DODGE CITY, Kan. – Will Carpenter landed in the Plains states because of rodeo.
Originally from Calhoun, Ga., the 21-year-old steer wrestler knew his opportunities were limited on the East Coast. He opted for an education at Clarendon Community College in the Texas Panhandle, where he studied for two years while competing on the school’s rodeo team.
Now he’s a senior at Oklahoma Panhandle State University in nearby Goodwell, furthering his education in the classroom and inside the rodeo arena. It’s paying off nicely for Carpenter, who makes his way this western Kansas community for the Kansas Professional Rodeo Association Finals, set for 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 23-Saturday, Sept. 24, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 25, at Roundup Arena.
“Glory to God, it’s just awesome,” said Carpenter, the ninth-ranked steer wrestler in the KPRA standings with $2,888 in regular-season earnings. “This is my first summer to go off and rodeo. Back home I worked for a stock contractor, so I’d only enter the rodeos he had. Until Lakin, Kan., this year, I had never won an actual rodeo other than a high school rodeo.
“After that, a weight was lifted off my shoulders and was able to bulldog halfway decent this season. This is the beginning of a dream.”
The dream has just been delayed a little for a variety of reasons.
“I didn’t jump my first steer from a horse until I was a junior in high school,” he said, noting that he had chute-dogged, which is the precursor to steer wrestling. “My dad was a bulldogger, so I was born into it. When I really started competing, I was a senior in high school.
“I didn’t have a horse, and I’d look for a horse I could ride, but pretty much everybody back home is a team roper. I finally got a horse in July before my senior year of high school.”
Now he’s one of the top 12 contestants in his discipline that will compete over that three spectacular days in Dodge City. Now he relies on an older horse that works for him.
“My horse is 21 years old, but she acts like she’s 2,” Carpenter said of BT, a sorrel mare. “She goes by BT, but they call her Big Ticket. A lot of my friends won’t get on her just to ride her around.”
Steer wrestling horses are noted for a certain demeanor: They run hard and through the jump, but they might not be the easiest to ride as a trail mount. He’s had her for a year and a half.
“When I got her, she was about to fall over dead because she so skinny,” he said. “It took quite a bit of time to get her healthy, but she’s dang sure been a blessing to me.”
That’s the way Carpenter sees most things in life – “All the glory from this goes to God; there’s not a thing that would happen without it.” – and it’s worked for him so far. When he’s not in class or not in practice, he works on a ranch owned by Dan Etbauer, a famed saddle bronc rider who was one of three brothers inducted into the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.
“My overall goal for the KPRA finals is to win the average and win enough money to win the rookie of the year,” Carpenter said. “The big thing, though, is if I can make three solid runs and let everything else take care of itself, I’ll be happy.”
That’s the faith of a competitor.