDaniel said. “It’s going to be a knife fight down here at the bottom to get those last few spots to make it to Vegas, that’s for sure.”

postheadericon Roundup Rodeo hosting PRCA rodeo camp

DODGE CITY, Kan. – Youth who have an interest in rodeo have an opportunity to learn even more about the sport.

Dodge City Roundup Rodeo is hosting an event that’s part of the PRCA Championship Rodeo Camp Series from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 20, at Roundup Arena in Dodge City. The free training is set for participants of all abilities who are 8 year old or older.

“PRCA Championship Rodeo Camps are great for beginners and have proven to be very beneficial for advanced riders,” said Julie Jutten, who is with the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s industry outreach department. “If you are new to the sport, the camp will get you off to the right start, which will help your long-term success in the sport.”

The curriculum includes an introduction to all three roughstock events – bareback riding, saddle bronc riding and bull riding – and will cover the basics: safety and fundamentals, livestock safety, injury prevention, tips from professionals, chute procedures, riding equipment overview, goal setting and an introduction to the PRCA.

“We’re very excited to be part of this program that is designed to help teach people about rodeo,” said Dr. R.C. Trotter, chairman of the Roundup committee. “I think this is an outstanding way to draw young people to the sport and teach them the skills they might need if they want to pursue rodeo in their future.”

It’s been a banner year for Dodge City Roundup, which takes place annually during the community’s Dodge City Days celebration. It was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame this past July. In August, the community hosted a rodeo that featured the very best in the sport and saw a record-breaking attendance.

“Hopefully we’ll have a number of the campers who come back and compete at Roundup in just a few years,” Trotter said.

Students can register in all three roughstock events and may do so online HERE. Students also can register by calling Jutten at (719) 304-1471.

“The classroom will include sessions on preventing and managing injuries, which will prolong careers, and understanding the PRCA, which will ease an athlete’s transition into ProRodeo,” Jutten said. “The camps are free and a great chance to learn from the best of the PRCA.”

postheadericon It’s time to make it all count

There’s one performance left in Albuquerque, N.M., and it takes place tonight. Once the final results are in, it will help us get an idea of what happens in the world standings with just one week left in the 2012 season.

The New Mexico State Fair Rodeo offers the biggest purse of all event that took place over the last few days, so it will be a difference-maker heading into the stretch run of 13 ProRodeos.

Yeah, it’s coming down to the wire, and it’s awfully fun to watch. If you’re anywhere close to one of the rodeos scheduled for the next week, I suggest you make your way there. I’ll be at the American Royal in Kansas City, Mo., and it’s the second-largest ProRodeo event on the schedule. A lot will be happening inside Hale Arena.

Why is it such a big deal? Men and women are scrambling to get one of those 120 spots for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo and the 15 place-settings for the Clem McSpadden National Finals Steer Roping.

Take Albuquerque. Bray Armes leads steer wrestling with a 3.7-second run. The Gruver, Texas, cowboy is 19th in the bulldogging world standings, and winning a rodeo with that much money in the purse should move Armes into the top 15. But he’ll need another good run next weekend to stay there.

As important as the Justin Boots Championships are, it won’t do much for those contestants on the bubble. Only the top 12 cowboys and cowgirls in the standings get the chance to play in Omaha, Neb. They’re pretty much just padding their income and securing their place in Las Vegas.

So it’ll come down to those other rodeos to help us fill out the finals qualifiers. Good luck to all those out there that are chasing their dreams.

postheadericon Rodeo is a family affair

From quality entertainment to a feeling of home, the American Royal is attractive

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – For many, rodeo and family go hand in hand. Most contestants were raised in the sport and hold tight to familial values as they chase their rodeo dreams.

More importantly, though, fans realize that rodeo is quality family entertainment, which is the driving force behind the attraction to the American Royal Rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 28, and Saturday, Sept. 29, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 30, at Hale Arena in the American Royal complex.

It’s high-flying action featuring the greatest cowboys and cowgirls in the sport, but that’s just part of the equation. There will be mutton busting, in which children ages 7 and younger will have a chance to ride sheep prior to all three rodeo performances. For the first time, children will be able to sign up to mutton bust at the American Royal. Competition will take place at 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. before the rodeo Friday and Saturday, and at 12:30 and 1:30 p.m. Sunday. It is $10 to participate, and the top kids from each go will get to compete in the pro rodeo.

“We want to provide families with as much entertainment as they can get for their entertainment dollar,” said Alex Lowe, co-chairman of the American Royal’s rodeo committee. “We’ll have a lot going on from the time they park their cars until they’re ready to go home.”

Lowe knows the appeal. Growing up near Olathe, Lowe’s family had season tickets to the American Royal Rodeo every year. In fact, it was the annual event in the West Bottoms that burned a fire in the Lowe family that still burns today.

Alex Lowe

Alex Lowe

“I think family is the best part of rodeo,” said Lowe, whose brother, Will, is a three-time world champion bareback rider. “It’s not only the immediate family, but it’s also the tradition of family. If you look at Kaycee Feild, he’s just following in the footsteps of his dad, Lewis. They’re both world champions.”

Will Lowe

Will Lowe

Yes, they are. Kaycee Feild is the reigning world champion bareback rider from Payson, Utah. Lewis Feild is a five-time world champ – three bareback riding and two all-around titles – and is in the ProRodeo Hall of Fame. But there is a long line of greatness throughout the generations, and the legacies continue in Kansas City.

You can see it in Roy Cooper, who dominated the 1980s, and his youngest son, Tuf, the reigning world champion tie-down roper, one of three Cooper brothers who have competed at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo the last two seasons. There are also the Wrights, from two-time world champion Cody to his talented bronc riding siblings, Jesse, Alex, Spencer and Jake; the team roping Tryans, Clay, Travis, Brady and Chase; and the steer wrestling Duvalls, from world champion Roy Duvall to his NFR-qualifying nephews Spud and Sam to Sam’s son, Riley. They’re just a few of the family ties to the game.

Sixteen-time world champion Trevor Brazile, the nine-time and reigning all-around titlist, travels the rodeo trail with his wife, Shada, who has made a name for herself in barrel racing this season. Turtle Powell, the 2012 team roping-heading world champion, is married to Molly, a 10-time NFR qualifier.

Though he doesn’t still ride bucking horses like his brother, Alex Lowe understands why it’s such a big deal.

“We grew up rodeoing every weekend,” he said. “You’re around the right type of people. You have responsibilities growing up. You learn the things you need to learn, the things that will help you as you get older.

“It’s like one big family. Even now, Will has that in his traveling partners. Those guys are traveling down the road every day. It gets long, so it’s important having people around you that you enjoy. They’re almost as close to their traveling partners as they are their real family.”

It’s the nature of the sport. When you travel like a band of gypsies, sometimes it’s nice to know there’s always a feeling of home, whether it’s in Puyallup, Wash., or the American Royal.

“When we were kids and started in rodeo, my parents didn’t rodeo, so we were really new to it,” Lowe said. “That’s why I have a different perspective than a lot of people.

“We just walked in, and we were welcomed with open arms. We had to rely on people who knew a lot more than us, and they helped us along the way.”

And that’s why events like the American Royal Rodeo make up quality family entertainment.

postheadericon Scholarships the main focus for fair board

HEMPSTEAD, Texas – If you ask him to describe the best part of the Waller County Fair and Rodeo, Dustin Standley has a quick answer.

“It all comes down to youth and educational support,” said Standley, the fair’s sponsorship chairman. “I think a lot of the guys on the fair board realized that if we can continue to prosper and help a child’s education, it not only helps our community better, but it helps us grow as a fair.

“We looked around at what was needed, and we realized that the important thing for us was youth and education, and not just college but all forms of education. It takes engineers to design buildings, and it takes fabricators to build that building, and if we can give all those kids a chance to further their education, then we’re doing our part.”

That’s one of the many aspects of the nine-day festival that has drawn the appreciation of Pete Carr, owner of Dallas-based Carr Pro Rodeo, the livestock producer for the rodeo, set for 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 4-Saturday, Oct. 6, at the fairgrounds in Hempstead.

“You can tell the fair’s leadership really cares about the community and about helping kids with their education,” Carr said. “You can see they’re getting more people behind it, which is great.”

It comes in all forms, Standley said. The biggest thing is to continue to look for new and improved ways to help grow the product, from using technology better to adding to the overall entertainment for the fairgoers’ dollars.

“I’m taking a huge gamble to overhaul our sponsorship package, but it all comes down to money,” he said. “You get more money from corporate sponsors, and it comes back in the form of giving back to the community. We’re able to get better entertainers and expand our carnival and put on a PRCA rodeo instead of a smaller rodeo.

“I think that’s a big plus for our county fair. We’ve been able to develop relationships with corporate people, yet keep it affordable for community business owners to become big players. That has allowed us to invest in the fair, into technology and into the kids’ education.”

The feedback has been excellent. Fairgoers enjoy the enhanced experience and the overall entertainment value.

“People see that we’re giving to scholarships, and because of that, they don’t mind giving money to the fair,” Standley said. “The fair has grown in the last few years, and everybody’s benefitting from that. Four years ago, we gave about $8,000. Last year, we gave about five times that much.”

How does Carr Pro Rodeo impact the bottom line?

“Carr production brings something big to our small town,” Standley said. “They bring cowboys and cowgirls from around that are able to be seen. Having professional rodeo in a small town is like a kid looking at a Corvette and knowing that’s what they want to drive. For a young cowboy, it’s a way for the little kids to look up to their Superman.

“A production like Carr Pro Rodeo puts on in our rodeo shows our community that had never been showcased before.”

The plan is to continue making the strides in order to make the fair and rodeo a showcase for the region, not just Waller County.

“We are honored to be part of something like this, where they’re working so hard to raise money for scholarships,” Carr said. “It’s like being on the ground floor of something blossoming, and I hope we can continue to raise the bar as far as how much is paid in sponsorships.”

That’s where Standley comes in and works his magic.

“I wanted to have a place where corporate people would want to come in and say ‘This is where I want to be, where I want to give my money,’ ” Standley said. “My goal is to eventually get to where we’re giving away $100,000 in scholarships every year.”

postheadericon Zinser program set the bar high

D.V. Fennell rides Carr Pro Rodeo's Dirty Jacket during the 2009 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. Dirty Jacket is one of the many great bucking horses that was born on Jim and Maggie Zinser's ranch near Claire, Mich. The Zinsers established a breeding program that continues to impact ProRodeo. (PRCA ProRodeo Photo by Dan Hubbell)

D.V. Fennell rides Carr Pro Rodeo’s Dirty Jacket during the 2009 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. Dirty Jacket is one of the many great bucking horses that was born on Jim and Maggie Zinser’s ranch near Claire, Mich. The Zinsers established a breeding program that continues to impact ProRodeo. (PRCA ProRodeo Photo by Dan Hubbell)

Forty years ago, there wasn’t much talk about breeding programs among rodeo stock contractors.

Somewhat quietly, it seems, Jim and Maggie Zinser were breaking new ground. On their ranch near Claire, Mich., the Zinsers were in the process of breeding bucking horses in a fashion that has become the trick of the trade four decades later.

“I don’t think there are any tricks to it at all,” said Jim Zinser, who operated J-Bar-J Rodeo until selling the firm nearly four years ago. “Ours started back in the early ’70s when we bought a big brown mare out of a riding stable. That horse went on to be the three-time horse of the year in the International Pro Rodeo Association.

“She raised six colts, and all but one of them was a world’s champion. They were all that kind of horse. Night line was three times horse of the year in the IPRA, and she sired the great horse, Night Jacket, who bred so many of these great horses we have in rodeo today.”

Yes, Night Jacket is a big part of the bucking horse business these days, but so are many other great animal athletes whose foundation is the Zinser ranch.

Clint Cannon

Clint Cannon

“I got to rodeo at a lot of Zinser rodeos when I was first starting out, so I got to see it first-hand,” said bareback rider Clint Cannon, a three-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifier from Waller, Texas. “He took so much pride into breeding these animals. This guy groomed his horses and made them to where they loved to be alive out there. He had such a pecking order on his breeding program that it makes a difference.”

It’s that attention to detail that has reached much of the mainstream. More ProRodeo stock contractors are making a concerted effort in their breeding programs. The results are fantastic.

“Jim did a great job of putting together a string of horses that’s unrivaled,” said Will Lowe, a three-time world champion bareback rider from Canyon, Texas. “He did a great job of selectively breeding and also breeding for attributes. You see that at every rodeo we go to and especially at the NFR.”

ProRodeo’s championship event not only features the top cowboys each season, but also it is a showcase of tremendous bucking beasts. The animals are selected by the cowboys that ride them, so it is truly one great match-up after another.

“There were 29 horses with our brand on them at the finals last year,” Zinser said.

Zinser-bred horses have won the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association halter for horse of the year multiple times, and there will be more down the line. Many of the top contractors in the sport today have animals with the original brand.

“I’ve known Jim and Maggie Zinser for over 25 years,” said Pete Carr, owner of Dallas-based Carr Pro Rodeo. “Scotty Lovelace and I used to go to all of their rodeos in the winter, so I’m very familiar with their bucking horses, bloodlines and overall breeding program. They have done an excellent job over the years of paving the way for the rest of us in our industry. I have a tremendous amount of respect for both of them as friends, stock contractors and just good people.”

Will Lowe

Will Lowe

Carr features a few Zinser-bred horses, including the 2005 Bareback Horse of the Year, Real Deal. Carr also features Dirty Jacket and MGM Deuces Night, two Night Jacket-sired athletes that have been featured in the elite pen of bareback horses for the last few years.

“Both of those horses are tremendous,” said Cannon, who posted a 90-point ride on Dirty Jacket to finish second in Pecos, Texas; only Steven Dent’s 91-point ride on MGM Deuces Night was better.

It’s that type of quality cowboys like to see.

“I think Dirty Jacket’s just gotten better,” Lowe said. “But those two horses are exceptional ones. They’re in the top 10 percent of their class.”

Zinser said he’s fortunate to have had the right horses at the right time.

“Night Jacket’s grandmother was Nightmare, and it just kind of built from there,” he said. “We’ve crossed those horses up with different stallions. We did it long enough that we knew which ones to go back to with which stallions.

“There’s just some of those that are going to be outrageous bucking horses by breeding them that way.”

Zinser watched what was happening and carefully worked the animals together in an effort to bring out the best of both sides of the genetics.

“I watched how I crossed them up. I didn’t cross up a mare that had a disposition with a stud that had the same kind of attitude,” Zinser said. “Then you’d have something you can’t handle.

“I watched the confirmation and what I thought they ought to look like if they did buck. The mares took care of that. We went through a lot of different mares to get to that set of mares.”

It helps to have a stud like Night Jacket, a horse that sold for a record $200,000 just a few years ago.

“The Night Jacket thing was luck,” Zinser said. “There was nothing planned that year. I bought a stud at Texarkana, Ark.; he wasn’t a lot of money, but he cost a lot for no better than he was. He didn’t buck, but everything we bred him to bucked.

“I had several horses by him that were astronomical. I was fortunate enough to get that stallion and keep him a stallion. That was just luck, but from there on, you did some things to make it work.”

Why was Zinser’s scheme so revolutionary?

“For years, a breeding program was just putting a stud out there in the pasture, then bucking all those colts,” Cannon said. “In the old days, it was a numbers game just like the military. You’d send as many as you could to the beach, then you win the war. In rodeo, you buck all your horses and see what bucks best.

“Now they’re putting attention to detail. They develop them into athletes.”

Yes, it started in the center of Michigan on a ranch owned by a husband-and-wife team of stock contractors, but the breeding program has taken over ProRodeo. It’s why there are so many great horses in the business. It’s why there are more and more great bucking beasts at rodeos all across the country.

“I’m just tickled to death to see where it is now,” Zinser said. “I don’t think it could’ve ever gotten to where it is now with just me having it. I think it’s great that we sold our company and that people like Pete Carr and some of these others have gotten some of these horses. I think that’s really good for rodeo. I enjoy going to the National Finals and seeing that.”

postheadericon Carr Pro Rodeo a piece of event’s success

STEPHENVILLE, Texas – When Chad Decker looks around Lone Star Arena, he knows what will happen the final weekend of September.

“I know the contestants will be ready and the animals will buck,” said Decker, chairman of the Cowboy Capital of the World PRCA Rodeo committee, which produces the event set for 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 28, and Saturday, Sept. 29, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 30.

If he sounds confident, he should. Decker knows rodeo, and he expects the knowledgeable fans in the area that make their way to the arena for the three performances will enjoy the show. He also has a lot of confidence in Carr Pro Rodeo, the event’s livestock producer.

“Pete Carr always has good stuff at our rodeo,” Decker said. “You don’t have to worry about the stock being top quality.”

The Dallas-based stock company has been a fixture at Stephenville for several years and provides some of the top animals in the business. Last year, Carr Pro Rodeo had 12 animals perform at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. Bareback riders won three rounds on Carr horses last December – Clint Cannon won the eighth round on Real Deal, the 2005 Bareback Horse of the Year; while MGM Deuces Night guided two cowboys to round titles, Ryan Gray on the fifth night and world champion Kaycee Feild in the 10th round.

“We know Pete’s going to have excellent stock, and he and his crew are going to put on a great production,” Decker said.

Paul Peterson

Paul Peterson

The crew features some of the top hands in rodeo, like Paul Peterson, a three-time NFR pickup man who now serves as the firm’s operations manager and flankman.

“Paul has been a valuable part of our team since our first rodeo,” Carr said. “Paul is one of the most versatile people you’ll meet, and in rodeo, he can do almost everything. He knows these animals, and that plays a lot into what he’s done with us from the very beginning.

“I want to surround myself with the best people I can, and that’s what I get with Paul.”

How important is it to understand the animal athletes?

“Every horse is going to take a different kind of flank,” Peterson said. “Those older horses, the ones that have been around a long time, they need a little bit more of a flank, but the colts will need less. You’ve got to figure out what’s going to be the best flank for each of the animals to perform at their best.

“You can ruin the horse or get him to the NFR.”

Peterson knows a little bit about that. As an all-around cowboy competing in the PRCA, he just missed qualifying for the NFR a few times in saddle bronc riding. Whatever he’s done, he’s excelled. That means he’ll take to the task of flankman with the same gusto.

“You’ve just got to know the animals,” Peterson said. “You take into consideration where the horse come from and what they’ve done to him in the past and if you’ve raised him. It helps to know a lot about what their mom is and what she was like; a lot of time they’re going to be just like her.”

The NFR is an annual showcase of the very best in ProRodeo, from the top 15 contestants in each event and discipline to the best personnel. Delia Walls of Stephenville is the rodeo secretary, while Shawna Ray and Sandy Garland, both of Stephenville, will time. Jimmy Adams will serve as the timed-event chute boss. Bullfighters Chris Kirby and Dusty Duba not only help protect fallen bull riders, but also they handle many of the behind-the-scenes tasks that go on at each rodeo.

“When you’re in business, you’re only as good as the people around you and the people you hire,” Decker said. “That’s the key component for Pete and the rodeo company. Those guys behind the scenes make the rodeo seem flawless, and they dang sure don’t get recognized enough for the work they do.”

postheadericon Breeding program on display in Hempstead

Carr Pro Rodeo stallion Korczak, right, walks with one of the great breeding mares, Tan Line, and their colt at the Carr ranch near Athens, Texas. It's that kind of breeding program that will be on display at the Waller County Fair and Rodeo, set for Oct. 4-6, in Hempstead, Texas.

Carr Pro Rodeo stallion Korczak, right, walks with one of the great breeding mares, Tan Line, and their colt at the Carr ranch near Athens, Texas. It’s that kind of breeding program that will be on display at the Waller County Fair and Rodeo, set for Oct. 4-6, in Hempstead, Texas.

HEMPSTEAD, Texas – Clint Cannon rides bucking horses for a living.

He knows, probably better than most, just how important it is to have a high quality horse underneath him. It’s that knowledge that helped guide him to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo three times so far in his career.

He points to the great breeding programs that are a big part of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. With those types of programs in place, cowboys are getting more opportunities to get on high quality bucking horses.

“For years, a breeding program was just putting a stud out there in the pasture, then bucking all those colts,” said Cannon, a bareback rider from Waller, Texas. “In the old days, it was a numbers game just like the military. You’d send as many as you could to the beach, then you win the war. In rodeo, you buck all your horses and see what bucks best.

“Now they’re putting attention to detail. They develop them into athletes.”

He’ll have an opportunity to match his athletic skills with some of the greatest bucking horses in the business from Dallas-based Carr Pro Rodeo at Cannon’s hometown rodeo, the Waller County Fair and Rodeo, set for 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 4-Saturday, Oct. 6, in Hempstead.

“When you look down the list and see your name next to one of Pete Carr’s horses, then you know you’ve got a good horse,” Cannon said.

The purpose of the breeding program is to give the cowboys every opportunity to win money every time they compete.

“We want our rodeos to be a riding contest not a drawing contest,” said Carr, owner of the contracting company. “We strive to make sure the winner is the person that made the best ride or the best run.”

Hempstead will be home to many great animal athletes, but the foundation, is on the Carr Pro Rodeo ranch southeast of Athens in east Texas. It’s where bucking horses and bulls are pampered and where trees align pastureland to provide shade and cover. It’s where established athletes are matched to create the next generation of stars.

“We definitely take care of the animals,” Carr said. “Jeff Collins is our ranch manager, and he takes care of everything as if it were his own. That means a lot to me. I trust everything he does.”

From the right feed to the acres of grassland, the Carr ranch is a great place for great athletes.

Right now, mares that have performed at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo – from River Boat Annie to Black Coffee – are providing the TLC to their weeks old colts, fathered by NFR bucker Korczak. Yes, its 165 miles from the Waller County Fairgrounds to the Carr ranch, but the fans who pack the stadium get to see the result of great breeding when they watch the animals in action. For instance, River Boat Annie was named the reserve world champion bareback horse in 2007 and has been to the NFR every year since. She has three colts that are being prepared for their trips to Las Vegas.

“She’s got a 3-year-old colt that we just bucked with a dummy,” Collins said about one of the first arena experiences for young horses.

The device is controlled by a remote control that, when clicked, releases a lock on the dummy so it feels as though the dummy is bucked off. In order to give the young buckers confidence, Collins hits the remote trigger at three seconds.

“When River Boat’s colt bucked, it was so cool and so electric that it took everything I had to push that button,” Collins said. “You hope to see that kind of action every time that horse bucks.”

That’s what Carr is hoping and why he’s invested into the breeding program as much as he has. Korczak bucked at the NFR in both bareback riding and bronc riding, which makes him a valuable portion of the breeding program. The paint horse’s genetics flow quite easily among many of the colts on the ranch.

“I’m excited about where we have come and where we are going in regards to our breeding program,” Carr said. “Over the years, I’ve gone out and acquired the best animals I could find because I wanted to produce the best rodeos possible.  Now with the breeding program we able to start working in some of our young up and coming featured animals and pick up some stars along the way. ”

The foundation for a great rodeo lies near Athens, but the benefits are found in Hempstead.

postheadericon Invitational a big deal to young cowgirl

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Kirbee Spire has two words about the American Royal’s Invitational Youth Rodeo.

“It’s awesome,” said Spire, the reigning breakaway roping champion from Maryville, Mo.


“It’s really fun to go into an atmosphere like that, especially since it’s set up exactly like the NFR,” she said, referring to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the premier championship at the professional level of the sport. “It’s really cool to get invited.”

Kirbee Spire of Maryville, Mo., is looking to repeat as breakaway roping champion at the American Royal Invitational Youth Rodeo when it takes place next week at Hale Arena in Kansas City, Mo.

Kirbee Spire of Maryville, Mo., is looking to repeat as breakaway roping champion at the American Royal Invitational Youth Rodeo when it takes place next week at Hale Arena in Kansas City, Mo.

Spire is one of the few who gets the chance to compete in the same playing field – Hale Arena –  that houses the traditional American Royal Rodeo. The Invitational Youth Rodeo is set to take place over four days beginning with the senior division at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 25; it will feature high school-age contestants. The junior division, for eighth-graders and younger, will take place at noon Wednesday, Sept. 26-Friday, Sept. 28.

It is all a fabulous precursor to the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association event, set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 28, and Saturday, Sept. 29, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 30, at Hale Arena in the American Royal complex.

“I want to be at that level, too, so I know it’s going to take a lot of hard work and dedication,” said Spire, a senior at Maryville High School who also won the Missouri High School Rodeo Association’s breakaway title last season. “I’d like to start by winning the breakaway at the invitational. I want to be a back-to-back state champion, and I want to go out there and win nationals.

“It’ll take a lot of hard work, but I’m ready for that.”

That she is. It comes naturally, but most youth involved in rodeo realize the responsibility it takes to be a winner from a young age. Spire first set the tone by winning the breakaway title at the National Junior High Finals Rodeo a few years ago.

“Rodeo is just something we all enjoy doing,” said Patty Spire, Kirbee’s mother. “Ed and I did it when we were kids, and we wanted to give the kids a chance to do it themselves.

“It’s something we can do together, and it’s something we all enjoy.”

Kirbee is the youngest of Ed and Patty Spire’s three children and joins brother Derk and sister Jodi in the arena. In addition to teaching his children the skills it takes to win, Ed Spire also has spent time as a coach for the Northwest Missouri State University rodeo team.

“My dad pushes me, and I love it,” Kirbee Spire said. “We’re all one big rodeo family, and everybody’s supporting each other. It’s fun to share one thing you can do with your family. Not every parent can play basketball with your kids, but you can rodeo with your kids.”

While her strength is in breakaway roping, Kirbee Spire also competes in goat tying, team roping and barrel racing. She wants to do that next year as she moves to the college ranks but knows she might need a little more horsepower for barrel racing.

“I really enjoy roping,” she said. “That’s my main thing, but I love to run barrels. I just don’t have a horse right now to get me to the ProRodeo events. I can run off my roping horse, and Larry can pull it off. But to compete at that level, you need a really good horse.”

Larry has been a good horse and one Kirbee has leaned on most of her life. In fact, they’re nearly the same age – the palomino gelding is just a few years younger, in fact – and he’s been the driving force behind all her titles.

“He can do everything, but he’s just my breakaway and barrel horse right now,” she said. “Pedro, my brother’s horse, is my heel horse and my goat horse, and he works pretty well.

“You have to have a good horse to compete in rodeo, and you have to be a good horseman. That’s one of the things we work on every day.”

That seems to be a common theme for Spire. But that’s why she owns a lot of titles already; it’s also why she wants to win many more, especially with college rodeo directly in her sights.

“I know a lot of people that have gone on to rodeo in college, and they’ve helped me like my family has helped me,” she said. “You can get a full ride on rodeo if you find the right coach and the right school if they really want you.”

Now comes Kirbee Spire’s time to make her work pay off. A win at the American Royal Invitational Youth Rodeo will go a long way in drawing the right coach’s attention.

postheadericon Grabbing the sheep by the wool

American Royal’s mutton busting is a fan favorite for some, family time for others

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – For a good portion of her life, Jennifer Pope’s participation in rodeo was as a fan.

That’s changed, now. With her husband, Bret, they are now the parents of rodeo cowboys, and there’s not much that’s going to change that for their three boys: Jess, 13; Ty, 10; and Judd, 6. Most weekends, you’ll find the Popes traveling from their Garnett, Kan., home to a rodeo of some sort so the boys can do their thing.

And for the youngest, part of that competitive fire will take place during the American Royal Rodeo during the mutton busting, a competition for youngsters who get their first taste of the rodeo lifestyle while riding sheep. It’s always a fan favorite, which is why it’s always a big piece of the puzzle for the annual rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 28, and Saturday, Sept. 29, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 30, at Hale Arena in the American Royal complex.

For the first time, children will be able to sign up to mutton bust at the American Royal. Competition will take place at 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. before the rodeo Friday and Saturday, and at 12:30 and 1:30 p.m. Sunday. Anyone under the age of 7 can sign up to compete. It is $10 to participate, and the top kids from each go will get to compete in the pro rodeo.

“We were involved in 4-H and county fairs,” said Jennifer Pope, who grew up outside of Olathe. “Usually when you have a county fair, the rodeo is always involved.

“When I was a kid, my mom would have season tickets for the American Royal Rodeo when it was like 10 days long, so I’ve been around it all my life.”

It wasn’t until she took the oldest boys to the Franklin County (Kan.) Fair a few years ago that the rodeo bug hit full time. She asked if they wanted to ride sheep, and the family’s riding legacy was formed. Now Jess is a junior bull rider, and Ty is a steer rider. Judd rides sheep and is a wool fighter – the junior equivalent of a rodeo bullfighter who works inside the arena to keep cowboys out of harm’s way during the bull riding.

So why is mutton busting such a big deal?

In addition to getting the crowd into the fun of the sheep-riding, it’s a way for youngsters to fall in love with the sport.

“I think it’s good for kids because we need to get more kids involved in the sport itself,” Pope said. “It’s a stair-step to get them involved in the other things like calf riding and sheep riding. Even for the timed-events, these kids get to be around the roping side of rodeo, too, so they can learn so much.”

Now the family is heavily involved, oftentimes traveling to events in Oklahoma so the boys can participate. The appeal, though, goes far beyond the competition itself.

“It’s something we do together,” Pope said. “We travel together, and we get a lot of time together in that vehicle. You also get to know a lot of people … a lot of really good people. You know if you break down, somebody is going to be there for you.

“We have a lot of people we know through rodeo that are closer to us than our own family members. That’s why rodeo is a family. You can count on each other.”

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