GUYMON, Okla. – The first rodeo Charlie Russell Larsen attended was during Pioneer Days last May.
He was just 3 weeks old, and there’s a good chance he’ll return to Guymon every May for the event. He may not have been born in Texas County, but it’s very much who he is. He is the son of Chaney (Latham) and Tyrel Larsen, both Oklahoma Panhandle State University graduates.
Mom was born in the Panhandle and raised near Goodwell. Charlie’s grandfather is Craig Latham, a nine-time saddle bronc riding qualifier to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo who served as the Panhandle State rodeo coach for several years. Dad is a professional bronc rider, too, and is hoping the 2017 season provides him a return trip to the NFR; he qualified in 2015.
Tyrel Larsen will be one of dozens of bronc riders who will be part of the mix for the Guymon Pioneer Days Rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 5; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 6; and 2 p.m. Sunday, May 7, at Henry C. Hitch Pioneer Arena.
“I like going every year because it feels like a hometown rodeo to me,” said Larsen, a former college champion. “I feel like I have a few hometown rodeos, but there you have people in the stands, from professors to neighbors to family friends.
“There are a lot of memories in that arena, both good and bad. That was where Chaney and I had a bad wreck (in team roping), but I also won the bronc riding at the college rodeo there.”
That’s why he likes returning “home,” even though he and his family live in Weatherford.
“We try to spend three days there during Pioneer Days,” Larsen said. “It’s good to just hang out and see everybody again. It’s like a family reunion.”
It’s definitely a homecoming for many who have ties to the region once known as No Man’s Land. Whether they attended Panhandle State or lived in the area, there’s are certain comforts of home when they arrive for the Pioneer Days Rodeo.
Like Larsen, dozens of NFR qualifiers have ties to the region, including world champions Robert Etbauer, Billy Etbauer, Tom Reeves, Jeffrey Willert, Taos Muncy, Spencer Wright, Jhett Johnson and Rocky Patterson. All but Johnson and Patterson were bronc riders. Panhandle State is a proving ground for many of the top cowboys in the game.
“A lot of bronc riders go to school there because of all the guys that have been through there,” Larsen said. “When I went to college, we had a bunch of really good guys on the team. When you won at practice, it really meant something.
“It was like you were riding at a ProRodeo. That was a pretty big deal, because it was so competitive. You’re not so star struck knowing you could beat those guys. The more good guys you are around, the better you’re going to be in the long run.”
Larsen has been pretty good. In 2014, he just missed the NFR by finishing 16th in the world. Last year he finished 25th despite missing action in July and August – two of the busiest and most lucrative months in the season.
“I suffered a broken ankle and had surgery the end of June,” he said. “I came back the end of July, and that didn’t work, so I took a little more time off. I did that again, then in the last month of rodeo, I broke two saddles. I just didn’t have much luck last year.”
He’s hoping his luck changes for the better in 2017.
“I started off the year trying to get some redemption,” he said. “Then I realized I was trying too hard to make some things happen. If you don’t push so much, you don’t put so much pressure on yourself. Hopefully that will help.”
He’s not complaining about his time away from the rodeo arena. In fact, he found the silver lining in time spent at home.
“We got to spend lots of time together,” Larsen said. “It’s pretty nice, especially now that he’s about to start walking. He recognizes you. It’s pretty nice to come home to.”
By the time Pioneer Days Rodeo kicks off, Charlie Larsen likely will be waddling his way around Hitch Arena like all other toddlers, and he’ll have plenty of family and friends to keep watch over him while Dad tries to win the Pioneer Days title, a prize that has eluded him.
“It would be awesome to win that rodeo,” Tyrel Larsen said. “It would be like winning my hometown rodeo. So many guys that went to school there have won that title. It should be my time any year now, so I’m just waiting for it.”