postheadericon Money on their minds

COWBOYS, COWGIRLS HOPE TO ROPE IN CASH DURING IFR45

OKLAHOMA CITY – Walt White owns eight International Professional Rodeo Association tie-down roping world championships.

He won’t win No. 9 this year, but he is still happy to be part of the field at International Finals Rodeo 45, set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, 1:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 1:30 p.m. Sunday at Jim Norick State Fair Arena.

“I’m just going to have fun and try to win as much money as I can,” said White, 43, of Ochelata, Okla., the 15th ranked tie-down roper. “I’m going to try to go out with a bang. I haven’t won the IFR average since the first one I was at; I think it would be cool to win the average at the last one.”

IFR2014LogoRedDateWhite figures this will be his last appearance at the IFR. He’s made more than a dozen trips to Oklahoma City for the championship over the years, winning gold buckles in 1992, ’93, ’95, ’97-2000 and ’03.

“I’m going to be the oldest one there this year,” White said of the tie-down roping field of 15 contestants. “It’s time to slow down. Except for the All-Region Finals (in Lexington, Ky.), Marshfield (Mo.) is the furthest one I went to. I didn’t go more than four hours from the house.”

While White is slowing down, Chance Hays is just getting started. This week marks his second qualification to the IFR – he also earned the trip in tie-down roping two seasons ago – and sits 13th in the world standings.

“It means a lot for me to make the IFR,” said Hays, a Bristow, Okla., cowboy who also makes his living as a Western artist. “I’m from Oklahoma, and having the finals in Oklahoma City and getting to compete against other talent from all over is an honor.”

That talent is quite capable. Four-time reigning world champion Justin Thigpen of Waycross, Ga., leads the race for the gold buckle with more than $20,000 in earnings. He owns a $3,500 lead over Canadian Cody Mousseau of Aylmer, Ontario.

Neither White nor Hays has a shot at the world title, but they have as good a chance as any roper in the game to win the coveted average title.

“My goal is to make the best runs I can make and see how much I can win,” Hays said. “I got a real late start this year. I’m riding a young horse this year, but next year I’ll have my good horse back, and I’m going to try to win the world championship.”

Both titles are something breakaway roper Jenna Lee Hays has her eyes on. The Weatherford, Okla., cowgirl is fourth in the world standings but is about $5,000 behind leader Amanda Stewart of Mt. Ulla, N.C. This is just the fourth IFR that has featured breakaway roping, which is just fine for Hays.

Of course, it helps that the IPRA has financial support from a variety of sponsors, Love’s Country Store, RAM Trucks, Tener’s, Graham’s, Oxbow Tack, OG&E, Langston’s, Cattlemen’s Steakhouse, the Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Harrison Manufacturing.

“I think it’s really exciting that they’ve added breakaway roping,” said Hays, who is an assistant coach for the Southwestern Oklahoma State University rodeo team in her hometown of Weatherford. “It’s something that all the breakaway ropers really look forward to, to have an association like that to put breakaway roping in their finals.”

This marks the third time in four years she has qualified for the IFR.

“When the season starts, my goal is to make the IFR,” Hays said. “The roping gets pretty fast there. My goal when I get to the IFR is that I focus more on the average than the rounds. I’m more focused on being consistent. I won a round and the average in my first qualification.

“Just being consistent is the key. I just try to rope every calf the same. It doesn’t matter if he’s fast or slow; you just have to do the same things every run to have success.”

Finding a way to be successful inside Jim Norick Arena is the target of every contestant in the field of 126 cowboys and cowgirls. They’ve earned the right to be in Oklahoma City this week, and now they want to show everyone why.

postheadericon Painting a brilliant picture

Inside every artist are a set of eyes that see things differently, that view the world in different dimensions.

Inside every cowboy rests a powerful workmanlike nature and a task-driven demeanor.

For the most part, they are opposite personalities, but they are both the truthful passions of a man named Chance Hays. He is from Bristow, Okla., and has found a way to marry his passions together. He’s a roper and a Western artist who thrives at both.

He has qualified for the second time to compete at the International Finals Rodeo. He also created the artwork that stands as the IFR45 poster, a piece he made of Garrett Tribble, who has already clinched the bull riding world championship as a rookie.

This weekend, Hays has been busy. In addition to prepping for the championship event, he also has organized an event in Bristow to honor his late grandfather, Walter Neill Hays, who died Dec. 12 at age 79.

“He was just an inspiration as a person,” Hays said, noting that the Hays Family Invitational is a good place to tune-up for IFR tie-down ropers, breakaway ropers and steer wrestlers.

Hays is the 13th-ranked tie-down roper in the International Professional Rodeo Association heading into the finale, which takes place Friday-Sunday at Jim Norick State Fair Arena in Oklahoma City.

He rode a young horse through much of the season while Superman recovered from an injury, but he will jump back on the 14-year-old dark chocolate gelding for the IFR and the 2015 regular season.

“I really want to make a run at that world title this year, and I think I have an opportunity now that I have my good horse back,” he said.

Hays wants to put together a painting he’ll refer to as “Gold Buckle.” He made need to find the right colors to make it sparkle, but he’s got the right brush strokes and passion to make it happen.

postheadericon Wrestling for the gold

Justin Thigpen competes during IFR 44. Thigpen is the reigning two-time steer wrestling and four-time tie-down roping IPRA world champion. He will be in a battle to win the 2014 title at IFR 45 next week. (AMANDA RUTHERFORD PHOTO)

Justin Thigpen competes during IFR 44. Thigpen is the reigning two-time steer wrestling and four-time tie-down roping IPRA world champion. He will be in a battle to win the 2014 title at IFR 45 next week. (AMANDA RUTHERFORD PHOTO)

TOP BULLDOGGERS RACE FOR TITLE; OKLAHOMA COWBOYS RETURN TO GLORY DAYS

OKLAHOMA CITY – In all likelihood, the race for the International Professional Rodeo Association’s steer wrestling world championship will be between four cowboys.

Canadian Cody Mousseau owns a small lead over Brian Barefoot of Dunn, N.C.; Brad Stewart of Mt. Ulla, N.C.; and Justin Thigpen of Waycross, Ga. Thigpen is the two-time reigning steer wrestling and four-time reigning tie-down roping world champion who also is a tie-down roping qualifier for International Finals Rodeo 45, set for Friday, Jan. 16-Sunday, Jan. 18, at Jim Norick State Fair Arena in Oklahoma City.

Ronnie Fields won his IPRA world titles in the early 2000s, but he has enjoyed competing on a part-time basis. (AMANDA RUTHERFORD PHOTO)

Ronnie Fields won his IPRA world titles in the early 2000s, but he has enjoyed competing on a part-time basis. (AMANDA RUTHERFORD PHOTO)

Less than $2,000 separates the top four cowboys in the IPRA world standings, so the dogfight begins in a week when the top 126 cowboys and cowgirls in the Oklahoma City-based association battle for rodeo gold.

Thigpen isn’t the only world champ in the steer wrestling field. In fact, he’ll be joined by three-time bulldogging titlist Ronnie Fields of Oklahoma City and another top local cowboy, Danell Tipton of Spencer, Okla., who owns one gold buckle … in bull riding.

Next week marks the second straight steer wrestling qualification for Tipton, who won the 1995 bull riding world championship.

“What a lot of people don’t realize is that I’ve been bulldogging for a while, since the early 1990s,” said Tipton, who also qualified for the National Finals Rodeo twice. “In 1993 and ’94, I started bulldogging a lot. I was entering rodeos in bulldogging then, but bull riding was more important than anything.

“As I’ve gotten older, I just made the transition. I’ve done everything I’ve wanted to do riding bulls. I still get on bulls now, but I pick the ones I want to get on.”

At 41 years old, getting on the right bulls might just be Tipton’s best decision, though jumping off horses and wrestling 500-pound steers to the ground isn’t exactly easy on the body. He also is on the smaller size of the bulldogging list – most bull riders are about 5-foot-5, 135 pounds, while steer wrestlers tend to be much bigger.

That’s a perfect fit for Fields, a three-time IPRA champion (2000-2002) who also qualified for the NFR three times in the mid-2000s. Since then, he’s qualified for the IFR three times, 2009, 2014-15.

Danell Tipton won the 1995 IPRA bull riding world title but has qualified for the IFR each of the past two seasons in steer wrestling. (AMANDA RUTHERFORD PHOTO)

Danell Tipton won the 1995 IPRA bull riding world title but has qualified for the IFR each of the past two seasons in steer wrestling. (AMANDA RUTHERFORD PHOTO)

“I work in the oil field in Oklahoma,” said Fields, 6-foot, 235 pounds. “The enjoyment of actually being at home has been kind of irreplaceable. Until a couple years ago, I rodeoed full time. I still love to rodeo. With me working, I can still go to the IPRA rodeos, going on the weekends, then go home.

“I can still get the feel of the addiction that I have, but I can work. It makes me feel good. It’s hard to think about going back to rodeoing full time. I get to experience the things with my family, the things I missed when I was gone all the time.”

It’s like living the best of both worlds for Fields, who will begin the IFR competition 10th in the standings with nearly $7,000 in earnings. He is one spot ahead of Tipton, a cowboy with whom he has had a friendship since they were youngsters.

“The IFR is good,” said Fields, 41. “I don’t get to practice as much as I’m used to, but I’m still able to compete and try to qualify. I’m not as sharp as I used to be. I’ve been able to go to enough rodeos and compete well enough.”

That’ll help when the first round begins next Friday featuring a large purse that is aided through sponsor relationships with Love’s Country Store, RAM Trucks, Tener’s, Graham’s, Oxbow Tack, OG&E, Langston’s, Cattlemen’s Steakhouse, the Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Harrison Manufacturing.

The biggest difference between Fields’ run a decade ago is in the time he spends on the rodeo trail.

“That was my job then, and now I have a job, so rodeo is a back seat to that,” he said. “I would rodeo for a living, which is what I’ve done up until now. There was a lot of pressure a guy takes on. I was fortunate that I didn’t have kids. It was a gamble I could afford to take.

“I still plan to go, but I have a job that helps me. It’s a comfort zone.”

Even though he’s ridden bulls for decades, Tipton’s comfort zone comes on horseback, which has been beneficial. He rode several horses through the season in order to earn the trip to the IFR.

“I’m just a cowboy,” he said. “You can put me on anything. This is nothing I’ve just jumped off into at my older age. I was horseback since I was born.”

Now he’ll show off his cowboy skills inside Jim Norick Arena. He’s been successful there before.

postheadericon Worth the wait

Fallon Taylor ran Babyflo to the 2015 world championship. (PRCA PHOTO BY MIKE COPEMAN)

Fallon Taylor ran Babyflo to the 2015 world championship. (PRCA PHOTO BY MIKE COPEMAN)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a story I wrote for the January issue of Women’s Pro Rodeo News, the official magazine of the WPRA.

For 10 nights, it seemed, Fallon Taylor exited the Thomas & Mack Center arena with a smile on her face as she and Babyflo sprinted past the famous yellow chutes.

Even more vibrant on Dec. 13, the smile revealed so much as Taylor held tightly to the Montana Silversmiths gold buckle:
– It was a dream come true
– It was a validation
– It was a showcase for Babyflo

Most importantly, the 2014 WPRA world championship was a triumphant comeback from what could have been the most devastating time of Taylor’s life.

Broken but not shattered

Fallon Taylor

Fallon Taylor

One question stopped the smiles for a few moments. It was meant as a reflection, a chance to remember that time five and a half years ago when Fallon Taylor was unsure of everything that was going on in her life.

While training a horse, things got wild. The horse reared and slammed into her, then she was thrown. In all, she suffered broken bones on the right side of her face, including her eye socket, as well a fractured skull in four places and a broken C-2 vertebra.

Because of that spinal injury, doctors said she had just a 2 percent chance to walk or talk again. Just thinking about that time is emotional for all involved. To do it while staring firmly at the gold buckle allowed the tears to flow, just as she needed.

“It’s amazing,” she said, tears dripping off her cheeks as she continued to speak. “I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t talk. To be paralyzed, then to come from that to here …

“It’s not about me. There (are) people at home that just want to lose 20 pounds or people that are clocking in the 5D or 4D in barrel racing that just want to be better. Hopefully I offer them some encouragement.”

She did, through every autograph, every appearance and every sprint toward the alley inside the Thomas & Mack Center before nearly 18,000 screaming fans. That’s a feeling she always will cherish.

“I feel like I’m going to climb over my horse’s head and outrun her to get out,” she said, laughing again.

A horse of course

Fallon Taylor left the hospital a few days after arriving, defying the odds and walking out. She went back to the ranch in Whitesboro, Texas, where she wore a halo brace for another year.

For those unfamiliar with the halo, it’s a virtual barbaric device to help maintain the neck’s stability. Bolts were screwed into Taylor’s skull, and long arms connect the head brace to a stabilizer on her shoulders and around her torso.

She wore that for a year. She also started connecting with a filly, Flos Heiress, a horse she calls Babyflo that was sired by Dr Nick Bar out of Flowers and Money, two horses that carried Taylor to her first four Wrangler NFR qualifications from 1995-98. When she could start riding again, she broke, trained and rode Babyflo to the 2014 world title.

“Every one of us has a different routine how we take care of our horses,” Taylor said. “I have a whole team with me, and it takes a village.

“Babyflo is really quirky; she’s particular. We try to make a home everywhere we go. We try to rebuild our barn atmosphere at every single place we go.”

That meant even at the Wrangler NFR. Now 8 years old, the sorrel mare is a racehorse for the ages.

“We just try to keep our routine,” she said. “I have a horse you can’t give any medication to and can’t have a chiropractor adjust her, and you can’t really do a lot of things to her. We have to preserve her at the best level we possibly can to get 10 runs.

“She’s like the Terminator. She’s just rugged. She had a lot of slips here and gets up and keeps going. She’s made for this.”

Through 10 December nights in the City of Lights, Babyflo was stronger than most. Taylor began the first round of the 2014 Wrangler NFR No. 2 in the world standings, nearly $24,000 behind leader Kaley Bass.

She passed Bass by placing in eight go-rounds and edged reserve world champion Lisa Lockhart by about $11,000 … all on Babyflo.

“We are the staff of Babyflo; we work for Babyflo,” Taylor said. “I love that we get all this attention, but we work for her.”

Now the star and her understudy get a little rest before they embark on the serious side of the 2015 season. As of Dec. 18, Taylor had earned more than $7,000 toward the 2015 WPRA World Standings, so a break was in order.

“We’re going to probably pull some shoes off and let her be barefoot and graze a little bit,” she said. “We’re a lot alike. We don’t like idle hands. We don’t sit still for very long.

“Babyflo thinks she’s done something wrong if she’s not in the limelight.”

That’s a good thing. They don’t spend much time in the practice pen. In fact, Taylor said, the tandem made it around the barrel pattern just three times prior to running in Las Vegas.

“Babyflo is one of the most intelligent animals I’ve ever been around,” she said. “She doesn’t need any schooling. She doesn’t need a refresher course.”

No. She’s a champion, and she knows it. So does Taylor.

A true horserace

Fallon Taylor and Babyflo knew it was going to be a horserace. They won the first go-round in what seemed like a skid-fest at 14.09 seconds. The next night was even slower, when Babyflo slipped and tipped a barrel; the winning time was 14.29 … an eternity in the Thomas and Mack.

But the needed ground-change happened, and times reflected it.

“Everybody that tried really hard – the president of the WPRA and all the WPRA women who stepped in – tried to make this the very best National Finals they could,” Taylor said. “The ground changed a lot from last year, and they did everything they possibly could to have our equine athletes’ best interests in mind, and it showed.

“It got progressively better to make this actually a horserace.”

It was. Lockhart, of Oelrichs, S.D., claimed to the average title, rounding the cloverleaf pattern in a 10-round cumulative time of 144.93 seconds, bettering Taylor by less than two-tenths. Lockhart’s only slip came in the sixth round, when she and An Okie With Cash tipped a barrel.

That average title was the only honor Lockhart held over Taylor and Babyflo.

“We’ve made 10 amazing runs,” Taylor said. “My mare’s run sub 14-second runs every single time she’s made a decent runs and didn’t trip. The horses are tired. We’re tired. I just gave it everything I had. I wasn’t overly concerned with the statistics. I figured it would all come out in the wash.”

Before the final go-round on Dec. 13, Taylor posted on her Facebook page that by the time the evening ended, she would know if she was “pretty good, really good or damn good.”

“I’m damn good; I’ve got the buckle, and it says ‘damn good’ across it,” she said, smiling that brilliant grin. “I’m so excited. To be penned against Lisa Lockhart, who is the queen of consistency, and Louie, who is amazing, and to have a mare that had probably one of the worst finals in history for a barrel racer last year … to come back and win the world title against Lisa Lockhart when I had to beat her against her game … ”

It must’ve been awesome. Of course, it was primarily a two-horse race through much of the Wrangler NFR. Taylor won just shy of $145,000 in Las Vegas, while Lockhart was about $1,000 behind in Sin City earnings. Behind them were the top barrel racers from the 2014 season, all those that earned the right to be there.

“There’s no easy horserace,” Taylor said. “I’ve never been to an easy rodeo in my life, and this was no exception. The fact that it came down to pennies and dollars was great TV for the fans, made for edge-of-your-seat entertainment. I’m all about that. I think it’s a fantastic thing for rodeo to push it into the limelight.

“It was exciting to do, so it had to be exciting to watch. I’m excited that this caliber of women came in, and they gave us hell. We had to fight for this one. There is no easy world title, no easy average win and no easy rodeo.”

A quick look back

Doctors once told Fallon Taylor the chances were slim she’d ever walk again, maybe talk again.

She beat the odds. That’s what Las Vegas is all about, isn’t it?

The 2014 Wrangler NFR marked the sixth time in her storied career that Taylor has qualified for ProRodeo’s grand championship. She was just 13 when she first played in the Nevada desert in 1995. She followed with more trips in 1996-98, then stepped away from the barrel racing scene for a decade.

It was 15 years between Wrangler NFR qualifications. When she returned to Las Vegas in 2013, she and Babyflo struggled. They made up for it this past December.

“The fans … that’s the coolest part of that,” Taylor said. “I had an appearance at noon (Saturday), and I got a call from my assistant at 10:30 that showed a picture of people lined up around the corner.

“This is a cool responsibility. This is cool that the next generation of barrel racers can connect to me. Hopefully I can inspire them to be right here holding the buckle. In the next phase of my life, I want to be in the front row of the South Point cheering them on.”

That attitude has become infectious in barrel racing. It has reached thousands of fans and cycled through the bloodstreams of hundreds of rising stars. If Fallon Taylor can overcome paralysis to win a world championship, anything can happen.

Anything will happen.

postheadericon ’16 Little Britches Finals moves to Lazy E Arena

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – The National Little Britches Rodeo Association Finals is moving to the Lazy E Arena in Guthrie, Okla., beginning in 2016.

“We are extremely proud to be selected as the host facility for the NLBRA Finals and look forward to growing our partnership,” said Dan Wall, general manager of Lazy E Arena. “We are excited to welcome NLBRA and its members into the Lazy E family.”

LittleBritches-LogoThe change in venues comes after an 11-year run at the Colorado State Fairgrounds in Pueblo, Colo. The NLBRA found a home in Pueblo beginning in 2004 and brought 545 youth rodeo contestants that year. Since the inaugural year, the event has grown to nearly double the contestant base, with nearly 1,000 youth rodeo contestants competing in 2014.

“Moving the NLBRA Finals to Pueblo was a positive for the NLBRA,” executive director Kimber Solberg said. “The Pueblo community provided an opportunity for the NLBRA to produce a quality Finals for many years; however, since moving to Pueblo in 2004, the NLBRA contestant membership base has grown by 33 percent and some of our needs have changed.”

The 2015 NLBRA Finals will be July 20-25, 2015, in Pueblo. It will move to the Lazy E from 2016-2020

Although the National Little Britches Finals Rodeo is relocating, the NLBRA is working with Pueblo and four other communities across the United States to host NLBRA Qualifier Rodeos, where the goal is to have 300-400 contestants competing in a three-day rodeo event.

“Over the years, we’ve built a strong bond with Pueblo,” Solberg said. “I can only compare it to a child going off to college. It’s hard to let them go, but you know it’s the best move. And like kids going off to college, you don’t lose them, the relationship just changes. The NLBRA certainly intends to keep Little Britches Rodeo alive and well in Pueblo, Colorado.”

The Lazy E Arena opened its doors in December 1984 in time for that season’s National Finals Steer Roping to coincide with the National Finals Rodeo, which took place in downtown Oklahoma City. The grand plan orchestrated by then owner E.K. Gaylord III was that the two Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association championships take place at the same time in the same metropolitan area, and the plan worked … for one year.

Since its inception, the building has hosted world champions, world championships and personalities galore. The main arena floor is 440 feet-by-160 feet, making it the largest indoor rodeo arena in the world and home of the Timed Event Championship.

“This is the only indoor arena that allows us, the NLBRA, to produce our finals with three arenas running simultaneously for the viewing audience,” Solberg said.

In October 2013, the property was purchased by the McKinney Family from Midland, Texas. The Family has committed to maintaining the Lazy E as the world’s premier Western entertainment facility. Many updates and renovations are taking place at the arena, which will only enhance the lure of the Lazy E.

postheadericon Johnson returns to elite status

Tie-down roper Trenton Johnson ropes during a recent competition in Atlantic City, N.J. Johnson has qualified for the International Finals Rodeo for the third time in his career. (CASEY MARTIN PHOTO)

Tie-down roper Trenton Johnson ropes during a recent competition in Atlantic City, N.J. Johnson has qualified for the International Finals Rodeo for the third time in his career. (CASEY MARTIN PHOTO)

OKLAHOMA CITY – Eleven months ago, tie-down roper Trenton Johnson was just getting out of hip surgery that saw him on crutches for eight weeks.

He spent four months going through physical therapy for a repaired hip labrum and a hip microfracture, then he handled the rehabilitation himself while taking care of the business of healing his body. Being on the sidelines because of injury is no place for a world-class athlete to be, but that’s just where Johnson was through much of the 2015 rodeo season.

“I rehabbed on my own for a little while, then I went to three rodeos after the Fourth of July,” said Johnson, 26, a three-time International Finals Rodeo from Centerville, Kan. “Then I got hurt again, so I took two more weeks off.”

He returned to action the final weekend of July and spent next seven weeks on a frantic travel schedule in hopes of returning to the International Professional Rodeo Association’s championship event. It all comes to fruition next week during IFR 45, set for Friday, Jan. 16-Sunday, Jan. 18, at Jim Norick State Fair Arena in Oklahoma City.

“I went pretty hard and was able to accomplish that,” said Johnson, who won tie-down roping titles in Kellyville, Okla.; Haskell, Okla.; Freemont, Ohio; North Washington, Pa.; Charlotte, Mich.; and St. Tite, Quebec, the last of which is the largest regular-season event in the IPRA. “It was good to do good at St. Tite. Without that, I don’t think I could’ve made the IFR.”

That two-month run paid off to the tune of more than $8,600. He rolls into Oklahoma City as the No. 12 tie-down roper in the standings – only the top 15 contestants in each event earn the right to compete at the IFR. He’s had considerable success inside State Fair Arena before, winning the average title during the 2011 championship.

“I’d have to say winning the average at the IFR was my biggest accomplishment so far,” he said. “It was a big roping, a good roping. There were a lot of guys there that roped good. I still wear that buckle today. It was a big win for me, and I’m proud of it.”

He should be. It’s an amazing honor and one he’d like to repeat during this year’s finale. In order to win that title, he’ll have to rope and tie all four calves in a faster cumulative time than the other 14 ropers in the field. That fits perfectly in Johnson’s wheelhouse.

“I’m more of an average roper,” he said. “I’m more consistent than trying to go fast. I try to be a well-rounded roper, but I do feel more comfortable making an average run.”

That’s something he’s learned over the years of roping. Raised on a ranch in eastern Kansas, he is one of two sons born to Jim and Pam Johnson. He and older brother Tyler began roping as youngsters.

“Dad brought home a couple of roping horses,” Trenton Johnson said. “He built us an arena, and we started team roping.”

He also started roping calves with a breakaway rope until he got into junior high. Upon turning 14, he started roping and tying down calves. He started putting in the work to be successful as a sophomore in high school, working with neighbor Wade Wilson and Wilson’s son, Cole.

“My dad raised cows for as long as I can remember,” said Johnson, who has a sponsorship agreement with Pretty Western Clothing Botique. “He roped a little bit, mostly for fun, and gave my brother and me an opportunity to rodeo. Along the way, I met a lot of people who helped us, and that includes Wade Wilson.”

The Johnson brothers learned a lot roping with the Wilsons. He won the tie-down roping and team roping championships in the Kansas High School Rodeo Association in 2007. That helped Trenton Johnson earn a rodeo scholarship to Northwestern Oklahoma State University in Alva, where he qualified for the College National Finals Rodeo in both tie-down roping and steer wrestling in 2009 and 2011.

He’s found success in every area of rodeo in which he’s competed, including the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. He aspires to qualify for the PRCA championship, the National Finals Rodeo, and battle for that organization’s world championship.

Of course, it’s the mettle of any true competitor to place themselves among the greatest in the game. It helps to surround oneself with greatness, which is something else Johnson has done most of his life. This past October, he married the former Ayla McCoy, whose uncles, Jet and Cord, own a combined 10 IPRA world championships.

“She comes from a strong rodeo family, and we met at Northwestern,” said Johnson, who began dating his wife in 2009. “She now works for Miller International, which is Cinch.”

Together, they bring a strong pedigree to Oklahoma City for the IFR. They’ll also bring Boone, an 11-year-old sorrel gelding.

“I’ve had him since 2011,” he said. “He’s consistent. He’s a powerful horse. He does everything good, and he’s honest. He understands roping, and he likes his job.”

So does Trenton Johnson. That’s why he’s chasing his gold-buckle dreams.

postheadericon The silver anniversary

IFR TO CELEBRATE 25 YEARS AS AN OKLAHOMA CITY INSTITUTION

OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma’s capital city is much different than it was in January 1991.

There’s an NBA franchise in town, and the 89ers became the RedHawks and are now the Dodgers. Gary Gibbs was in his third season as coach of the Sooners football team, Eddie Sutton was running the Oklahoma State basketball program and Bryant Reeves was a senior at Gans (Okla.) High School.

IFR2014LogoRedDateThe downtown landscape has changed dramatically, rising into the heavens. But one thing has remained constant: The International Finals Rodeo is a January staple, now in its 25th year in Oklahoma City. IFR 45 is scheduled for Jan. 16-18 at the Jim Norick State Fair Arena.

“I actually didn’t qualify for the IFR the last two years in Tulsa,” said Dale Yerigan, general manager of the Oklahoma City-based International Professional Rodeo Association and an 11-time steer wrestling world champion. “When I found out that the IFR was moving to Oklahoma City and that the money was going to increase, that’s one of the things that helped me make the decision to focus on rodeoing in the IPRA.”

Dale Yerigan

Dale Yerigan

It’s a good thing he did. Yerigan won IPRA gold in 1985-86, then regained that championship form in Oklahoma City. Clarence LeBlanc won the 1990 championship at the conclusion of IFR 21 in January 1991, and Yerigan took over the IPRA’s bulldogging world for nine straight years after that, winning the titles for the 1991-1999 seasons – because the IFR is in January, champions care crowned for the previous calendar year; the 2014 champs, for example, will be crowned in a few weeks.

“In the 1990s, I had a streak of winning world titles, and a lot of that was because of the move to Oklahoma City,” he said. “The future was one of the things that helped me make my decision and my focus. It was easier on my family to rodeo together.”

As the IPRA general manager, he shares his time through the weeks between business at the office and his home in Pryor, Okla., which is about 155 miles northeast of the IPRA office.

The 1991 IFR took place in what used to be the Myriad, now the Cox Convention Center in downtown Oklahoma City. It moved to Jim Norick Arena shortly thereafter and has had a long run in that storied facility at the Oklahoma State Fairgrounds. In 2004, the IFR took place inside the Ford Center, which is now Chesapeake Energy Arena.

“The move back downtown to the Ford Center was sponsor-driven, but it was a new facility, and you hope it sparks some new interest in your event,” Yerigan said. “Now they host an NBA franchise, which is no small fete in mid-America.

“We’re glad to be back at the fairgrounds, and I believe it’s the best facility for us. We want to grow there.”

Growth has been steady, and it comes with the help of key sponsors like Love’s Country Store, RAM Trucks, Tener’s, Graham’s, Oxbow Tack, OG&E, Langston’s, Cattlemen’s Steakhouse, the Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Harrison Manufacturing. Of course, it also helps that fans have come to expect a strong production from the annual January showcase.

“Like most of rodeo, we’ve changed some over the years,” Yerigan said. “The competition part of it is still based on the same things it was founded on, which goes back to ranch competitions. We preserve that really traditional part of it. Us, along with most rodeos, have tried to update with the times with the kind of music and the lights we use.

“Rodeo’s a little bit louder than it was 25 years ago, but people have come to expect that. We try not to go too overboard. We try not to make it a rock concert but try to step it up and liven it up. Production has become faster, and we want to see things quickly.”

At the IFR, the competition is mixed with excellent production to make for a night of family-friendly entertainment.

“We have whittled this down to the top 15 that come compete,” he said. “You get to see the same 15 compete every performance for four performances. Whether it’s Friday night or Sunday afternoon, you get to see the top level of competition.

“When you come to the IFR, the cream will rise to the top. The 15 contestants in each event have earned their way to be there. You’re going to see the top level competition.”

It’s something fans have come to expect over the last 25 years. It’s just as it should be.

postheadericon Be blessed in 2015

On these final few hours of 2014, it’s easy to reflect on what happened the previous 364 days.

Family-wise, there were multiple trips to the emergency room. That comes with having children, of course, but two of the four were with my wife. Fortunately all were resolved well, but not without staying a few nights in various hospitals. We pray that’s all behind us … at least for a little while.

World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner, left, poses with tie-down roper Tyson Durfey and former NFL tight end Jay Novacek prior to the final round of the 2014 NFR. (PHOTO COURTESY OF TYSON DURFEY)

World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner, left, poses with tie-down roper Tyson Durfey and former NFL tight end Jay Novacek prior to the final round of the 2014 NFR. (PHOTO COURTESY OF TYSON DURFEY)

Other than the few hiccups that came along the path, 2014 was an amazing year. I shared in the successes of my rodeo friends and got to cross off a bucket-list item attending a World Series game while watching my favorite team, the Kansas City Royals, play in the series. I also got to be on hand to witness a strong and powerful lefty win Game 1, then dominate the other two games in which he pitched.

By the way, that same Madison Baumgarner also is a team roper. I can’t help but marvel at him now. Throw in the fact that as a header, he ropes right-handed. That type of true ambidexterity, especially in athletics, is incredibly fascinating.

I pose with Carolyn Vietor, the WPRA president, with the 2014 Media Award. (PHOTO BY KENNETH SPRINGER)

I pose with Carolyn Vietor, the WPRA president, with the 2014 Media Award. (PHOTO BY KENNETH SPRINGER)

The year also was fabulous for me and my business, Rodeo Media Relations. I worked all the major ProRodeo events – the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo, the Clem McSpadden National Finals Steer Roping and the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. I got to do it all while experiencing my true passion: Telling rodeo stories and helping promote the sport.

I was honored by the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association with its 2014 Media Award. One funny to that was on the day I receive the plaque, I stood on the stage in front of the top 15 barrel racers and hundreds of others as eight-time world champion Joe Beaver interviewed me. It was surreal; over the course of my career, I’ve interviewed Joe a couple dozen times, but that was the first time he’d interviewed me.

I also experienced some growing pains, but they are true lessons that I will carry with me as I move forward. With the right approach, we can take all the negatives we face and not only turn them into positives, but also grow because of the experience.

There is no way I can write something of this nature without mentioning the great Dirty Jacket, a 10-year-old bay gelding that I’ve written about and promoted for five years. Through my work with Pete Carr Pro Rodeo, I’ve written about a lot of incredible animal athletes, but Dirty Jacket stands out. This year, he was named the 2014 Bareback Horse of the Year, a very deserving honor. It did my heart good to see that phenomenal athlete receive the honor, because he loves his job as much as I love mine.

Thanks to my girls for their unwavering support and love. I’m blessed beyond measure. May we all be as blessed in 2015.

postheadericon A Minor adjustment

21-TIME CHAMP READY TO DEFEND TITLES AT IFR 45

OKLAHOMA CITY – Shawn Minor approaches rodeo much like a factory-worker.

“I just want to be a rodeo cowboy,” said Minor, a 21-time International Professional Rodeo Association world champion from Camden, Ohio. “I have a wife and two kids, and I’ve got to provide for them. That means winning at rodeos. If you don’t win, you don’t get paid and don’t make a living.”

He’s done pretty well at it. Since his rookie season, Minor has qualified every year for the International Finals Rodeo. He returns for the 12th time to IFR 45, set for Jan. 16-18 at Jim Norick State Fair Arena in Oklahoma City.

Shawn Minor

Shawn Minor

He owns nine all-round gold buckles, eight bareback riding titles and four saddle bronc riding championships. He will roll into Oklahoma City in mid-January No. 1 in all three categories.

“I’ve been playing this game since I was 13, and I’ve learned the ropes,” he said. “I’ve been through the failure and success. I know how to do this deal.”

That has paid off quite well. He has earned nearly $61,000 riding bucking horses in the IPRA.

“A lot of people told me I couldn’t make a living rodeoing, and I set out to prove them wrong,” said Minor, 39, who first qualified for the IFR in his late 20s. “I never set out to win world titles. I just wanted to be known as a good cowboy, in the arena and out.

“My success that I’ve had has just been the topping of the cake. I feel pretty lucky, but I probably work harder at it than most people work in their lifetime. When it comes to riding bucking horses, I would eat it, sleep it, dream about it. I would wake up in the morning, then go out and saddle a colt that I knew bucked. It’s all in how bad you want something.”

He travels North America in order to compete in the sport he loves. He mounts about 200 bucking horses a year. Some years, he has to really work at his job to make it pay off. That was 2014.

“This was not really one of my better years,” he said. “I won a lot, but I won a lot of second- and third-place checks. I didn’t draw the one on them (to win on often). Last year I couldn’t draw a bad one; this year I had to work pretty hard.”

Work is nothing new to Minor, who grew up on a ranch near Gordon, Neb., in the state’s northwest corner, just a stone’s throw from the South Dakota border. He attended a country school that had about half a dozen students in kindergarten-eighth grade. In fact, he started driving himself to school when he was about 8 years old.

“They wired 2-by-4s to the pedals, the clutch, brake and gas,” said Minor, who also rode horses to class. “I broke a lot of ponies and colts to ride going back and forth to school.”

Now nearing 40, he continues to make his presence known in the game he’s played since he was a youngster.

“Being in so many wrecks in my lifetime – as far as bucking horses flipping over or whatever – I’ve just learned to steer clear of a lot of that stuff,” he said. “I think a lot of that is just experience, and I’ve had a lot of it.

“You tend to get pretty savvy to that kind of stuff.”

He also has learned a traditional trait of most cowboys; he can block out pain long enough to make the rides necessary. Of course, there’s no other way a man has a chance at his 22nd, 23rd and 24th gold buckles during the 25th anniversary IFR in Oklahoma City.

“It’s all in your head, because rodeo is such a mental game,” Minor said. “If you don’t have a strong mind and a big heart, you’re probably never going to go very far in rodeo.”

Minor has come a long ways in his rodeo career, and it doesn’t look like he’s slowing down any time soon.

postheadericon There’s no step with us this Christmas

Laney and Ted laugh at his reaction to the beautiful words she wrote to him this Christmas. It wasn't just Ted; Laney did that with all her thoughtful presents. Her insights are meaningful to all those who have received her thoughts. (LYNETTE HARBIN PHOTO)

Laney and Ted laugh at his reaction to the beautiful words she wrote to him this Christmas. It wasn’t just Ted; Laney did that with all her thoughtful presents. Her insights are meaningful to all those who have received her thoughts. (LYNETTE HARBIN PHOTO)

For me, Christmas is always about family, reflection and showing my love for my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Family is the perfect way to see God’s love for us. It’s evident in the eyes of our children, in their laughter, in the beauty that is my wife. This year has been exceptional in that regard; save the flu that has wrapped its not-so-loving arms around my youngest daughter.

What you need to read today is not my diatribe, but the words presented to me by my oldest daughter, who will be 13 in mid-March. She’s wise beyond her years. She came into my life when she was 3 years old; she came into my heart moments after I met the vibrant little girl with an amazing personality.

She is my step-daughter, though we’ve never allowed that word to interfere with our relationship. Here are her words, etched on a frame that covers a 2009 photo of her and me at a Royals game:

Real Dad

Some people would say you’re not my real dad, but I know that’s not fully true, for you’ve been a real dad to me in all the things we’ve been through. We’ve had our ups and downs; sometimes it’s hard to bend, but you’ve always been there when I’ve needed you. And that’s what matters in the end. I’m eternally grateful to you, because you’ve treated me as your own. For though we’re not tied by blood, instead the love and trust you’ve given me. That’s what counts you as a real dad.

Love Laney