Lovington is special to champs

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Taylor Santos won both the tie-down roping and all-around titles at the Lovington rodeo last year and is looking forward to defending both at this year’s Lea County Fair and Rodeo.

LOVINGTON, N.M. – Taylor Santos is just 28 years old, but he has a firm grasp of the history involved in the sport of rodeo.

He knows that the annual event in Lovington not only dates back many decades, but he realizes also the legacy established years ago still looms largely over the region. Santos is a student of the game, the fourth generation of his family to be part of rodeo, but he was a fan first.

He will defend his all-around and tie-down roping titles at this year’s edition of the Lea County Fair and Rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 9-Saturday, Aug. 12, at Jake McClure Arena; that also includes Lea County Xtreme Bulls, which is Tuesday, Aug. 8.

“I had never gone south during that week of rodeo until I started tripping steers,” said Santos, a tie-down roper and steer roper from Creston, California. “Before that, I’d stay up north. When I started roping steers, I went south, because there’s a lot of money down that way. It’s a little warmer, but it sure is nice to drive to one rodeo and do both events.”

Those two events paid quite well in Lovington. Santos – a two-time qualifier to the National Finals Rodeo who has also advanced to the Clem McSpadden National Finals Steer Roping twice – won the first round, placed in the second round and won the aggregate in tie-down roping; he also placed in two rounds and the average in steer roping.

By the time the week had come to a close, Santos had earned $11,442, with about $7,600 coming in calf roping.

“Any time you can win a rodeo, it’s a big deal,” he said. “It’s gotten so tough, especially since I bought my card in 2016, because there are fewer guys doing multiple events. It’s gotten so specialized now, so everything has just gotten tougher.

“When you’re able to win a major rodeo like that, one that has so much tradition, it means a lot. I’ve gotten to know more tradition since I started roping steers, because those guys understand that and talk about it. Getting to hear the stories and getting to know more about that part of rodeo is really nice.”

Last August, the Lea County Fair and Rodeo paid out thousands to its winners, and Santos was one of 14 people who claimed gold in Lovington. There were five cowboys – Tyler Waguespack, Hunter Cure, D.J. Joos, Tyke Kipp and Cimarron Thompson – who shared the steer wrestling title, and the tandem of Kaleb Driggers and Junior Nogueira claimed the team roping crown.

Other winners were bareback rider Chad Rutherford, breakaway roper Madalyn Richards, steer roper Slade Wood, barrel racer Savannah Woodfin, bull rider Josh Frost and saddle bronc rider Stetson Wright, the four-time and reigning all-around world champion who also owns two bull riding gold buckles and one saddle bronc riding title.

“It’s awesome to win the all-around at a rodeo like that,” Santos said. “I think I got Stetson at Sheridan (Wyoming) and Lovington last year; those were two major rodeos where I was able to compete with him. I had to win a lot of money to even compete with him, which just shows how dominant he is.”

Kipp, the only New Mexico bulldogger to share in the title, was excited to claim the win at the biggest rodeo in his home state.

“Career-wide, this is probably my best win so far, and I’ve been rodeoing awhile,” said Kipp, 30, of Lordsburg. “I’ve always had good luck (in Lovington), even back at the high school rodeos. …

“It’s always good to do (well) at the home-state rodeos, especially this one.”

Winning the Lea County Fair and Rodeo title is a dream for many contestants, and each year several realize it. That’s why they keep coming back and why hundreds will make their way to southeastern New Mexico again this August.


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