DUNCAN, Okla. – Stockton Graves has had a special place in his heart for the Prairie Circuit.
Graves got his start in professional rodeo competing at events close to his Newkirk, Okla., home, those primarily within the borders of the Oklahoma-Kansas-Nebraska region. Now 34 years old, he has qualified seven times for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo and has been one of the top steer wrestlers in the sport for a decade.
So far this season, he has won nearly $32,000, which has him down the money list in the closing weeks of the season and out of opportunities to play in Las Vegas this coming October. But that’s OK, because Graves has other priorities in his life – he is the rodeo coach at his alma mater, Northwestern Oklahoma State University.
“This year’s been really good, especially in the circuit,” Graves said. “I think I’ve won more money in the circuit than I ever have.”
Of his season earnings, more than $20,000 has come from rodeos in the circuit. He has five key victories for the 2013 campaign – steer wrestling crowns in Lawton, Okla.; Guymon, Okla.; and Eureka, Kan.; and tie-down roping and all-around titles in Topeka, Kan. He leads the bulldogging standings with $19,479, nearly $8,000 ahead of the No. 2 cowboy, Kyle Irwin, a Northwestern alumnus who competed on Graves’ rodeo team.
Graves also leads the all-around standings with $20,227, just about $1,000 ahead of Trell Etbauer of Gruver, Texas. They’ll battle for the coveted year-end championships during this year’s marquee event, the Chisholm Trail Ram Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo, set for Oct. 17-19 at the Stephens County Fair and Expo Center in Duncan.
“Last year I didn’t make the (National) Finals, but I did make the circuit finals and the All American Finals,” he said, noting that the All American ProRodeo Series finale features the top contestants based on points from events included in that circuit. “Between the Prairie Circuit Finals, the All American Finals and the Ram National Circuit Finals, I won close to $30,000 last year. That’s still rodeoing for a living. As a cowboy, it all boils down to winning money.
“For everybody that doesn’t rodeo to make the NFR, the circuit gives them a chance to win some good money. Especially with the Ram National Circuit Finals being in Oklahoma City, it’s really something I want to shoot for so I can make it there.”
Graves has been there, qualifying for ProRodeo’s national championship event in the two ways possible – only the year-end champions and circuit finals-average champions in each event from each of the 12 circuits earns the right to compete each spring in Oklahoma City. Last year, Graves earned his ticket by winning the average title in Duncan.
The key is finishing the season among the top 12 on the Prairie Circuit money list in order to play in Duncan. With just two weeks remaining in the circuit season, Graves is one of 10 contestants leading the race in the standings of his event. He is joined by bareback rider Caine Riddle of Vernon, Texas; header Nick Sartain of Dover, Okla.; heeler Billie Saebens of Nowata, Okla.; saddle bronc rider Joe Lufkin of Sallisaw, Okla.; tie-down roper Jerome Schneeberger of Ponca City, Okla.; steer roper Rocky Patterson of Pratt, Kan.; barrel racer Gretchen Benbenek of Aubrey, Texas; and bull rider Sage Kimzey of Strong City, Okla.
“I will always rodeo around the circuit as long as I can rodeo,” Graves said. “We have good rodeos to go to, and it makes my life a little easier. Most of our rodeos are no more than six hours away. Last week we went to four rodeos, and I was home every night. I like that.
“I’m pretty content with being a circuit cowboy.”