DUNCAN, Okla. – Jesse James Kirby has been in this position before.
The veteran cowboy holds the lead in the Prairie Circuit’s saddle bronc riding standings, edging another veteran, Wade Sundell of Coleman, Okla., by about $1,400 with just three months remaining in the 2015 season.
“I’ve been in the circuit situation before where I had a good lead and had some guys catch me,” said Kirby, 33, of Dodge City, Kan. “But it’s not up to me. My main thing is taking it one rodeo at a time and letting things fall where they fall.”
It may be cliché, but that philosophy is working quite well for Kirby. He’s earned five event titles already this season, including three in the circuit, made up of contestants and events primarily in the Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma region.
He’d like to carry that momentum over to the Chisholm Trail Ram Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 15-Saturday, Oct. 17, at the Stephens County Arena in Duncan. After all, he is the reigning circuit finals champion, winning the average title in 2014 by having the best three-round cumulative score among the finalists.
“I’ve been very consistent lately,” said Kirby, who has earned championships at circuit stops in Bennington, Kan.; Strong City, Kan.; and the May rodeo in Duncan. “I’m just trying to keep it simple, not worrying about anything and just having fun. When a guy gets to thinking about too much, that’s when he fights his head and struggles.
“I’m just keeping it as easy as possible, lifting on my rein, keeping my chin tucked and having a good spur out.”
No matter how much success one has, the top athletes in the game realize basic fundamentals make the difference between riding well and struggling. There also is the thought to continue doing what’s working.
“I needed to get a little ahead so when I get out of the circuit a little bit, I have a bit of a cushion,” he said, referring to the ProRodeo schedule that will see him traveling across the country and outside the region most of the next three months. “I would like to hit Woodward (Okla.) for sure and maybe Pretty Prairie (Kan.) before I head out West. Those are good circuit rodeos, and Woodward adds a lot of money, so that’s always a big part of it.”
Cowboys and cowgirls not only compete to pay their bills, but each dollar counts as championship points. So far this season, Kirby has pocketed more than $9,100, with $6,481 coming from his earnings inside the Prairie Circuit. He is a three-time year-end circuit champion and a two-time winner of the Chisholm Trail Ram Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo.
“I’m going to keep riding the way I have been and hit the circuit rodeos I can,” he said. “During the week of Dodge City, a guy can hit (Kansas stops in) Dodge City, Hill City, Abilene and Phillipsburg, and there are some others that are co-approved with the circuit. That’s a good week to be a circuit cowboy, because they’re all close together.
“If a guy can draw pretty good that week and have a real good week, it can make a big difference in what it takes to get to the circuit finals.”
That’s vital. Only the top 12 contestants in each event earn the right to compete in Duncan the third weekend in October. The world of rodeo features a tiered system; not only do the contestants battle for a spot in the season-ending finale, there are a number of cowboys and cowgirls who also are battling for a spot at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the sport’s grand championship.
As a full-time cowboy, that’s one of Kirby’s goals for 2015.
“I’ve been on a roll, so I’m going to go out West and fight with the wolves a little bit,” Kirby said, referring to testing his skills against regular NFR qualifiers and world champions. “Praise the Lord, I’ve been drawing really good and riding really good. I’m just going to try to take advantage of it and make a little statement that I’m still here.
“I’m going to have fun and do this while I can, because I’m not going to have much more time doing it.”
As a past circuit champion, Kirby wants to continue to push for another regional title. Qualifying for the circuit finals would be important, and so would performing well once he gets to Duncan, but there also is a bigger prize dangling on the line for the Kansas cowboy.
“The circuit’s always been important to me, because it’s close to home and I like the circuit so much,” he said. “But I also haven’t won the saddle yet at the Ram National Circuit Finals.”
The year-end and finals champion in each event from all 12 ProRodeo circuits qualify for the RNCFR, which takes place in Kissimmee, Fla. Each national champion not only wins a trophy saddle but also a trophy buckle, thousands of dollars and a $20,000 voucher toward a new Ram pickup.
“I’d like to have that, especially now that Florida has stepped up and has more added money. If we can still compete and win a lot of money, then we’re going to do that.
“There’s a lot of money in our circuit, too. There are a lot of good rodeos in this circuit and a lot of good people. I want to keep supporting them as much as I can and help the younger guys who are just getting started.”
Kirby has been doing that for his entire ProRodeo career. There’s no reason to change now.