Kendra Santos: You are the youngest team roping qualifier ever at 15 years, 4 months. How did that happen?
J.D. Yates: I think about it more now than I used to. I can remember when I was a kid and my parents finally took me to go watch the National Finals Rodeo when I was 12 or 13, and making the Finals became my dream to get there. That’s every young cowboy’s goal and dream. That’s where all the best in the world are. I couldn’t wait until the rodeo was over to go down, jump over the wall and walk around in that arena. The NFR is the most famous event in rodeo history. My first rodeo on my card was Greeley (Colo.). We were driving (from home in Pueblo) to Greeley, and I begged my parents to stop at the (PRCA) office in Denver. So we did. I was 14.
KS: Three generations of my family sure enjoyed your parents and kid at the College National Finals Rodeo in Casper in June. We missed you. They said you were busy showing horses before Reno. Tell me about your horseshow schedule these days.
JDY: My horseshowing schedule is really strong until the day before the BFI. Then I take the rest of the summer off, and Dustin Rodgers and my cousin Jay take some of the horses to some other shows so I can spend the summer with my son. I might go to one show in September. Otherwise, my next show will be the World Show in November.
KS: I read somewhere that you’ve won 37 American Quarter Horse Association world titles. Is that true?
JDY: That sounds right.
KS: When did you put so many of your career eggs into the horseshow basket, and why’d you do it?
JDY: I needed to make a better living, and it was another avenue where I could still do what I love to do, which is rope and ride horses. I learned so much from my dad and some of the best horse trainers in the world. I worked for some great horse trainers for free to learn from them while I was rodeoing. I was very lucky and I worked very hard. Once I started doing it, I loved it. I love working with horses. It just escalated into a business.
KS: How much are you getting to rodeo?
JDY: I’m going to rodeo a little bit more this summer. I’m fortunate to have great help. I could probably rodeo more than I do. But I also really want to make sure to run my business right. Besides being busy here, I spend a couple months showing horses in Brazil, too. I travel a lot. I’m going to try to get to 30 rodeos this year.
KS: How is horseshow roping different from rodeo roping?
JDY: I don’t try to treat it any differently. A good heel horse is a good heel horse. I want the head horses to get on their butts a little more and run right to the spot at the horse shows, to show how broke they are. A really good head horse that’s trained that way will last a long time. You can go on and rodeo on those horses a long time because they’ve learned to use their back end and not drop their shoulders to get out of there.
KS: I know it was special to rope with your dad all those years (Dick and J.D. roped at 13 NFRs together). What’s it like roping with your son?
JDY: It makes me realize my dad’s an awfully strong man. I’ve roped for a lot of money all my life, and I’ve never been more nervous than backing in the box with my son at the BFI short round that first year.
KS: Roping’s come a long way since your first Finals 41 years ago. What are the biggest changes you see?
JDY: Smaller cattle and shorter scores. I get asked all the time if the ropers today are better than they were back then. I’m never going to be a believer in that. The ropes and equipment are better now and we roped a lot bigger cattle—huge steers—over long scores back then.
KS: Congratulations on getting inducted into the Pendleton Round-Up Hall of Fame this year! I know you won the steer roping there in 1991, ’94 and ’01, and the Let ’er Buck all-around trophy in 1994. Do you like roping on the grass?
JDY: Love it. Pendleton’s my favorite rodeo of all time. It’s a cowboy’s rodeo. When I completely retire from rodeoing I’ll probably keep my card to enter that rodeo.
KS: Do you have a favorite Pendleton memory that really stands out?
JDY: Winning Pendleton the first time. I still wear the buckle from when I won it the first time. That’s my buckle.
KS: You, your dad and (sister) Kelly in 1984 became the only father-son-daughter trio ever to compete at the NFR the same year. What did that rare feat mean to your family?
JDY: It means we have an awful good mom. She put up with a lot to get us all there.
KS: You, your mom (Jan), dad, Kelly and Trey are extraordinarily close, and you’re the ultimate rodeo family. Three generations in, and knowing how tough it is out there these days, what’s the best advice you have for Trey and his peers, including young men like mine?
JDY: Enjoy the competition. But the most important thing is if you treat people right and do the right thing, you’ll be successful.