An art of the West: The rodeo is more than a show for the Yates clan of Pueblo, Colo.

By Weston Phippen
The Denver Post

The rodeo is more than a show for the Yates clan. Trey and his dad, JD Yates, practice team roping at their property in Pueblo. (Photos by Bryan Oller, Special to The Denver Post) Read more: An art of the West: The rodeo is more than a show for the Yates clan of Pueblo, Colo.

PUEBLO — About 50 years ago, just east of Pueblo, a man staked off his accomplishments with a barbed- wire fence.

Dick Yates had stared at the property across the street from a small house he’d been renting. It wasn’t much then: empty land where the wind blew, carrying its exhaustion across the state.

But soon Dick had a family, a job inspecting cattle for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a few horses and that 10 acres of land. All down a dirt road called 30¼ Lane — one turn before 30½ Lane.

“What do you think of the place now?” Dick, now 73, said recently, leaning against his faded ranch truck. “Not so bad for a farm boy with a couple of horses, eh?”

RODEO EMPIRE:From left, Kelly, Trey, Jan, Dick and JD. Yates fill out three generations who rope steers, barrel-race and train horses. (Photos by Bryan Oller, Special to The Denver Post)

Indeed, now is a sweet time for the Yates family. The clan has made a successful business out of its last name and what some people like to call the old Western way of life. Somewhere between that barbed-wire fence and today, Dick’s son, JD, became the John Elway of rodeo team roping (in which one person ropes the calf’s horns, the other, its back legs). At 50 years old, he still holds the record as the youngest to turn pro, at age 15. And he finally won the Bob Feist Invitational last year, the Super Bowl of roping.

Dick’s daughter, Kelly, who raced a stick horse around cans when she was too small for a real horse, became his equivalent in barrel racing.

Dick and JD team roped together in the late ’70s. These days, he has a bit of that retirement-community shuffle to his walk. But he’s no slouch: He won $13,000 roping at a rodeo in Reno earlier this summer.

In the days that followed that triumph, Dick stood on his property by the old truck, dirt and manure in the air, chewing the end of a cigar and wearing a cowboy hat. He looked out over several barns and some horse trailers that cost as much as a house; he had his back turned to the 50 or so horses the family trains — most of them for paying clients.

ON A ROLL: Kelly Yates practices barrel racing. She used a stick horse and cans when she was too small for a real horse. (Photos by Bryan Oller, Special to The Denver Post) Read more: An art of the West: The rodeo is more than a show for the Yates clan of Pueblo, Colo.

Dick has built a legacy, you might say, with his sausage-shaped fingers: callused and coarse, like a hoof, from years of shoeing horses and all those ropes and reins.

JD and Kelly have the same hands. And Dick’s 16-year-old grandson Trey, the only one who will carry on the Yates name — and possibly, business — is working on those same calluses.

Trey is a rangy, surfer-looking kid with braces. He has the same light-blue eyes as his father and grandfather. Trey didn’t spend his early years around horses as did his dad, JD. He spent most of his time at the skate park when he lived in New Mexico with his mom. But he’s working hard to make up the time, roping and training horses since he moved here five years ago.

JD chews tobacco, and Trey spits occasionally like he’s got a wad in his mouth. JD holds his tongue against his upper lip, waiting for the calf to leave the chute; so does Trey. And Trey wears his dad’s winning belt buckles.

JD has never forced Trey to rope; in fact, he worries about his following in his steps.

“It makes me nervous because I know how hard I had to work for it, and I’ve seen a lot of ups and downs in life, and in rodeo, and don’t know if it gets any easier,” he said.

Still, Trey’s childhood remains far from what JD grew up with. Dick’s father was a beet and alfalfa farmer. And Dick rode horses 5 miles to high school — his graduating class had 13 students, he said. He rode broncs, bulls and even jockeyed: $5 for racing and $10 for a win.

“Hell, I thought that was all the money in the world,” Dick said.

Trey just got a gray Dodge Ram truck for his birthday. And he rides horses so well trained that the only thing they can’t do is drive themselves to the rodeo.

His friends at Pueblo County High who don’t rodeo sometimes joke that he’s a a hick (he thinks that’s odd, because he almost never wears cowboy boots to school). And a few friends who do rodeo, sometimes say he’s rich, got it easy, is swinging by his dad’s coattails. He knows he doesn’t have the hardest life when it comes to rodeo. “I mean, I don’t, if you look at it,” he said. “But I don’t just sit around all day. I get up and work hard at it.”

A PAUSE FOR PRAYER: Trey Yates gets ready to compete in team roping. (Photos by Bryan Oller, Special to The Denver Post)

Yates family wakes up around 6 a.m. most days. The horses need food, the stalls cleaning, and horses have to be worked daily, just like athletes. When the work is over, they might all sit in Dick’s living room with his wife, Jan, watch some TV — JD loves basketball. And later Trey may head to Buffalo Wild Wings with a friend to flirt with the girls.

They have so many horses that they’ve hired some hands to help with the work. But even so, at 50 horses, it takes most of the day.

The work is good for a man, though. Dick thinks working with horses teaches a person responsibility.

“Now they got the computer, and they can sit there on that damn Google and they don’t do anything,” Dick said. “And to me, if you don’t get out and do something, have some responsibility, then your mind doesn’t develop the right way.”

Trey works with horses because it’s fun or because he can set his own schedule. And teenage girls like horses. The rest of the family doesn’t have much better of an explanation for why they made a career of something that can be so fickle: losing money at one rodeo, making it at another. And something that can be so dangerous: Kelly got kicked in the head by a horse, lost her ability to speak and write for a while; a rope cut off the top of JD’s middle finger, and he has had a knee replacement.

They think maybe it’s the challenge, the competition, the accomplishment. They think maybe there’s something about controlling a 1,200-pound animal, or that they just like that Western way of life and the values it represents.

The day before, nearly all the Yates family competed in a horse show at the Colorado State Fairgrounds in Pueblo. Trey wore burgundy cowboy shirts, white hats, boots and black Ray-Bans — the kindBob Dylanwore in the ’60s. Dick sat on a bench, watching his son, daughter and grandson roping and riding in the arena. Trey rode up on a BMX bike, his hat and boots still on, that smile of braces.

“Did my roping look OK, Grandpa?” Trey asked.

“You were looking pretty good,” said Dick, not moving much.

And when Trey pedaled out of earshot, Dick leaned over and said, “He was riding a green horse, just helping out. But he’s getting to be pretty damn good.”

Dick knows Trey has got it easier then he and JD did, but part of that is because he worked so hard himself. In the end, he doesn’t care if Trey takes on the family business and property or moves on to something else when he’s done with college. He just wants Trey to learn respect, responsibility, a good work ethic. And he knows the horses will help with that.

Weston Phippen:wphippen@denverpost.com

HERE THEY COME: Steers are led to the chutes during team roping at the Cactus/Resistol Summer Series in Colorado Springs. home sweet home. (Photos by Bryan Oller, Special to The Denver Post )

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