Sibley man chasing dreams through rodeo

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 17, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; If it hadn’t been for Isaac King’s father, newborn colt Pippi probably would have nearly been able to count his age in months on his four supplied hooves.

To this day, Pippi and yapping dogs, which tend to anxiously pace and bark around the 1,100-pound quarter horse’s feet, don’t get along.

Twenty years ago Pippi’s owner was set to put the six-month old to sleep after he kicked and killed one of his dogs. A call to King’s daddy, and young Isaac had a new possession. Now 31, King has been riding Pippi since he entered his first roping competition at age 12.

Email newsletter signup

&uot;He’s been good, been real good to me,&uot; King said of the more than 8-foot muscle, with eyeballs larger than Titleists and streaking black hair that would make Cher jealous. &uot;It seems like me and this horse have a bond together. I’ve ridden other horses, but nothing compares to this horse.&uot;

Why shouldn’t it when the Real Cowboy Association names you the 2002 All-Around Cowboy of the Year and gives you a brand-spanking new 18-foot trailer?

The Sibley man has won plenty of belt buckles, but a trailer is one for the photo albums, as is his Pippi. Think of Pippi as the gentleman’s Secretariat.

Where the brash 1973 Triple Crown winner was a bit snooty, Pippi is approachable but flips the switch come game time, King said.

&uot;He loves a big crowd,&uot; said King, who competes in calf roping and steer wrestling. &uot;When the crowd starts roaring, that fits right into his ball game. The bigger crowds, the better his performance.&uot;

This summer alone King and Pippi have sidekicked it to rodeos in Philadelphia, Columbus, Ohio, and Nacogdoches, Texas &045; where a horse stepped on his head, inches from his right ear, in a steer wrestling event.

King will mix business with pleasure next month in California to compete in rodeos in Burbank, Bakersfield and Oakland.

&uot;That’s my vacation. I’ve never taken my little girl out there with me,&uot; King said, as he pours shell-less peanuts into his palm and tosses them back. &uot;She’s going to go, and we’ll see Universal Studios and Disneyland &045; do the family thing. I’ll compete, too. I’ve always done well out there.&uot;

Before that he’ll haul 2-year-old daughter Ikeesia to the Jackson rodeo in early July, when he plans to enter her in some barrel racing competitions.

King starts every morning around 5:30 at the stables with Pippi and three other horses where he feeds them, and he’ll practice roping on a calf decoy if it doesn’t infringe on his regular job with Natchez-Adams School District.

After work he’s back at it until 9:30 p.m. when he finally calls it a night. It’s the approach King has undertook since he rededicated himself to the sport before last year.

&uot;I asked myself, ‘Can you still do this?’&uot; he said. &uot;I practiced every day. I roped horses in the cold, in the heat. I roped when I didn’t want to rope.&uot;

King said a kick-in-the-pants phone conversation with a friend out in Colorado slapped him around a little bit.

&uot;I told him I didn’t have anybody to practice with around here,&uot; he said. &uot;He told me to do it myself and to work hard at it. He made me realize I had to dig down deep. That was eye opening to me.&uot;

The life lesson continues today. A dry-erase board hangs to your left as you enter the stable. On it are instructions: Dedication, Be Aggressive and Try Hard.

King is approached by locals all the time, thinking this is the sport for them. They’ll do it on the weekends, maybe an afternoon or two sandwiched during the week &045; it’s a hobby, right?

&uot;The first time they show up, it ain’t like they think it is,&uot; he laughed. &uot;It’s work, a job. The more you put into it, the more you get out. It’s got to be something you want to do.&uot;

But it hasn’t been anything anybody has yearned to do in Natchez for a while, King said. Ever since the Liberty Park arena was leveled for the anticipated Natchez Trace Parkway, expansion the sport has administered a quick, painful death.

&uot;I want Natchez to know there are a lot of horse people in Natchez. Adams County doesn’t see that,&uot; King said. &uot;If it’s not football, baseball, tennis or whatever, it’s not going to mean anything to them.

&uot;It’s a sport. People tell me all the time I’m a cowboy, but I’m not. I’m an athlete. I do it because I love it. I wouldn’t do anything else.&uot;

Pippi gnaws up muddy, stringy grass as King talks and whips a 10.4-centimeters-thick rope over his head three times, releases it, corrals the plastic horns on the decoy and yanks back.

King started off this season on other horses with the idea of resting Pippi. But after a couple disappointing finishes, King was ready to kick back at the competition the way Pippi did that dog.

&uot;People like fast cars &045; this gives me my adrenaline,&uot; he said. &uot;I haul (Pippi) everywhere and he loves it. He gets out of the trailer at every rodeo, and he’s still like a baby &045; full of fire. I’ll ride him until he says he won’t go anymore.&uot;