0119 Jim Burch & Jena Foster.JPG

Like most boys, Ty and Justin like to horse around.

But these two friends from Rush Springs, Ty Pool, 11, and Justin Bewley, 14, take it literally.

Add a saddle and a rope and throw in a steer or two and these boys are ready to take horsing around to a whole new level.

Pool and Bewley participated Saturday in the Original Team Roping Association’s (OTRA) District 30 post-season qualifier at the Grady County Fairgrounds in Chickasha. Both are working on their season cash totals to earn their Beginner’s Buckle.

Team roping is a rodeo event that can trace its roots back to the working ranches. It involves two mounted riders. One ropes the front of the steer, usually around the horns, and the second rider ropes the hind feet. According to Wikipedia.com, this technique was developed by cowboys when it was necessary to capture and restrain a full grown animal that was too large for just one person to handle.

The first roper is called the “header” and the second roper is the “healer.”

“The goal is to stop the clock as fast as you can without penalties,” said roper Jim Burch. He and his daughter, Jena Foster, are from Elmore City and were among more than a dozen ropers who competed Saturday.

“It’s one of the only sports where another person helps all along the way in whatever you need. It’s a friendly competition,” Burch said.

“The best part is just getting out there and having fun,” said Pool, who has been roping for about two years. His parents, Aubrey and Donna Pool (owners of the Pool Ranch in Rush Springs) partnered with Monty Stockard, Texas, to host the team roping qualifier.

“This is our first year to put on a roping event,” Donna Pool said. She said Aubrey and Ty compete and she and daughters, Andrea and Jennifer, help run the event. They also have help from friends.

Aubrey has been team roping since he was a teenager and has been a member of OTRA since 1996. He grew up in Ninnekah and competed with the high school rodeo team. Asked what one of the highlights of his roping career has been, he said, “I roped for a $100,000 once. It was in Guthrie at the Lariat Bowl in 1999. My partner missed. There were two grown men riding out of that arena crying.”

Also in 1999, while riding for the FF Rodeo Co., he earned the Heading Buckle for the season. “I only lacked $102 earning the Healing Buckle in the same year.”

His dad, Aubrey, Sr. is also a roper. Most of the ropers have a family connection that introduced them to roping and influenced them into participating in the sport.

Bewley said his uncle and grandfather are ropers and talked him into giving the sport a try.

“It’s fun and I like meeting new people and I like to win,” he said. “Winning is the best part!”

Several districts represent OTRA throughout Texas and Oklahoma, with the home office located in Amarillo, Tex. The finals are held each July in Abilene, Tex., and offer a full slate of prizes to the winners, including a GMC Duramax Diesel Dually pickup.

In order for Pool and Bewley to be awarded their Beginner Buckle in July they each have to hit a total of $500 in winnings. As of Saturday, Pool needed a little over $100 to reach the mark and Bewley needed a little over $300.

“It’s not just about the winning,” said veteran roper, Larry Wenzel. “It’s about the fun.”

Wenzel, who was born and raised on a ranch, has been roping for 45 years. He owns land in Grady County and his family has been in the area dating back to the second land run in 1891. He said he is still on the original family land.

“You don’t learn it (roping) overnight. It takes years,” Wenzel said. “I’ve seen a lot of people come and go.”  Wenzel was also influenced by a family member. His grandfather, Gay (pronounced Guy), was a rancher and competed on the rodeo circuit during the 1920s and 1930s.

“He put an arena on the land we’re on now and held a rodeo. It was a lot of fun and something to do during the Depression. Of course, I wasn’t around during that time,” Wenzel said with a laugh, “but I’ve seen a lot of pictures.”

Wenzel began his own rodeo career in the early 1960s and traveled the circuit. “Straight rodeoing is a rough life. There are a lot of broken bones. With team roping you might get a rope burn or lose a finger,” he said.

Team roping came to Grady County in 1971 at the old rodeo arena, Wenzel said.

“It was a lot different then than it is now. The cattle were bigger and the event was slower. Nobody rushed doing anything. Then you might have 100 teams take all day to compete. Now, you might have 100 teams an hour,” he said.

When asked if he cared for the old days of team roping better than now, Wenzel shrugged and said it was all the same to him. He just loves the sport and doesn’t care if it’s done at a slow or fast pace.

“It’s just team roping. It’s a beneficial sport and it’s important to get the young ones involved. Like these guys,” Wenzel said pointing at Pool and Bewley. “It keeps them on the land and keeps them with horses.

“Its fun and it’s also a challenge to teach the horse what it needs to do. I rope feet. I’m a heeler and I’m going to rope until I can’t do it anymore,” he said.

Burch, also a veteran roper who has competed for 37 years, agrees with Wenzel that the sport has changed from the early days.

“You’ve got younger kids riding better horses,” Burch said. “When I started, there was no handicap. If you wanted to rope, you went and roped against whoever was there. Also, the price of a good horse has gone way up.”

The family connection is also important to Burch. Most of his immediate family are ropers, including his wife, Chirll; son, Cody, and daughter and son-in-law, Jenna and Gavin Foster. He and Jenna were the only two of the family competing Saturday and participated as a father-daughter team. They also split up and competed with other riders.

“I’ve always had horses,” Burch said. I like the competition and the camaraderie. It’s something you can do whether you’re young or old. I know a guy who is 85 and is still roping. There are a lot of older guys still roping. It’s what they know how to do and it keeps them young.”

Another aspect of the sport that has changed through the years, Burch said, is that a person can go to a school and learn how to handle a rope and other techniques involved in team roping. It’s not necessarily learned on the family farm or ranch anymore.

Although he doesn’t conduct an “official” school, Burch said he has helped some ropers around Elmore City.

“It takes practice, practice, practice. Get the best horse you can afford. You’ve got to have a horse that works good. And, you have to be dedicated to it,” Burch said. “It’s a way of life. It’s all I’ve ever done.”

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