Four Miss-Lou ropers headed to rodeo World Series event
Published 11:38 am Saturday, December 9, 2023
LAS VEGAS — Four team ropers from the Miss-Lou will compete in the World Series of Team Roping Finale next week in Las Vegas. Marqus Fisher, a state trooper; Garrett Vinson, a farmer; Josh Burley, an auto-glass repair shop owner; and Ben Taunton, a retiree, will saddle up with big money on the line.
Fisher is not a native of Natchez and grew up in Jackson where he worked as a police officer for six and a half years. He said he wanted a bigger challenge and joined the Mississippi Highway Patrol which sent him to Natchez 16 years ago.
His introduction to rodeo and team roping came after his race horse was injured. Fisher was 25 or 26 when he started roping. He said he had ridden horses his whole life though.
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“I went through changing horses and switched jobs when I moved down here as a state trooper and I got back into roping,” Fisher said. “I really got serious with it this year. I got a new horse trained and we worked out well. It just went from there.”
Josh Burley, who owns Advanced Auto Glass in Vidalia, said his start in roping and rodeo life began when he was old enough to walk. He remembers being able to walk and trying to rope the roping dummy until he got to third grade.
In third grade, Burley started to ride horses and rope in events. He has been glued to team roping ever since.
“My dad had done it his whole life so it is pretty exciting to go to an event like this. We did play days, junior high rodeos and high school rodeos growing up,” Burley said. “Roping is a sport where you can be outside of school and still compete. We are lucky to be able to do it because not everyone can.”
His childhood friend and roping partner Garrett Vinson is a farmer in Clayton. Vinson said he didn’t get started in roping until after high school when he was 20 or 21. Burley was the one who got him involved and trained him.
They didn’t get really serious with it until this year. Vinson said they went to a World Series qualifier in Kinder, Louisiana, and qualified to go to the finale in Vegas.
“My family has always had cows but we didn’t do rodeos. My friends did. I played sports and loved the western culture. When I got started roping I liked everything about it,” Vinson said. “You have a chance to win a lot of money and spend a lot of money. It is a chance to compete again. You have to care for your horses and be with them. Have to be on the same page with the horse. It is a challenge and it isn’t something you can just pick up.”
Taunton is a retired cattleman in the Monterey community. He grew up in Jonesville and went to Block High School where he played basketball and football. His dream as a kid was to be a cowboy one day.
Taunton said his grandfather and dad had cattle back in the days. A fond memory of his was getting to ride with those “old timers,” in the old growth hardwood forests and working the cattle.
Taunton said he could ride horses since he was young but didn’t start competitive roping until he was in his 30s in 1985.
“It is something I could do until I was old. Roping is a good event and some guys are still competing in their 80s. At 72, I’m a low number roper and compete with the younger guys,” Taunton said. “I enjoy the competition and adrenaline. The exercise is good for me. I don’t like to walk or workout at the gym so working with the horses keeps me busy.”
He will ride with three different partners at the event in different divisions. One of them will be Burley. The others are Roger Miller from Pontotoc County and Caleb West from Fort Sumner, New Mexico.
Work and roping
Each of the men have busy work lives. Fisher is on the Mississippi Highway Patrol Bomb squad where he handles a K9. He has served with the bomb squad for the past eight years and responds to bomb threats at schools and suspicious packages at different places.
Fisher said when he isn’t working he spends his time roping a dummy at home or practicing with some guys at Foster Mound. Once a month he tries to find an event or competition to get more practice in.
Burley said he is unable to get much practice in this time of year with the shorter days. He is at the glass repair shop from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and isn’t able to get home before dark.
There is also a stretch of the year where Vinson is unable to practice roping because he is in the field working. Burley said he finds others to practice with then.
Vinson said it is no coincidence his freest time to rope is in the winter after the harvest. He said he tries to go as much as he can because in the early spring and fall he is busy planting corn and soybeans. Over the summer, he has to spray and water his crops but finds time to practice roping.
“I plan to keep doing it,” Vinson said. “I’ll do it until it breaks me or I get too old.”
Not a simple sport
Team roping is simple on paper. A steer in the loading chute gets a head start on the riders in their boxes and they have to chase the steer down. The header has to lasso the head or horns of a steer and pull it for the heeler to catch a leg or two legs. Fisher, who is a header, said they get a quicker time by roping both hind legs while one leg adds five seconds to the time.
Success boils down to a few things. The steer has to cooperate, riders have to anticipate and execute and the horse has to work well with the rider. Burley said if a competitor doesn’t have a good horse they won’t be able to rope as well.
“A good horse has to have been bred correctly. You can’t just take a horse from nothing. He has to have his mind right too and you must trust him as much as he trusts you,” Burley said. “If the rider is scared then the horse gets scared. You have to put a lot of time into them.”
Burley competes as a header while Vinson rides as the heeler. Rodeo and team roping can be difficult. Some days are good and others are bad so there are a lot of ups and downs. It helps that Vinson is roping with the person who got him started.
“He is one of the first guys I roped with so I know what he will do and it gives me some advantage. We have roped hundreds of steers together. I know when he will get the head and know what to expect,” Vinson said. “Then again, it is an event with animals and they have a mind of their own. But on any given run I can kind of know what to expect from him. It is an advantage but there are so many variables that can happen on a run.”
He tries to prepare himself for the competitions by running through different scenarios and practicing. Over the past year the event has really slowed down for him. Runs used to happen so quickly for Vinson.
Taunton said he competes as a heeler primarily because heading got too easy for him. It was something that came naturally to him, unlike golf, he quipped.
“You have to be in tune with the cow and your horse has to be in the right position. Headers are the quarterbacks and set everything up for the heeler,” Taunton said. “It is a pretty thing to heel a cow by two feet and it all works right. If you deliver your loop, it will stop the cow. Different people have different aiming points. I look at the hocks. When it is back behind the cow you deliver the rope as he brings his feet forward. The top of the rope has to hit those hocks, the bottom has to hit the ground and the tip of the rope has to go all the way through. If the horse stops good and you stop the slack it will hold up good.”
A trip to Vegas
He said he always enjoys the opportunity to travel and meet new people. Some of the friends he has made roping he only sees at the rodeos.
Burley said he always wanted to compete at a higher level but didn’t take the time after high school until recently. His whole house stopped roping for a few years until one day he got back on the horse and started roping again.
“I quit for a while but three years ago I got into it and started to go to smaller ropings and practice around the house,” Burley said. “We eventually started going to bigger ropings and winning money. I qualified for Vegas this year. I have never been so it will be a trip of a lifetime and life changing. I’ve never competed for this much money.”
Last year the competition awarded $300,000 for first place and the number is expected to go up this year. Burley said he thinks the prize for first place will be $400,000.
Burley and Vinson will compete on Dec. 16 while Fisher will compete on Dec. 15, 16 and 17 in different divisions. The event will be broadcast on the Cowboy Channel on TV or can be found on Facebook Live through the World Series of Team Roping Facebook Page.
Taunton said he has been to Vegas a few times for the event and recalls thousands of people in the stands in the early rounds and the short round, final round, often has 7,500 spectators. He looks forward to making the trip for both the adrenaline rush but also the chance to win some money. Fisher is also looking forward to making the trip.
“It’s a very good experience for me. You have a chance to win,” Fisher said. “More so just to get to fellowship with other cowboys. It won’t just be me competing in Vegas. There will be people from all over the world.”