Uniontown rider earns NFR berth
"Riding bucking horses bareback is sure better than catching chickens."
Having done both, one of only two Kansas cowboys qualified for the National Finals Rodeo, Dec. 6-15, in Las Vegas, Nev., has no hesitance in his preference.
"I grew up on a chicken farm in Dover, Ark., and started working there when I was quite young. I started catching chickens when I was 14, because it paid a little better, but I never really did care for the job," Jared Keylon of Uniontown said.
His preference was riding horses, and helping his dad, Johnny, break colts. "I always liked those that had a little buck in them," the 28-year-old said.
So, when he mounted his first bareback bronc, Keylon reflected, "I got bucked off, but I fell in love with the sport."
His "chicken job" provided an opportunity to pursue his new affection. "My older brother, Bo, and I would catch chickens from Sunday through Wednesday, and we had an old blue pickup that mom (Terry) would take us to rodeos in the rest of the week," recalled Keylon, who ended this year's regular season of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association ranked 15th in bareback riding.
Completing a general education degree so he could continue working, Keylon attended welding school and started pursuing that profession, while winning amateur rodeos in Arkansas and neighboring states.
"I got a call from Chad Cross, rodeo coach at Fort Scott Community College, asking if I would join his rodeo team," Keylon said. "I told him I couldn't afford college, but he offered me a rodeo scholarship. So, I took it."
Thus, Keylon developed his rodeo career. "I was third in the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association my first year. Then was runner-up in average the next finals, before my last horse that I marked a 68 on, took a re-ride, got bucked off, and ended up sixth for the year," he said.
After obtaining a degree from FSCC, Keylon got his professional card in 2006, but didn't hit the circuit full force.
"I met my wife, Ashley (Herman) while I was in school, and she asked me why I didn't try to make the finals," Keylon said. "So, after we got married in 2008, I told her I'd give it a try, but compete close to home. I worked a job every day, so I could rodeo."
Sufficiently successful that season, Keylon said, "I decided to go to winter rodeos in Odessa and Denver to see how I did, and I just kept going, ending 16th for the year."
But, a broken leg put the quietus on the next season. "I went back full steam in 2011, ended up 23rd, and this year I finally sealed it up. Thank you, Lord," Keylon said.
Winning $54,478 to make the qualifying cut, Keylon went to 99 rodeos from New Jersey to Washington.
However, it was the "backyard rodeos," that were integral to his accomplishment.
Keylon won bareback ridings this year in Abilene, Bennington, Garden City and was co-champion at Abbyville and Strong City, along with collecting titles in a number of Oklahoma rodeos, and six other states, as far away as two in Wisconsin.
Numbers sound good, but it's the cowboy ability that is the essential requirement. "I rode most of my broncs, all but a handful, yet it takes a top horse to win money," the five-foot-four, 148-pound Keylon critiqued his season. "I sure didn't get checks on near all of them."
However, at the Prairie Circuit Finals, Keylon was first in the average and ended up second for the year.
Days gone by aren't on Keylon's mind now though. "I did pretty good at the Heartland Series Finals in Waco, Texas, but it's been about a month since I've been to a rodeo. I've been working out and spend time each day with the Lord. He's the one responsible for all of this.
"However, I told my wife this morning I should get something packed. We have to leave for Vegas Monday," he said Thursday.
Keylon credits his wife, his mom and his mother-in-law, Laura French, as his biggest fans. "They are really behind me all the way.
"Of course, our son, Johnny Gunner, 2, is rooting for me. He's named after my dad, but is our first child so we call him Gunner. Always wearing his hat and boots, he's a cowboy, too."
Keylon's dad, his sisters Kelly and Natisha, and brothers will be in the cheering sections, too. "Bo rides bareback horses, and Jacob is a bull rider," Keylon said.
The other Kansan going to Vegas, Jake Long of Coffeyville has qualified for his third finals ranking eighth in team roping as a heeler.
Rocky Patterson, of Pratt, collected his third steer roping world championship at the National Finals Steer Roping, Guthrie, Okla., while Cody Scheck, of Ellinwood, ended the year eighth.