College life even busier for rodeo champion

Taking 17 hours of college classes and competing at a rodeo every weekend keeps a cowboy busy.

Consequently finding a spare moment for Jarek Van Petten to visit isn’t easy, but the young rodeo champion’s humility is most obvious.

Almost unwilling to talk about his successes, Van Petten is dedicated to meeting challenges of his busy college rodeo lifestyle, while expressing appreciation for those who help him in that endeavor.

“I ended one out of making the short-go in the bulldogging at Weatherford,” Van Petten said in a late Sunday night conversation after three days at the college rodeo.

Cooper Imthurn, 13, Maple Hill, shows his breakaway roping form that has won him top awards including all-around titles in state junior rodeo associations. Frank J. Buchman
Cooper Imthurn, 13, Maple Hill, shows his breakaway roping form that has won him top awards including all-around titles in state junior rodeo associations. Frank J. Buchman

A freshman attending Western Oklahoma State College in Altus, Van Petten, 19, related, “I have a rodeo scholarship which helps on college expenses and travel money. My animal science classes are over by noon, so I spend every afternoon in the practice pen.”

He’s an all-around cowboy competing in calf roping, team roping and steer wrestling. Proof of ability comes with the all-around championships Van Petten collected in 2011 and again last spring in the Kansas High School Rodeo Association.

“I’ve been competing in rodeos since I started roping calves on a mare called Katie, when I was eight-years-old,” reflected Van Petten, adding, “Rodeo is really a family tradition for me.”

His parents, Dr. Jeff Van Petten, Meriden veterinarian, and Jackie (Baker) Van Petten, Topeka school counselor, grew up competing and winning at rodeos.

His grandparents, Durward and Joyce Baker of Topeka, are Quarter Horse breeders and competitors. His grandfather, Eddie Van Petten, had a winning rodeo career and helped form the annual Eskridge Labor Day Rodeo 60 years ago.

“Mom and dad have been instrumental in my success, providing top horses, practice cattle, coaching and hauling me to rodeos all of my life,” credited Van Petten, noting their personal youth, high school and college rodeo successes.

“My folks continue to compete in rodeos and jackpots; Dad in roping, and Mom, barrel racing.  My sister Jolie teaches school and is also a former high school champion and all-around cowgirl.  She still rodeos, too,” Van Petten added.

Collecting roping titles during his elementary years, Van Petten began “chute dogging,” when he was in the eighth grade.

“Then, I started steer wrestling in high school and qualified for the National High School Rodeo Finals in team roping and bulldogging my sophomore year,” reminisced Van Petten.

Desiring more time in the practice pen, Van Petten decided to give up playing football in high school in order to concentrate on one sport: rodeo.

Proof of his versatile ability came during his junior and senior years when Van Petten was the Kansas High School Rodeo Association all-around champion cowboy and represented the state two more years at the National Finals.

“I was fourth in the first round of bulldogging there last summer, but couldn’t get any further,” Van Petten said.

However, at the Little Britches National Finals, Van Petten was honored as the world champion steer wrestler. “That was actually my first year to compete in Little Britches, but my birthdate fell right, so I can still enter Little Britches this year.

“I’m going to those rodeos, too, when my schedule permits.  I hope to make the finals again, and even repeating a championship would be nice,” Van Petten recognized.

Hard work makes a champion. “I practice every day I’m not at a rodeo. I bulldog four or five steers from a horse, rope and tie that many calves and also head some steers,” Van Petten tallied.

“We’ll chute dog two or three days a week; 10 to 15 steers a day, depending on the situation,” Van Petten added.

“Excellent practice facilities and ample cattle are a big asset to this rodeo program. Coach Guy Smith, a champion roper himself, is always there during practice. I really appreciate his advice and also that of my fellow team members,” credited Van Petten, noting there are 30 cowboys and cowgirls on his college team.

Although he’s been roping longer than steer wrestling, 6-foot-2, 170-pound Van Petten contended, “I can win in any of my events with the right cattle, just depending on how the runs turn out.”

However, Van Petten admitted, “I’ve been doing the most so far in bulldogging this spring; I’m setting fourth  in the (Central Plains) region (of the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association) after the fall run and four spring rodeos so far.

“Things can always change, but I’d sure like to make the college finals in one event this year,” said Van Petten, who team ropes both ends, although more often competing as a header.

Horses are essential to rodeo cowboy success, and it requires lots of horse power for Van Petten to practice and compete in three events.

“I’m fortunate to have four top horses here at school,” Van Petten said. “They are very consistent and dependable for rodeos, even as much as I practice.”

His head horse is Simon, while the calf roping horse, which can also be ridden in team roping, is Norman, and Superman is used for bulldogging.

“I own a young horse called Emers that I have for practice, too,” said Van Petten, noting that Simon and Emers were raised by his family.

Uncertain of his future plans, “I’ll continue to college rodeo. I’d sure like to win the region, and it’d be nice to be a national champion. I’m looking at K-State after WSOC, but I really haven’t decided where I’ll be going, or what my major will be.”

Already competing on a permit in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, Van Petten said, “I might continue to rodeo professionally after college. I’ll have to see how it treats me. I’ll always rodeo at some level.”