CLAREMORE, Okla. – In essence, Ricky Riley’s life changed several years ago when he moved from his native New Mexico to Checotah, Okla.
The steer wrestler wanted to be one of the best, so he decided to learn from the best, and every one of them seemed to be from that small eastern Oklahoma community known as the Bulldogging Capital of the World.
“I used to come over here, and they just took my money time after time,” said Riley, who posted a 4.2-second run Friday on opening night of the Will Rogers Stampede to take the steer wrestling lead. “When you’re there, you’re surrounded by all those guys, and you take it all in.”
Riley did. In fact, he won the Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo in 2005. In his eight-year ProRodeo career, Riley has traveled the country chasing his gold-buckle dreams.
But life continues to change. Rodeo isn’t the most important thing in Riley’s life; that little piece of his heart belongs to his wife of seven years, Kristie, and their son, Grant, born just 13 days ago.
“This is my first PRCA rodeo of the year,” Riley said, referring to the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, the premier sanctioning body in the sport. “Between my work and with him coming along, I just haven’t gone.”
Riley works for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and was recently transferred to the office in Chandler, Okla., a 95-mile commute until the family can find a home. But he found his way to Claremore in an effort to finally earn a paycheck at this rodeo.
“Memorial Day Weekend is such a good weekend around here,” he said, noting that there are events in Hinton, Okla., and Tonganoxie, Kan., this weekend, and the rodeo in nearby Fort Smith, Ark., begins Monday. “Since I bought my permit in 2002, I haven’t missed a year of this rodeo, but I’ve never done any good here either.
“This has always been a really good rodeo, but I’ve just never done well here.”
That’s about to change. Riley will have to wait out two more performances, set for 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, to see if any of the other 22 bulldoggers in the field can move him off the top of the leaderboard.
Still, Riley is content in his lifestyle. He’ll try to go to 40 rodeos this year, unlike the years when he hit the road for tens of thousands of miles and 150 steer wrestling runs a year. He’ll enjoy sharing his time with his growing son. And just like many of the top contestants in the game, he’s already making plans to be in Claremore in 2012.
“We decided to raise a family and stick around the circuit, stay close to the house,” he said. “That’s fine by me.”
Will Rogers Stampede
Bareback riding leaders
1. 1. Ty Breuer, 83 points on Western Trails’ Lorra Belle; 2. Tanner Aus, 72; no other qualified rides.
Steer wrestling leaders
1. Ricky Riley, 4.2 seconds; 2. Dru Melvin and Jacob Talley, 4.3; 4. Zach Cobb and Trey Austin, 4.4; 6. Chancey Larson, 5.0.
Saddle bronc riding leaders
1. Jacobs Crawley, 80 points on Rafter H Rodeo Livestock’s Spade; 2. Cody Angland, 79; 3. Bobby Griswold, 75; 4. Sterling Crawley, 74; 5. Tyrel Larsen, 73.
Tie down roping leaders
1. Trevor Brazile, 8.1; 2. Chris Neal, 8.5; 3. Trent Creager and Cole Bailey, 8.7; 4. Payden Emmett, 9.0; 5. Blake Eliason, 9.5; 6. Steve Brickey, 10.5.
Team roping leaders
1. Blake Hughes/Steve Orth, 5.2 seconds; 2. Casper May/Derrick Peterson, 5.8; 3. Adam Newcomb/Chad Harper, 6.0; 4. Nick Sartain/Kollin VonAhn, 6.1; 5. Jimmy Tanner, Manuel Egusquiza, 6.2.
Barrel racing leaders
1. Shelley Morgan, 17.11 seconds; 2. Jessi Eagleberger, 17.28; 3. Jeannie McKee, 17.32; 4. Tana Renick, 17.38; 5. Rachelle Holt, 17.45; 6. Keely Weger, 17.48.
Bull riding leaders
1. Corey Navarre, 68; no other qualified rides.
First round: 1. Trevor Brazile, 10.8, $983; 2. Rocky Patterson, 12.2, $813; 3. Cody Scheck, 13.6, $644; 4. Cody Lee, 14.0, $474; 5. Rod Hartness, 14.1, $305; 6. Brad Prather, 15.1, $169.
Second round: 1. Jason Stockton, 10.7, $983; 2. Will Gasperson, 10.8, $813; 3. Trevor Brazile, 11.3, $644; 4. J. Paul Williams, 11.5, $474; 5. Cody Lee, 11.7, $305; 6. Worm Shipley, 11.8, $169.
Average: 1. Trevor Brazile, 22.1, $983; 2. Cody Lee, 25.7, $813; 3. Rocky Patterson, 26.4, $644; 4. Chuck Thompson, 31.1, $474; 5. Brady Garten, 33.2, $305; 6. Mike Chase, 34.0, $169.