In the roping, rodeo, and horse show arenas, the Yates family is about as legendary as they come. Under the direction of matriarch Jan, Dick, J.D., Kelly, and Trey Yates are three generations deep in tough competitors and handy horsemen. They added to what’s already a wildly successful family tradition at the 2018 Lucas Oil American Quarter Horse Association World Championship Show.
While Ote (Berry) and I were in Oklahoma City to see some great friends inducted into the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, we decided to swing into State Fair Park on November 11 to see some more dear old friends, the likes of one of my all-time favorite fellow media mates in AQHA Editor in Chief Becky Newell, and our lifelong rodeo amigos the Yateses. I can’t remember not knowing the Pueblo, Colorado-based Yates family, which dates back to my dad’s very old friendship with patriarch Dick. Ote and J.D. first hit it off as college cronies during their time together in the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association’s Central Rocky Mountain Region back in the day.
J.D. and Trey were practicing off-site between classes when we got there, so we beat them to the Hitch Rack Performance Horses barn. What we found besides a half-eaten German chocolate cake celebrating Trey’s first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualification was a pretty cool collection of 2018 World Show trophies.
J.D.—who’s one of the rare few ropers to qualify for the NFR as both a header and a heeler—won two AQHA world championships this year to bring his career total to a whopping 43. His 2018 AQHA world titles included the Junior Heading (for horses 5 and younger) aboard Lincoln Figueiredo’s DT Shine Blue Brandy, and the Senior Heeling (for horses 6 and older) riding DT Horses’ Metallic CD.
“I was lucky enough to win one in the heading and one in the heeling this year,” said J.D., who roped at 21 NFRs between 1975 and 2002, and is the youngest cowboy ever to qualify for the NFR from when he heeled for Dick at the Finals at 15 years, 4 months of age. “It was kind of a unique situation with the horses that made the Finals in the Senior Heeling. Everybody ropes in a preliminary round, then it’s basically a one-round rope-off. I made the Finals on three of my four horses, Trey made the finals on all four of his horses, and my cousin Jay Wadhams made the finals, too.
“It was getting down close to the end when they were calling out the winners. There were only about eight places left, and Trey and I were both still sitting out there with three horses. Then there were seven places left, and we still had six horses out there. It was starting to look pretty good. Sure enough, I was sixth. Then they called fifth place out, and it was me. Zane Bruce ended up fourth. So there Trey and I sat, right next to each other. Trey said, ‘Dad, I love you. But I sure hope I beat your ass.’
[Read More: The Journey with Trey Yates]
“I was lucky enough to beat him, but it was only by half a point, and we both rode really good horses (Trey was the reserve world champ riding BFR Igniting Sparks, and finished third aboard DT Shiners Jewel). Everybody who goes to the World Show wants to win a world championship. It’s just like rodeo. But getting a win is hard to do, whether you’re rodeoing, jackpotting, or showing.”
Hitch Rack teammate Dustin Rogers won the Senior Heading world championship aboard Figueiredo’s Weavers Playgem. Oh, and Trey was over on the heeling side for both J.D.’s Junior Heading and Dustin’s Senior Heading titles.
“We had a pretty successful World Show,” J.D. said with classic Yates humility. “It was a pretty exceptional week.”
At 58, J.D. has his sights set on a bucket-list show goal.
“I set a goal a couple years ago, and I want to try and win 50 performance-horse world championships before I turn it over to somebody else,” he said. “I didn’t get to compete last year, because I had a broken leg. And you never know when your next win will be. I’ll make the decision when the time comes. Who knows when I’ll be ready to quit trying. In the meantime, I cherish every one of them. You can’t ever take winning for granted.”
Then there’s Trey qualifying for his first Finals this year, after winning the NIRA title heeling for Kellan Johnson in June.
“As a parent, it’s pretty exciting to see your kid’s dream come true,” J.D. said. “I might have been a bad dad along the way. There were people who thought Trey was ready to go before I let him go. I thought he had the roping ability earlier, but I was big on him finishing college. I thought that that experience, and putting him in some different pressure situations, would further his rodeoing in the long run.
“I think that extra time was a great experience for him to understand rodeo a little more before taking off. As a parent, pro rodeo is basically like throwing your kid to the wolves. Those guys out there rodeoing professionally to make the National Finals mean business. It’s no joke. They don’t show up to get beat. You have to have a mentally strong mind to be successful at it. Trey may have been ready sooner, but we’ll never know, because I wouldn’t let him go until I felt like it was time.
“We have a great family operation. We’re all still together. The success and accomplishments are wonderful. But the best part of it is that we’re really a tight-knit family. That’s the most important thing.”
Trey knows he’s got great big boots to fill.
“I want to carry on the family tradition,” said Trey, 23, who’s about to heel for 2015 World Champion Header Aaron Tsinigine in Vegas. “Hopefully I can win some world championships, too. It feels good to get the Finals made, and I hope I can do my family proud when I get there.”