One on One: Bobby Harris

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Bobby Harris, 47, is a 17–time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo team roper. His NFR partners have included Scott Laramore, Jay Ellerman, Tee Woolman, Dee Pickett, Jake Milton, Charles Pogue, Bret Boatright, Rube Woolsey, Doyle Gellerman, David Motes and J.D. Yates. Bobby won the Finals in 1987 when he and Tee tied at the top with Jake Milton and Walt Woodard, in 1990 with his co-1991 World Team Roping Titlist Tee, and in 2002 heeling for J.D. Bobby lives in Highmore, S.D., though the Cowboy State of Wyoming will always be home to him. After a dramatic return to the arena in 2010, which included the win at the "Daddy of ’em All" in Cheyenne, Bobby will rope at his 18th NFR in December with Finals freshman Britt Williams. Bobby has two kids, Kendall, 22, and Ryan, 20. He married Colleen Leisinger in Spearfish, S.D., on Monday, September 20, so happy honeymooning!

I roped at my first Finals in 1981, and my last one in 2002, when I won the average with J.D. I rodeoed a little in 2003, but I was burned out. I was just sick of it, so I pulled up and went home. I’ve been doing about 20 schools a year since, training and selling horses, hanging out with my kids and enjoying life. I still enjoy my schools. I love people, and I love to teach.

I’d rodeoed hard for 21 years, and you just get tired. There’s more to life than repeating the same thing year after year. At some point, you run into the day when your time is done, and for a rodeo cowboy that’s a hard transition. Rodeo’s about adrenaline and passion. How do you replace that? When you’re good at something, and passionate about it, it’s not easy to find something else that does that for you.

I started entering again last fall with (25-year-old) Britt Williams (who lives in Hammond, Mont.). We went to the fall rodeos to get qualified to enter the big 2010 winter rodeos. I had the urge to go to the National Finals again, so I started planning six months before last fall—figuring out partners, horses and all the rest of it. Britt lives about 50 miles from where I grew up in Gillette, which is about 250 miles from where I live now. He comes and stays with me to practice.

The bottom line for me was who fit my style of roping. It’s not who the best ropers are; it’s about the best combination. Britt’s really versatile. He can reach, or he can run close. And he has a good horse that scores good and runs. He’d been out here roping the last few years and hadn’t made the Finals, so he was eager to take the next step. I’ve known Britt since he was born. He’s been to several of my schools, and they’re family friends. He’s a good kid, and he’s talented with a rope. He just needed a little guidance in learning how to win in certain situations. A lot of people can rope. It’s hard to learn how to win.

Early in 2010, Britt and I talked about it being a header’s game. He needed to turn a lot of steers and let me catch. Instead of trying to be 4 every time, we focused more on being 5 at the two-head rodeos. The game plan was to knock as many steers down as we could, and build confidence from there. It’s about knowing when it leaves your hand that you’re going to catch. Not hoping—knowing. That’s what I live by too.

Britt and I had always won when we’d roped before at ropings, so we expected to win and committed to it for a year. We’ve placed along from the beginning once we started going to the rodeos. We never really had a big kill all winter. When we talked up front, I told him we needed to average $1,000 a rodeo to make the Finals. As of today (September 15, on the grass at the 100th annual Pendleton Round-Up), we’ve done that. We’ve been pretty consistent.

We had a couple of $12,000 weeks, the week of Cheyenne (they split it with Derrick Begay and Cesar de la Cruz) and (the Justin Boots Playoffs in) Puyallup (Wash., where Britt and Bobby split the average with Luke Brown and Martin Lucero, and placed in three of four rounds). Those were our two biggest wins. I’ve also started another venture, TotalTeamRoping.com, and I’m excited about making these instructional videos with Jake (Barnes), Clay (O’Brien Cooper), Charles (Pogue) and Bret Beach.

I’ve never been as content with myself as I am right now. I quit drinking a year ago for health reasons. I just got married. I didn’t come back this year to prove anything to anybody else. This has nothing to do with anybody but me. When I quit roping, it wasn’t because I couldn’t rope. I was just burned out.

This will be my 18th NFR. I used to take the Finals for granted, but it’s been a long time. A lot of people had written me off. I’m very appreciative to be going back. I’m excited. We’re gamblers, and we’re going to Vegas to win good money. My whole family is really excited about me going back to the Finals, as are all of our friends. When I came back, I gave myself two years to rodeo. When I’m 50, I want to be doing something else. I can’t do this forever. But I will always rope.

Editor’s Note: Bobby’s beloved mom, Jayne Voiles, died peacefully in her sleep of natural causes on September 28. Rest in Peace, Jayne, and our sincere sympathy to Bobby, Brad and Charlene. -KS