PRYOR, Okla. – Coleman Proctor will never forget the first time he made his way into Thomas & Mack Arena in Las Vegas.
In his 30 years on this earth, the Oklahoma cowboy has spent countless hours watching the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo on TV and through many recordings. He dreamed of competing inside those golden fences in the Nevada desert. He had never seen them in person until a year ago, just days before competing at the Wrangler NFR for the first time.
“The first time I saw the Thomas & Mack was when we were coming in the tunnel to break in the steers,” said Proctor, of Pryor. “There’s actually nothing like that feeling. Then you get to be part of it, part of the grand entry and the smoke and the pyro. When you see it on TV, all you catch is the beginning. You don’t really experience it. That first night, I got to really experience it. I took it all in.”
Proctor returns to Las Vegas for the Wrangler NFR, ProRodeo’s grand championship that takes place Dec. 3-12. After finishing the 2014 campaign fourth in the final world standings, he returns to be among the elite rodeo contestants in the world by finishing among the top 15 for the second straight year where he will be roping with lifelong partner Jake Long of Coffeyville, Kan.
“When I was a kid, I didn’t want to go until I made them,” Proctor said. “When Jake made them and I didn’t, I wanted to go out there to support him; I had to work in the offseason to help pay for everything for the next season or I would have been there.”
So he waited until his first qualification. Each go-round in 2014 offered lessons in Wrangler NFR competition. Now he hopes those classes pay off.
“This year I’ll have a little better grasp of what happens out there and a better feel for the start and how the rodeo goes,” he said. “Nothing prepares you for that arena and that rodeo than going for the first night. It’s one of those lessons you learn after you get there. When I got there, it was a pretty short learning curve, from the time you nod your head to how fast you have to be.”
He also leans a lot in his partner. Long returns to the Wrangler NFR for the fifth time in his career; this is his second straight with Proctor. He also has at the finale with Brady Tryan and Travis Tryan. Nonetheless, Long and Proctor have been the best of friends since they were babies.
“It’s really cool that I’ve been to my first two NFRs with Jake,” Proctor said. “Early on, Jake and I loved the game so much. We started out this journey together, and now we’re actually doing this, competing at a high level and having success and doing something we’ve dreamed about. That’s special. It’s probably the coolest thing for me.”
A year ago, the tandem placed in six of 10 Wrangler NFR go-rounds, winning on the fifth night. They pocketed about $74,000 in Las Vegas. Now they’d love to exceed it, but this is the year to make that happen. The purse for the finals has increased to $8.8 million, and go-round winners will earn more than $26,200 a night.
“We’re about $60,000 behind the leaders,” he said of Clay Tryan and Jade Corkill, the two-time reigning world champion team ropers. “It’s going to be a bit of work. We’d hoped to be within a go-round (payout) of them when we got to the NFR; now we’re two go-rounds from it.
“It’ll make for more drama when we get there.”
That’s perfectly fine for Proctor and Long.
“We first started roping together when we were 2 or 3 years old,” Proctor said. “Since I was 12 or 13, we were all a team. It was just a dream, and for it to turn out to what it became has been phenomenal.”
That means changes over the years. The NFR will be their last competition together for a while, as each will compete with different partners for 2016. Even with split, they remain close.
“We’re going to rope with different partners, but there’s no animosity between him and me,” Proctor said. “We are friends first. Roping partners come and go, but those friends you consider family … those are a huge part of who you are. Our roots run so deem, no matter who we’re roping with, that we will always be friends.
“The way my life has changed, the way I’ve grown and developed as a person, Jake is a big reason for all of that.”
That’s because they’ve shared a dream since toddlers. Now they’re chasing it.
“We have wanted to win the gold buckle as kids,” he said, referring to the trophy given to the world champions. “We have absolutely nothing to lose in this partnership. We have our ears laid back. We’re going to leave it all on the table, give it all we can and do what we can to catch Clay and Jade.”
That likely also will be the same game plan for the other teams in the mix. The reason gold buckles are so coveted is because of the work it takes to retrieve one. Proctor has learned that over the years, not only because of his own ability but also that of those who support his career.
“Three things changed my career over the last couple of years: Shane Boston, Speed Williams and this horse,” he said of some valuable partners, including his horse, Carmine, and some great sponsors in Boston’s Southern Welding LLC; Williams’ SpeedRoping.com; Riverbend Arena in Inola, Okla.; Lone Star Ropers; Justin Boots; Wrangler; Coats Saddlery; CSI Saddle Pads; Brazos Valley Equine Hospital; and Larry the Cable Guy.
“Shane has been there since Day 1 and is my biggest sponsor and biggest supporter.”
Boston is not the only big part of what Proctor has accomplished. Two seasons ago, Proctor roped as a heeler behind Williams, an eight-time world champion. Williams also sold Carmine to Proctor in March 2014. The 15-year-old sorrel gelding has been the perfect fit for Proctor.
“That’s my go-to guy,” Proctor said. “Having that kind of extra horsepower has made a difference; he was a game-changer. I knew I need to have him to go to the next level.
“Carmine is just a heck of an athlete. He can fly, and he makes your job easy. If you do your job, he allows you to win. I’ve never had a horse that was this close from the back of the (roping) box to be able to run them down. He just allows you to be more consistent and run one further and still be fast.”
Part of that is natural athletic ability, but it also goes to how the animal moves with ease. Part of that is training.
“He runs extremely hard, and he’s smooth about it,” Proctor said. “He allows you to be running wide open and, once you rope, he allows you to put the steer on the end of the rope and be ready for the heeler to finish fast. He finishes strong.
“He’s one of my favorite horses that I’ve ever swung my leg over.”
It all has contributed to a stellar season, but so have those closest to him, including his fiancé, Stephanie Arnold; the couple will marry next May.
“We’ve been together for about eight years,” he said. “She’s been amazing for me, and her family is so awesome. They’ve taken me in as one of their own. They’ve been there with me through thick and thin.”
Things have been pretty thick for Proctor. He approaches rodeo in a different way than most, and that’s a good thing.
“My reason behind doing this is maybe I can make a positive impact on somebody’s life,” he said. “We are all here to make a difference in somebody’s life, and rodeo is my vehicle to do that.”