Despite the death of his son, Riley, on June 27, David Key and his partner Rich Skelton kept their Fourth of July Cowboy Christmas schedule, and came out of the richest weekend slate of regular-season rodeos as the top-earning team ropers, with $16,914 each.
"I thought that it would be easier for me to be doing something and be busy rather than sitting on the couch thinking about it," Key said. "I felt like getting out there doing something would be the best for me. Riley wouldn't want me to sit around and feel bad.
"All my friends out here-and even at home-the support has been overwhelming. We appreciate it. Without the support and love from everybody that we've had, I don't know that it would be possible. It's been overwhelming how much love and support we've been shown. We didn't realize how much our friendships meant until something like this happens.
"My goal is a little bit different. I've always wanted to win a gold buckle, but after this deal happened, I thought I want to win a gold buckle and put Riley's name on it. It's the same goal, just for a different reason. I told Rich we've got to bear down."
The team combined a sweep in Window Rock, Ariz., tying for the first round win and winning the second round and average outright with placings in Greeley, Colo., Prescott, Ariz., Cody, Wyo., and St. Paul, Ore., to haul in $16,914 for the week.
"Everything went well," Skelton said. "Me and David started roping together over Memorial Day Weekend. I didn't have anybody and I had just gotten started. We won fourth at Reno, then went over the Fourth of July and he turned a lot of steers for me, so we placed along.
"I've been riding Gambler, my older horse. I had made a steer roping horse out of him. All my younger horses are green, so I started back heeling on him and I've been heeling on him all summer. He's 18 and just a nice, good, solid horse."
Their success moved Key to fifth in the world standings and Skelton to sixth.
The rest of ProRodeo featured some outstanding performances as well. Bobby Mote, two-time bareback riding champion, won more cash than any of the thousands of competitors swarming the freeways and back roads, trying to get to as many of the 30 PRCA-sanctioned rodeos as they could.
Mote earned $29,926 competing in four states and one Canadian province. He shared the title at the Ponoka (Alberta) Stampede with Will Lowe to bank $9,230, and then turned in an 89-point ride on Beutler & Son's Molly Brown to win the Greeley (Colo.) Stampede for another $7,793. He also cashed in at St. Paul, Ore., Prescott, Ariz. and Cody, Wyo.
"I've been blessed with good horses pretty much everywhere I've been, so that's been making my job a lot easier," Mote said of his Christmas run. "I'm healthy, and my traveling partners have been doing well, so we've all been having fun. You can't ask for any better than that."
Travel partners Ryan Gray ($22,043) and Jason Havens ($13,429)-the group call themselves The Pride, as in a pride of lions-were also among the top 20 earners over Cowboy Christmas. They amassed total earnings of $65,398 over the week.
Tie-down roper Blair Burk, who started the week just 47th in the PRCA World Standings, had the biggest week among timed-event cowboys, with earnings of $27,164, to launch a belated bid for a spot in the Wrangler Nationals Finals Rodeo.
Burk, who had qualified for the Wrangler NFR 13 consecutive years until falling short last year, cashed checks at Ponoka, Alberta; Williams Lake, British Columbia; Greeley, Colo.; Prescott, Ariz.; Cody, Wyo.; and Livingston, Mont. His biggest checks came at Ponoka ($8,313) and Greeley ($7,808), where he had second place finishes.
Brittany Pozzi-Pharr topped barrel racers by earning $29,372.
The Cowboy Christmas record is $37,630, set by ProRodeo Hall of Fame cowboy Ty Murray in 1999.