The news didn’t come easy to the team roping community when it learned it had lost Jerry Bailey, DVM, to COVID-caused pneumonia on Dec. 17, 2021.
“I was shocked,” revealed Mike Goad, a Texas heeler and the last partner Bailey won a check with doing what he loved. “I just couldn’t believe it.”
In October, the two friends, who’d been partnering up for years since they were introduced by flagger Phillip Murrah, took first place from 5th call back in the #9.5 60 and Over at Jeff Smith & 3 Point Production’s World Cup of Team Roping, held at Guthrie, Oklahoma’s Lazy E Arena. The win is bittersweet for Goad, who considers it a favorite among their successes, though it proved to be Bailey’s last.
“That was probably the best one. It was an Over-60 and most that we rope in are over 50,” Goad explained. “I’ve placed with him several times, but that was probably the best one because it was the most fun. It was always good to rope with him. I know that for sure.”
Bailey started life on the family ranch in Dickinson, North Dakota, until his family moved to Minnesota.
“He did not want to leave North Dakota,” his wife, Leslie, said. “That’s where he thought all the cowboys were from.”
But Minnessota provided ample opportunity for Bailey to maintain his cowboy dreams, too.
“He bought some horses and started to calf rope and made a little makeshift arena,” Leslie said. “And that’s where he started to rope.”
Following college and veterinary school, Bailey moved to South Florida in 1969, where Leslie says he started team roping. Then, he began steer tripping when he moved to Oklahoma, to eventually become the general manager of the Lazy E, and where Leslie would also come to work as an assistant trainer.
“He missed the finals by one or two spots in 1983. But he was the oldest Rookie of the Year at 40,” she said, laughing. They would cross paths just a few years later.
The eventual couple shared a passion for thoroughbred racing, breeding and training, as well as a documented talent for “pinhooking”—a term used to describe the practice of identifying talent and promise in young horseflesh and priming them for the next buyer to then also take to the next level. It’s a talent that translated well into the rope horse world for the couple.
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“He always had a nice horse,” Goad noted.
His longtime go-to mount, according to Leslie, was a spotted red roan he called Freckles.
“We probably bought him about 12 years ago,” she said. “And everybody knew he and Jerry had this little combo deal in the box: two to the left, one to the right. I’m just kidding, but he had great maneuvers. He was smooth. He ran up to the steer and stayed right there and had a really pretty move and was just strong on the end of a rope.”
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After many years as the go-to mount, Freckles showed signs of slowing down and Bailey moved to Wrangler, a horse his wife had trained to heel on, then served as Bailey’s tripping horse, then transitioned to a head horse for Leslie first, then Bailey again.
“Me being a really nice wife, like I am,” Leslie told her husband in loving jest, “you’re getting older and you can just take him and I’ll ride another one.”
Both mounts, and the generous sacrifices from his wife, contributed to Bailey’s numerous years of team roping successes. In 2021 alone, his 78th year, he amassed USTRC and Ariat WSTR earnings in excess of $26,000. His most notable win came in 2013 as the second-place winner of the WSTR Finale #13 with Darren Burns for a team total of $173,000. But for decades, he had great fun winning good money with friends and ropers alike; longtime partners like Burns and Goad, Scott Seiler, Lorie Patterson, Hank Morgan and many others.
With great fortune, Bailey’s final win was documented in a Facebook video interview with announcer Reed Flake, who captured Bailey in great health and spirit. He commented first on his game plan: aggressive but strategic—he wanted a check, but it didn’t have to be a first-place check.
“I’m not greedy,” he said, smiling. Then,“78 this year. I feel fortunate to be able to do what I can do, and anything I want, really. I’m pretty fortunate and blessed.”