Louisiana bulldogger goes from one-stop town to the top of the world
Tucked away in DeSoto Parish in northeastern Louisiana sits a little hamlet called Keachi, which boasts of 238 residents.
Steer wrestler Jacob Talley is one of them. This is where he was raised and taught right from wrong. His father, Jeff, used to wrestle steers but now owns a water well drilling company; mom Amy owns a gym. Together, they instilled a work ethic and a love for competition into Jacob and his younger brother, Eric, who also bulldogs.
That was life at home, deep in the woods that dot the landscape. Education came some 30 miles north at Calvary Baptist Academy on the southern side of Shreveport. You see, Keachi isn’t big enough for a small school, so the Talleys went to the city for time in the classroom.
“We have a stop sign and a corner store, and that’s it,” said Jacob Talley, 30, a three-time National Finals Rodeo qualifier and Cinch endorsee.
That’s perfectly fine; small-town life is a nice fit for many in this world, and home will always be home to him. There’s a comfort in knowing everyone at the Keachi Kountry Store & Café or recognizing the shortcuts through the woods. It’s the people there that served as the foundation for who he has become … in rodeo and in life. For now, they’re intertwined. Rodeo is who he is and how he makes a living, and he’s doing pretty dang well at it right now.
He’s coming off the best season of his 11-year career, having earned $138,329 in a COVID-restricted campaign and finishing seventh in the final PRCA world standings. More than half his total ($76,705) was earned over 10 days at the NFR, where Talley placed four times, including wins in Rounds 4 and 9.
That was just a taste of what was to come for Talley, who sits No. 1 in the world standings with more than $77,000 in the bank through mid-June. He was aided with a major league windfall by winning RFD-TV’s The American, which paid its winners $100,000 each, half of which counts toward the world standings. Even without that, Talley would still be in the mix; instead, he owns a lead of nearly $30,000 over the field.
“I want to, obviously, win the world (title),” he said. “That’s been my goal from the get-go. It’s great making the NFR, but that’s not why I do it. I want to be the best there is. When I get on the back end of my career, I want to look back and say that I left no doubt that I was that.”
Ah, but that Montana Silversmiths gold buckle is elusive, and steer wrestling features the tightest competition of any of the events each season in ProRodeo. Talley’s lead can diminish quickly over the course of the summer run if he doesn’t maintain control of things within his grasp. But that’s where the foundation and outreach of a community comes in
He watched his father compete, then actually traveled with Dad for a couple of years when the youngster first cracked out at age 19.
“Dad took me to a bulldogging school in 2010, then he rodeoed for another two years and went with me a little bit and showed me how he did everything. He never really went too far, but he helped me get my start.”
Talley was a high school graduate before he tried his hand at rodeo. Instead, he focused on football like many boys in that part of the world. Louisiana and Texas are hotbeds for high school football, and the physicality and competition fit him like a glove. At 6-foot, 230 pounds, though, he didn’t have quite the stature most recruiters want in an intercollegiate lineman.
Though he knew rodeo, he never approached it while still in school. He was serious about football, and coaches were serious that he didn’t jump off horses onto steers to jeopardize his prowess on the gridiron. Still, when he hung up the cleats, he quickly turned to bulldogging.
“I’ve always been a competitor, and I like being able to compete at things,” Talley said. “The plus side to bulldogging over football is, yes, I have a hazer and horses to rely on, too, but it’s pretty much left up to you whether you win or lose most of the time. I like being in a little more control of my own outcome.
“I love being able to compete, but being able to have a job where you can travel the country and see different places and do something you love … that doesn’t get to happen very often anymore.”
He doesn’t do it alone. Rodeo is a family business, whether blood relatives are involved or not. No, the gypsy lifestyle of traveling hundreds of miles in a day just to compete offers a “rodeo family” for everyone There is comradery among the combatants, but there’s a unique togetherness in the world of steer wrestling. Bulldoggers are a different breed, and it shows in the way they cheer for each other or offer assistance at any time.
“It’s neat, because we are technically competing against each other,” he said. “Everybody’s betting on themselves to win, because you’re competing against the steer, but you want to see your buddy do good, too. You’re going to do as good as you can do on the animal you have and let them do as good as they can do, but you ever want to see anybody do bad.”
That comradery goes a bit further when it comes to the groups that travel together. In Talley’s case, he travels the spiraling highways and Interstates along the Plains with Justin Shaffer, Tucker Allen and Luke Branquinho, the latter of whom is a five-time world champ.
“It’s extremely important to have good guys to travel with,” Talley said. “You’re talking about four guys living in confined spaces for weeks at a time. You’ve got to be able to get along with those guys and have a good relationship with the, because you’re in a 10- to 15-foot living-quarters trailer for weeks on end.”
Without that bond, winning is hard for everyone. It’s critical for the success of the rig and for the individuals within it. Having a superstar like Branquinho in same traveling posse offers everyone the opportunity to see what it means to be one of the greatest while also building on their own pedigrees at the same time.
“I’ve always liked being a hard worker and accomplishing things I set out to do,” Talley said. “I tend to go after it with everything I’ve got. When I’m done, I want to look back and not have to regret anything and know I’ve set myself up for my future by rodeoing. It’s hard, because a lot of guys can go for years and years and have nothing to show for it.
“I want to do it in a way that’s smart. I know I can make enough money to set myself up for the future, that way I don’t have to hustle when I’m 45 or 50 years old just to figure out what I have to do to support myself.”
He’s competing in an era that allows cowboys that opportunity. There are enough dollars available that a retirement account can be built and a life can be comfortable. He sees himself back in Keachi, but who knows how things will work out by then. Instead, Jacob Talley keeps his focus on the road he’s already on, one he hopes that leads to ProRodeo’s gold.
“My biggest accomplishment so far is making it to the NFR,” he said. “It’s an accomplishment, and I can’t take that away – especially doing it more than once – but it still feels like we’re a step short of what I want to do.”