PRYOR, Okla. – Coleman Proctor takes nothing for granted and appreciates the talents he’s been given and that he’s worked hard to master.
That’s why his third straight qualification to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo is treasured. It’s why he’ll cherish every situation that occurs between now and the final night of the 2016 season.
“It’s an accomplishment,” said Proctor, the 15th-ranked header in the world standings from Pryor. “Anytime you can make the finals, you’re doing something right. I’m really excited to go back and enjoy the whole experience, from getting the coat and the back number to riding into the arena for the grand entry.
“It’s just exciting. It’s fun, because of the landmark between Thanksgiving and Christmas.”
Only the top 15 contestants in each event at the end of the regular season advance to the NFR, rodeo’s grand finale that takes place over 10 nights in Las Vegas. This year’s championship is Dec. 1-10, and go-round winners will pocket more than $26,000 each night. It’s the most lucrative rodeo in the world, and Proctor knows that as well as anyone.
Last December, he pocketed $120,212 in Las Vegas roping with longtime friend Jake Long. Although the faces have changed, Proctor will have his chance to rope in some big-time cash with his heeling partner, Billie Jack Saebens of Nowata, Okla.
“We started roping in April,” Proctor said of his partnership with Saebens. “We went to California and were on the road for two weeks together before we got to rope together. That month was important to get out there. We went to a lot of (non-Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) jackpots and only went to two rodeos together, but we were out there for a month.
“That helped our chemistry come together, so April was a pretty key month for us to come together.”
It worked, but not without a bit of a scramble as the regular season came to a close the end of September. Proctor earned more than $5,000 the final week of the season to slide into the 15th spot on the money list, finishing just $2,200 ahead of the No. 16 man, Billy Bob Brown.
“We were roping good,” Proctor said. “From the first of August, we caught a lot of steers. For the most part, we were catching, and things were good. We were consistent, but we were catching little breaks that were going against us.”
But the breaks came the team’s way when it counted most. Those are pressure-filled weeks to close out the season with hopes of earning enough money to earn a coveted spot at the NFR. He understands those pressures, but he found the silver lining in the late run this season.
“I think it’s less pressure when you’re not in the top 15,” he said. “Last year was almost more stressful when you’re in the top 15 but you’re still falling in the standings. This year I was never in there, so there was never any pressure on me to make it.
“Billie already had made it, but I wanted to be there with him. I want to show my sponsors off on national television. My sponsors want to see me at the finals; that’s where you can make an impact for them.”
Those sponsors – Southern Welding, SpeedRoping.com, Riverbend Arena, Lonestar Ropes, Justin Boots, Wrangler, Coats Saddlery, CSI Saddlepads, Brazos Valley Equine Hospital, DF Quarterhorses and Larry the Cable Guy – are instrumental in Proctor’s run to the NFR for the third straight year. They help pave the way for him to travel across the country and be in the best possible condition to perform at a top level.
But they aren’t the only supporters the lifelong cowboy carries with him; he also has the support of friends and family, including his wife Steph, with whom he married in May.
“She’s my everything,” Proctor said. “She helps keep me focused and centered when everything’s going crazy and also keeps me built up when I need it.
“She’s been behind me all the way the last eight years. From whenever I wanted to heel again or when I wanted to quit and come home and work a job, there are just so many ways that somebody can be supportive. This summer when I’d have her go with me, we were truly a team from the ground up. Every step of this success is as much about her accomplishment as it is mine.”
He has surrounded himself with a solid team, from his wife to his partner to his strong set of horses. Much of this season he has leaned on Carmine, a 17-year-old sorrel gelding, but he’s also enlisted the assistance of Patriot, Heisman and Switchblade. But those aren’t the only mounts he trusts.
“During that last week when I knew I had to win, I pulled out my roan horse, Booger, and won $5,400,” he said. “He’s 22 years old now, and he’s pulled me out of a lot of binds.
“Horsepower is a key when you’re roping at the NFR.”
So is having a great partner. Though this is Saebens’ first appearance at the NFR, he’s been a successful roper for several years. In fact, Proctor and Saebens roped together during the 2014 RAM Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo and the 2015 RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo.
“I’ve known Billie for a long time,” Proctor said. “When someone ropes good and is from your area, you know about it. We’ve roped together off and on. We roped together at the (Prairie) Circuit finals a few years ago and actually won the average there and got to go to Kissimmee (Fla.) together (for the RNCFR).
“I told Steph on the way home from there that if something ever happened that I’d like to rope with him sometime.”
They made it work in 2016.
“He heels outstanding and understands how to rope two feet a lot,” he said. “Anytime you have a partner that is that solid, it lifts up the whole team. He’s a really good person and has a lot of character. We jive well outside the arena, which is important, especially when you’re making a living off each other’s performance.
“When you spend so many hours behind the steering wheel, it’ll test your limits of a friendship and a partnership, but Billie is easy to go with. It was fun hauling with him, and that sucker is clutch.”
It takes clutch performers to handle all the things thrown at them during the 10-day championship in the Nevada desert. Not only is there big money available each night – more than $84,000 paid out over the top six times – but also it is a nationally televised rodeo with the largest crowds of any with more than 17,000 people packed into the Thomas & Mack Center for each performance.
“You try to keep it light,” Proctor said. “The reality is this is how we make our money and how we pay our bills. All the miles and the hard work culminates in those 10 days. It’s very heavy, but I try to see it as fun and as light as I can. I think that helps when it’s time to perform.”
He proved it last year by averaging more than $12,000 a day, and he’d like to do it again. He’ll have that opportunity for 10 fabulous nights in the City of Lights.