ProRodeo's grand finale, the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, is set for Dec. 5-16 in Las Vegas.
Keylon said he's always promised himself he wouldn't go the NFR until it was his turn; now after two or three tries, it is and he's "awful excited" about it.
"To be honest with you, I feel like I accomplished a goal made when I left home. It's always fun to accomplish those goals that you set," he said in a phone interview from Waco, site of the All-American ProRodeo Finals.
His wife, Ashley and son, Gunner, who will be 2 in December, will be there to cheer him on at the NFR, as will his parents, Johnny and Terry.
Having grown up in a non-rodeo family in Hagarville, Ark., Keylon didn't start riding until he was 17. He's now 28. "Usually people get into it when they're younger, but I was almost grown when I started riding," Keylon said.
First approached about trying to ride when he was 13 or so, it wasn't until his brother Bo brought home a bareback rigging from a western store that he made the attempt. He and Bo figured out how to enter a rodeo, which took some doing, and it snowballed from there.
Keylon and his brother grew up working on a chicken farm owned by someone his father knew. At the time, Keylon was 11. He was 14 or 15 when he quit school to work full time. His dad instructed him to get a GED, although Keylon said he "didn't care to." Then his father told him to get a trade, so Keylon went to welding school, but when he got out, he went right back to work on the chicken farm.
After that, he went to work for Tyson, and at 19, to Fort Scott Community College. Fort Scott is where he met his wife. "It's been kind of around the world for me," Keylon said.
"I thank the good Lord every day for the blessings he's given me. I couldn't imagine any other kind of life. I really enjoy what I do," he said. "I haven't forgotten that stuff like getting up at 3 or 4 in the morning, or going to work at 10 or 11 at night and not getting home until 1 or 2 the next afternoon."
Rodeo season runs from October through Sept. 30 and Keylon spends 150-170 days a year on the road traveling anywhere from Seattle to Atlantic City, N.J., and all points in between.
He'll stay in Waco until Saturday and then three or five days off before circuit finals start Oct. 18 in Duncan, Okla.
Keylon and Winn First Ratliff of Leesville, La., will be traveling together to the 10-day NFR. Keylon will only be bareback riding.
"That's the only event I do," he said. "Most cowboys now are one-event guys." But there are still a lot of guys who rope.
Along with his brother Bo, Keylon has a "little brother," Jacob, who rides bulls, and two sisters, Kelly and Pooh.