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Micah McKinney could have gone into the family business when he graduated from Texas Tech in 2003, but the oilfield just wasn’t his calling. As oil markets ebbed and flowed, agriculture provided a constant for McKinney, now 38, and formed the foundation for the rest of his life. He and his wife, Leslie, operate Reliance Ranches in Llano, Texas, and the Lazy E Arena and Ranch in Guthrie, Oklahoma. A team roper at heart, McKinney fits the occasional jackpot in between horse races, event planning, ranching, and more. By Chelsea Shaffer
Q: Tell me about your background. Have you always roped?
A: I haven’t. We’ve always run cattle. My granddad ran sheep in West Texas. We always had horses. My dad, Gary, started roping in 1980. But I didn’t really start until I was 15 or 16. I started calf roping, and roped calves until I had to have knee surgery. During the recovery process, I started team roping. My dad and I used to rope every day. We had a lot of fun with it. We loved roping as a team.
Q: You were on the rodeo team at Texas Tech. Did you go there to rodeo, or for academics, or both?
A: Saying I was on the rodeo team would be an overstatement. I wasn’t very good at calf roping or team roping—I roped; I wore a vest at the college rodeos; but I wouldn’t say I was a contributor to team points at all. There were so many other guys there that were a lot better than I was. I got a business management degree and graduated in 2003.
Q: <RX·UH D (OLWH KHDGHU³KRZ RIWHQ do you get to rope these days?
A: I guess the last roping I roped in was maybe 2016, at the Lazy E, so I didn’t have to travel very far. I practice here at the ranch with Bobby (Mote) and around Llano with Rich (Skelton). I help break in steers and if someone needs a heeler or header, I go do it. We chase kids a lot, and trying to work in Texas and work in Oklahoma, my goal is to get back to roping more often.
Q: What’s an average day look like?
A: Most of my energy goes toward the Lazy E Ranch and Arena and our Reliance Ranches race program. Most of that is run remotely from Llano. We raise our weanlings in Llano, too. We’ve got several properties in Central Texas where we run cattle, and I spend a good amount of time on the phone or shooting emails while we’re riding around checking on those properties—you know, ranching stuff. We raise Corrientes—we have some in Oklahoma and a couple of places here in Texas. I really like running them more than anything. They seem to stay more consistent, price-wise, and they require less tender love and care. They seem to have a will to live.
Q: 'id you ever rope at the Lazy E as a kid?
A: I remember my dad going to the steer roping finals and he brought me back a t-shirt. I wore it a lot. He was a huge fan of the Timed Event Championship. We had a VHS recording of the 1986 Timed Event Championship. Mike Beers won it that year, and his son, Brandon, was really small. We watched it over and over. I really enjoyed the Timed Event. I started roping in 1996 or 1997, and the first time I went to the Lazy E to rope was during the Lariat Bowl Roping over New Years. I remember riding into the arena just amazed and nervous to compete there. It was unbelievable because you just heard so much about that arena, and what all had gone on there. It was a fabled place. I think I ended up not doing very well that roping, but it was a great experience. We’d go back up there quite a bit any time Booger Barter had a big roping or during the US Finals. We spent a lot of time there.
Q: When your family purchased the Lazy E in 2013, what were your hopes for the arena and the horse program?
A: It’s such a big place, and there’s so much going on. Our thoughts were to be around it for a while to figure out how we could help. Initially, our first thoughts were always to put ourselves in a position to attract bigger events and to really try to get it back to the original Gaylord dream he had from the get-go. We wanted to look deep into the business model to see what needed to be done to grow the business. Little things would come around and we’d fix them, and working with the great team in place, we were able to listen to them and implement some improvements. We’ve been able to attract some really great events that we’re really proud of. We wanted quality, not quantity, of events there.
The horse program was the main reason we bought the property. We had outgrown our location in Texas. And we were looking for opportunities for growth in our personal business. In the past we’d send some of our mares up, and we let the Lazy E take care of them. We’d built a great relationship with the staff and the managers there. One of the managers mentioned one day the ranch might be for sale, and it intrigued us to be associated with such a good business and to have an opportunity for growth with Reliance Ranches. We knew it would be a great relationship.
It would be arrogant to come in and think you could change it right away. We sat back and watched and observed and helped with property improvements and staffing requirements. We let them manage the business until we had a great grasp of what all went on. That’s been very much a blessing. We had the staff that could keep the business going to let us get a handle on it. We have great stallions, veterinarians, and wonderful clients.
Q: How critical is the team roping industry to the Lazy E’s operations?
A: It’s very critical—it’s the core of the arena events. It’s something we’re obviously passionate about, and we rely on it. We hope to do everything we can to produce great ropings and to continue to grow in team numbers and provide a great experience to the ropers. It’s a critical part of our business, and one we love the most. A number of our staff team ropes, and everybody looks forward to the ropings we put on. To see friends and producers, it’s such a great group of people who team rope, from all walks of life. It’s like a big family reunion every time we have a roping.