Will and Kathie Osburn carry the team roping torch in the heart of the Empire State at their Osburn Arena in Campbell, New York. Their mom-and-pop team roping shop hosts NTRL/USTRC-affiliate ropings that draw ropers from hundreds of miles and allow them to accumulate earnings toward the USTRC’s Cinch National Finals of Team Roping, as well as NTRL qualifications. Will’s passion for team roping, paired with Kathie’s superior secretarying skills, keeps the sport thriving in their unlikely spot.

QHow did you get involved with team roping to begin with?

A: Kathie: Will has always been a horseman, and when his nephew, Theron, started team roping in high school rodeo, we bought Will a team roping horse and a rope, and we started from there. That was when Will turned 40—he’s 66 this year.

Will: I’ve lived all my life through my nieces and nephews; we don’t have any kids of our own. I have two nephews who high school rodeoed—Theron Seeley and David Seeley. When they got into it, we went to quite a lot of ropings over the weekends—probably 50 a year. I told them we could go rope for money every weekend instead of going to the high school rodeos, and they were into it! Then my other nephew, Jon, started a few years later and his son, JT, now ropes with us as well. So, we now have three generations roping!

Q: And why did you decide to start putting on ropings?

A: Kathie: It all has to do with Will. I’ve often heard remarked that it’s a case where one man’s hobby got way out of hand. He started going to lots of ropings. Then, he had to have cattle to rope at home, then the heifers had calves, then sure enough we had enough cows to have a roping. In the summers, we belonged to a jackpot club and hosted six ropings. Then, that wasn’t good enough, so we had to have an indoor arena so we could put ropings on in the winter. It drives our lives now. Everything we do is based on our farm and the cattle and having ropings and hosting ropings.

Q: Which end do you rope and why?

A: Will: I mostly head. I started out always just heading. We used to have a Friday night practice, and it would turn into four headers and no heelers. I started heeling because we needed a heeler. I figured I should work at it. I’m almost as good a heeler as I am a header now. I do both because, if somebody doesn’t come to play with you, roping is a lonely sport. A lot of people up here do rope both ends because we’re such a small group of people. A regular roping will have 30 or 40 people, at most. So, everybody does everything.

QWhat did you do for a living?

A: Will: I worked for a gravel pit for almost 20 years one mile from the house. Before that, I worked for a dairy farmer and did field work, and I worked in a saw mill. Kathie and I dairied a little bit back 40 years ago.

Kathie: I was a stay-at-home farm wife and, before that, I drove school bus. Will worked in a gravel pit, but he’s retired now. Now, we just put on the ropings and Will farms. He farms with Haflingers, so that keeps us busy.

QWhoa—you farm with Haflingers?

A: Will: We grow corn and oats and feed for our roping cattle. I only have a little bit of ground to farm, and farming with the Haflingers is more fun. If you’re going to do something, you might as well have fun at it. We rake most of our hay with the Haflingers. My chute man—he’s been with us for more than 20 years—keeps his Haflingers here in the summertime, and it gives us something to do. If you were really doing it for the money, you’d do it with a tractor. We planted our corn with a tractor this year because it got too hot for the horses, but that’s the first year we’ve planted with a tractor in a while. I have to buy the horses that know absolutely nothing before we start—I’m a cheap son-of-a-gun. Same with my rope horses.

Osburns' arena in Campbell, New York

Osburns' arena in Campbell, New York

QHow did you get involved with the NTRL and producer John Johnson?

A: Kathie: A person had been to some of John’s ropings, and he suggested we could put some on. We balked at it and didn’t want to do that type of thing, but then we went ahead and jumped in. We had our first one in 2005 or 2006.

Will: We went with the NTRL because I wanted to be hooked up with something that was bigger than a backyard jackpot. We have affiliate ropings for the USTRC people, and we’ve had probably half a dozen people who go to Oklahoma City off of their applied earnings money out of this barn. That saves people traveling and money. You can come to our little ropings and get your earnings built up.

QWhat is that loyal clientele like?

A: Kathie: A lot of our people have roped for many years. We’ve known them for 20 years now. A lot of our ropers are 50 and older, but young people are starting more and more. Nearly half of our ropers are 4s or 4-Elites. Some 2s, 3s, and 5s make up the rest of it—with a smattering of 6s and 6-Elites. We changed our line-up for 2018 to cater to our lower-numbered patrons. We dropped our Open and #12 and added a #7 roping. Our #8 had always been popular—it’s capped at 4-Elite. The new #7 is capped at a straight 4, and it gives our lower-numbered patrons a chance to shine.

QWhat sort of cattle do you rope?

A: Kathie: We rope longhorns, maybe a few corriente crosses. We used to raise our own, and at one time had 80 head of brood cattle and two bulls. We had two years of summer drought where we had to hay our cattle, so we decided it would be cheaper to buy our cattle than raise them. Good thing we did, because we had another drought the next summer. Now we have 40 or 50 steers and are able to trade them locally.

QYour indoor arena sure lets your ropers go at it year-round.

A: Kathie: It’s still New York State, so it’s plenty cold in here. Our people are very hardy. We used to hold a series finals in December, but we changed it to run from November of one year to October of the next year. January is our coldest month, so we just practice for the NTRL Finals in Jacksonville. In February, we have round robins, and we have one to three ropings a month.

Will: My nephews, my brother, and I built my barn where we have the ropings. They delivered it in five tractor trailer loads—the boys are in the mechanical end of construction, and some are in the building part of it. I’d come home from work and the boys would be here on their days off. I’d ask how it went today, and they’d say “Kathie brought us steaks for lunch.” I couldn’t have done it without them. The building is cheap—it’s the labor.

QI’ve got to ask about your signature suspenders. How did they come to be a part of your daily wardrobe?

A: Will: You know what plumber’s crack is? I’m not interested in it! I’ve probably been wearing them 20 years or so. I don’t like to wear a belt. If they made suspenders you could put a belt buckle on, I’d work hard to win that. 

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