Independence, Kansas, native Mike Hall did not grow up roping.
“My dad said, ‘Horses are liabilities, Michael; you don’t need one of them,’” Hall said, mimicking his father’s tone to a teenage son, laughing. “Now, my kids have Junior rodeoed. That’s what they wanted to do. Everybody wants a horse when they’re a kid and I was like, ‘You know what? I’ve always wanted a horse.’”
Hall bought a couple of horses and “winged it,” he says, but he’s had help along the way. Good help.
“Levi Pippin, his dad, Tony,” Hall said of the people who helped him figure things out. “Cricket Long would be Jake Long’s dad. He’s from down there where I’m from. Those guys were instrumental in teaching me the groundwork and on how to sit on a horse and rope. I went to Charly’s and then I went to PAFRA and, then, I was the guy you called to get into Charly’s for a couple of years.”
Where rodeo and military meet
Hall went to one of the first Military Roping Clinics that Charly Crawford hosted back in 2015. He fell off his horse (twice, actually) and started unsaddling, thinking he didn’t have what it took to be there. Crawford told him to saddle back up, and Hall has been a staple of the American Heroes Celebration (formerly the American Military Celebration) ever since. There, in the company of his fellow brothers in arms, he learned about PAFRA—the Professional Armed Forces Rodeo Association.
“I signed up and I’ve never looked back,” Hall said.
As the Vice President, Hall was all in as plans for the World Championships came together. The event moved from Topeka, Kansas, to Clovis, New Mexico, in 2023, thanks to fellow team roper Justin Gregory.
“Justin Gregory is a great guy,” Hall affirmed. “He stepped in and said, ‘We’ve got to have. We have to.’ He wants us to be there because we’re veterans. Because we’re trying to make a team roping, build camaraderie. Rodeo.”
The PAFRA World Championships was held at the Curry County Events Center Nov. 2-4, 2023, and featured 10 rodeo events, including mounted shooting and chute dogging, in addition to traditional events like breakaway, tie-down and team roping. And the leadership in the past year—PAFRA is self-run, so everyone is military—went to work putting together an impressive prize lineup, including saddles to everyone who places in the top two holes.
Then, a lot of the team ropers will pack up and roll to Decatur, Texas, for the AHC, which starts Nov. 7, for participants and culminates Saturday, Nov. 11. Veterans Day.
Why the military rodeos matter
When discussing why military rodeo like PAFRA, the AHC and his other go-to, the Military Rodeo Cowboys Association matter so much, Hall refers to a quote from a podcast he listened to recently.
“Dakota Smitherman said it best: ‘Be someone worth dying for, because my friends did,’” Hall shared. “For most of us, it’s the biggest rodeo we’re ever going to enter. This is my rodeo team. They’re my family … and we get together to support others.”
Hall—6’4, 250—knows the power of that support network as well as anyone. A 2006 roadside bomb completely altered his life.
“I would go through all 15 days in ICU. I would go through waking up and not being able to say two-syllable words. I would go through it again and not be able to walk when I stood up because I didn’t have the fine motor skills. I’d do it again tomorrow.”Mike Hall
Hall retired with a Purple Heart and the Army Commendation Medal with Valor, but those honors pale when compared to the opportunities he’s discovered through his military rodeo family. From conversations with a fellow Purple Heart recipient who hadn’t spoken of his experience since he came home from Vietnam to a Hugo, Minnesota, rodeo community lessening the burdens of the rodeo road to the countless others along the way who’ve cooked meals and provided a welcome place to rest, through rodeo, Hall has met the people who make it worth it.