(At home with)

Spin to Win Rodeo - - Ropers -

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.

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