By Ruth Nicolaus/for the Wild Bill Hickok Rodeo committee
ABILENE, Kans. – The first night of the 71st annual Wild Bill Hickok Rodeo kicked off in Eisenhower Park, with bull riding, saddle bronc riding, and barrel racing, and fans were treated to some of the best cowboys in pro rodeo.
One of those cowboys, reigning PRCA World Champion Saddle Bronc Rider Jacobs Crawley, took the lead after the night’s performance.
Crawley, of Boerne, Texas, scored 84 points on New Frontier’s Tear Drop.
It was a rendezvous for the cowboy and the mare. He had ridden her three years ago in Abilene, and scored an 84 on her then, finishing second to Joe Lufkin.
The mare, who came to Abilene from the New Frontier Ranch at Gypsum, Kan., had a colt by her side, and had a similar trip then.
“She’s really good,” Crawley said. “She angled to the left. That horse has been around for a long time. She’s a really good solid horse to have at a rodeo like this.”
Crawley is having the best regular season of his rodeo career, which began five years ago. He attributes part of it to having won a world championship gold buckle, and part of it with maturity in the sport.
“Definitely, with a world title behind me, that monkey is off your back to where you’re not necessarily chasing that elusive thing,” he said. “I ride because I enjoy it, and make money doing it, and love everything about the aspects of rodeo. This is like a paid vacation.”
He’s also growing in the sport. “In saddle bronc riding, I try to keep growing, keep learning, as a bronc rider. I like to think I’m still tweaking my bronc riding, so hopefully next year I’ll be better.”
Crawley is coming off a win at Cheyenne (Wyo.) Frontier Days on Sunday, and won the Hill City, Kan., rodeo which ended Wednesday night. After tonight’s ride in Abilene, he’s off to Dalhart, Texas; Dodge City, Kan.; Sentinel Butte, N.D., and Phillipsburg, Kan.
His wife, Lauren, travels with him, along with an eight-foot kayak and a bicycle. Any down time they have, they enjoy it.
“We went fishing in Hill City this morning,” he said. “Whenever we have down time, it’s pretty nice. At 7 a.m., I was on the lake.”
In the bull riding, the two-time and reigning PRCA world champion Sage Kimzey made an 85.5 point ride to take the lead.
He rode Sammy Andrews Rodeo’s Bell Ringer, the same bull that carried last year’s Abilene rodeo champion Chandler Bownds to the title.
Kimzey said the bull was a “handful. He makes you work every jump. He’s really kind of ill-timed and hard to ride. It felt like driving a truck with square wheels.”
Andrew’s bull sparked Kimzey’s career two years ago. The Strong City, Okla. cowboy rode Bell Ringer in his rookie year, at the San Antonio (Texas) Stock Show and Rodeo.
“I was 89 on him there. That was the ride that propelled me, established me as one of the top guys. It put me on the map. It was my first big rodeo to win.”
Other leaders at the Abilene rodeo are steer wrestler Jake Kraupie, Bridgeport, Neb. (4.1 seconds), tie-down roper Marcus Theriot, Poplarville, Miss. (7.9 seconds), team ropers Colby Lovell, Madisonville, Texas and Travis Graves, Jay, Okla. (3.9 seconds), and barrel racer Natalie Foutch, Eldora, Iowa (17.70 seconds).
The Steel Rodeo FMX Tour entertained fans at the end of the rodeo, and will repeat for the next three nights. The riders jumped a Superior Sanitation truck. They are sponsored by Superior Sanitation, City Cycle Sales and Smart Insurance/Progressive Insurance.
The Wild Bill Hickok Rodeo continues August 4-6 in Abilene at Eisenhower Park. Tickets are $13 for adults and $7 for children ages 4-10. They can be purchased at the gate. For more information on the rodeo, visit WildBillHickokRodeo.com.