Elkhart County 4-H Fair: The life of a rodeo cowboy

    “A lot of it is heritage,” said Jared Kempker, a 25-year-old roper. “The cowboy way is a dying breed.”

    Posted on July 25, 2014 at 7:02 p.m.

    Elkhart County 4-H Fair visitors packed the grandstands Friday to watch the annual rodeo. The Elkhart Truth asked a cowboy what it was like to participate in rodeos.

    How did you get involved with rodeo?

    Jared Kempker, 25, has been roping since he was 10. His dad owned horses and did rodeo, so Kempker grew into it.

    “A lot of it is heritage,” he said. “The cowboy way is a dying breed.”

    Kempker is a member of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, a national group. His father competed at rodeos, too, and his younger brother is starting to compete.

    “He’s a couple years younger than me, so he’s at Missouri level right now,” Kempker said. “He’s not quite at the national level yet.”

    Why do you come back to rodeos every year?

    “The prize money is a big thing,” Kempker said. “I mean, we couldn’t afford to do it without places like this putting together rodeos and having good money.”

    But it’s more than that for him. His father and brother both do rodeo, and even though he’s only 25, he knows he could raise a family in this environment.

    “Bring your kids along, you can do it with them as they grow up,” Kempker said. “My dad always said, if I’m always with him it’s a good way to keep me out of trouble.”

    Rodeo is just a competitive version of what cowboys do on the farm, he said.

    “It’s money and heritage and it’s a way of life.”

    What do you do when you’re not at rodeos?

    When one wrong throw during the calf roping or one slip during the bull riding event could throw off your entire score, it can be hard to make money doing rodeo events. Most of the cowboys have another job.

    At home in Jefferson City, Mo., Kempker works at his family’s glass business, installing auto glass.

    “Whenever I’m home, I work 40 to 50 hours a week,” he said.

    He usually takes the month of July off to go to rodeos. He was home two days last week, he said, the first time he’s been home all month.

    Have you ever been injured?

    Kempker was injured stepping off a horse at a California rodeo

    “Two years and five days ago, I tore my ACL, my MCL and fractured my femur,” Kempker said. “It ended my career for about six months.”

    He was 27th in the world at the time, had won $30,000 and had to go home to heal.

    “I just stepped on it funny and it popped weird,” Kempker said. “A freak accident, really.”

    How far have you traveled for a rodeo?

    The farthest Kempker ever traveled was Northern Alberta in Canada. But he and the two cowboys he travels with put a lot of miles on the odometer just in the States.

    Kempker, Cody McCartney and 17-year-old Tyler Millican traveled to a rodeo in Illinois Thursday night. They competed at the Elkhart County 4-H Fair rodeo at 1 p.m. Friday and then drove three hours and fifteen minutes to another rodeo in Tiffin, Ohio, Friday night. Kempker estimated they would go to seven to nine more rodeos in the next week, including one in Canada on Saturday morning.

    “Cody actually has entered us in all of them, I don’t even know where all I’m going,” he said. “He’ll just go, ’We’re going to this,’ and I say, ’Fine.’ We put it in the GPS and away we go.”

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