Many people would hesitate before climbing into a pickup truck attached to a stock trailer filled with three horses and driving away toward Lubbock this week and Las Vegas, Nev., next week.
At 16 years of age, Kayden Little, who is a junior enrolled in the cyber school operated by Tatum’s public schools, driving to Lubbock and Las Vegas pulling a loaded stock trailer are almost routine.
His father, Buddy Little, is the superintendent of schools in Tatum and also serves as the elementary school principal.
“I certainly couldn’t take time off to drive him to the rodeos,” the elder Little said.
By 11 a.m. Monday, Kayden, who gets up between 4:30 and 5 a.m., each day in the summer and slightly later during the school year, had wrangled his horses into his stock trailer and was ready to start the drive to Lubbock. He was wearing jeans, boots, a plaid cotton western style shirt, a wide-brimmed cowboy hat and a belt secured by a big silver and gold buckle that read, “World Junior Champion Team Roper.”
Kayden earned the buckle at the World Junior Team Roping Championships on Nov. 26 in Ardmore, Oklahoma. Engraved on the buckle is the word “heeler,” which identifies his specialty in the team event.
In addition to the buckle, Kayden won a hand tooled saddle, which he brought out of his house to display.
“I won’t be using this as a riding saddle,” he said as he held it. “This will probably just be for display.”
Kayden explained that team roping involves two riders, a header and a heeler. Kayden’s partner at the Junior World Championships was Kreece Thompson of Munday, Texas, located between Lubbock and Wichita Falls.
“Both of them are ropers. One puts the rope around the horns of the steer (the header) and the other puts the rope around the back legs,” Kayden said. “I’m the one who ropes the back legs. That’s what the heeler does.”
The header is the person who ropes the front of the steer, usually around the horns, although it is also legal for the rope to go around the neck or around one horn and the nose resulting in what is called a “half head.”
Once the steer is caught by one of the three legal head catches, the header must “dally” (wrap the rope around a specially covered saddle horn) and use his horse to turn the steer to the left. The heeler then ropes the steer by its hind feet after the header has turned the steer.
Working together, the header and the heeler stretch the steer out so that it is immobilized. Then the the tension on the ropes is loosened and the steer gets up and trots away.
Kayden has been been roping since he was about six years old.
“My dad started me roping a dummy when I was about six,” he said. “And I just went on from there. People all around helped me learn more and I started competing when I was about 12.”
Buddy Little said he doesn’t know exactly how much Kayden has earned as a team roping professional, “but I would guess it’s about $100,000 in the last three or four years. But expenses are heavy. The trailer, the pickup, travel expenses, equipment all have to paid for out of that. There are lots of expenses involved with horses.”
Kayden’s interest in horses involves more than riding them in rodeo events. He also breaks and trains horses.
“That’s what I want to do,” he said. “I don’t know yet where I want to go to college. There are several in east Texas that have rodeo teams, but when I graduate, I know I want to train horses.”
Dorothy N. Fowler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.