“I got my first horse, actually a Shetland called Scout, when I was just a little kid, three-years-old. I rode Scout all around the feedlot, everywhere, and told everybody I was a cowboy, and that’s what I’ve always been.”
Never a doubt to anybody when they meet up with J.D. Draper, and see him in action on horseback, proving he is without question a cowboy living up to his life’s objective a dozen years earlier.
Most undeniable verification came with 16-year-old Draper’s crowning as runner-up all-around cowboy at conclusion of the recent Kansas High School Rodeo Association Finals in Topeka.
“I just missed making the National High School Finals Rodeo by a couple of points last year, but I’ve had a good state run this year. I’m happy to have qualified in two events. That was really the best part of it all,” said the Oakley cowboy, who’ll just be a high school junior this fall.
Highlight event climaxing 14 high school rodeos in the 2014-15, fall and spring season run for J.D. Draper was the steer wrestling.
“I didn’t really get off to a great start at the finals, fourth in the first-go with 14.48-seconds, but things picked up. I won second in the second-go with 6.04-seconds, and had a good run, 6.78-seconds, in the short-go, still only placed third, consequently ended up second in the average. Fortunately, I had accumulated enough points during the season to be the yearend champion,” Draper tabulated.
Obviously, the nonchalant attitude of the 160-pound cowboy must not be taken lightly, as every one of his times could place, and sometimes win the biggest and highest paying rodeos in the world.
“I do work out on weights, and practice a lot, but despite people’s contention you must be big to bulldog, that’s not necessarily correct. Steer wrestling requires the right technique, and of course the right cattle draw, a good bulldogging team of horses, and a dependable hazer,” Draper said.
Also qualifying for the National High School Finals Rodeo, Rock Springs, Wyoming, July 13-19, in calf roping, Draper ranked third in state yearend standings for that event.
After a no time in the first-go at the Kansas finals, the young roper had a tough second-go as well, but tied his calf in a qualifying 17.87-seconds, out of the placings. A 9.49-seconds tie-down roping run was good enough for Draper to be second in the short-go, to end up eighth in the finals tie-down average. Accumulated points from earlier rodeos tallied to third in calf roping for the season.
Further verification of all-around cowboy ability is Draper’s skills as a heeler in team roping, where he closed the year in 10th, with Nicole Sederstrom of Goodland as his header.
“I rope both ends, but Nicole is a good header, so I’ve been heeling for her this year. We started out the season with some troubles, but the year has picked up,” Draper said.
They had a 26.27-seconds second-go round run, were 12.9 seconds in the short-go, and ended up eighth in the finals average.
“My dad, Chad Draper, had competed in bulldogging early in his career, but hurt his shoulder, and can’t compete in that event. However, Dad does team rope with me at rodeos and practicing. Probably most importantly, though, Dad’s my coach, a good one, and the best hazer I could have,” Draper credited.
Backtracking, the high school all-around hand said, “I competed in mutton busting before I ever started to school, and when I was seven-years-old, I went to my first Little Britches Rodeo at Garden City, competed in goat tying and breakaway roping.”
Before long, Draper was team roping and tying calves as well, soon chute dogging, and then into what seems his forte: steer wrestling. “I’ll be going to my fifth Little Britches Finals this year. I moved into the senior division last year, was in four events: ribbon roping, calf roping, bull dogging and team roping,” remembered Draper, who had entered goat tying, breakaway roping, ribbon roping and team roping in the Little Britches junior division.
Besides his dad, Draper credits champion bulldoggers Blair Jones and Ben Robinson for helping perfect his steer wrestling technique. “They have been winning a lot of Kansas Professional Rodeo Association (KPRA) events and are starting on the pro circuit. I really appreciate their abilities and the help Blair and Ben have given me to improve my bulldogging,” Draper acknowledged.
Tie-down roping coaching is especially appreciated by Draper. “Jeff Copenhaver of Brandenburg, Texas, has been helping me with my calf roping for several years. He’s a former professional rodeo champion and fortunately took a liking to me, thought I had the ability to win and has been flying up to Salina to help me and coach me in tie-down. Jeff thinks I can make it in professional rodeo, and I sure hope I can live up to his expectations,” Draper said.
“I want to say a special thank you to my mom, Darcy Howard, stepparents, grandparents and everyone one else who helps me get down the road. Without my family and friends, I wouldn’t be able to live the rodeo dream,” the high school cowboy emphasized.
Horsepower is the essential ingredient to rodeo success, and being a winner in several events requires more horses than a single event champion. “We have what I call an A-team and a B-team for each event, and some of the horses cross over from event to event. When the top horse is out of commission, I always have a backup horse,” Draper clarified.
The best horses are often old horses; they’re smart, or they wouldn’t still be competing. Certainly, Draper’s first string mounts have maturity. “Suzy is my top steer wrestling horse, and she’s 23-years-old. My calf roping horse is Cowgirl, and she’s 19-years-old. Brandy’s 11-years-old, and doubles for team roping and as a hazing horse,” Draper explained.
In addition to a steer wrestling mount, a top hazing horse and hazer are essential to winning bulldogging runs. “We have a great bulldogging team, and my dad is the best hazer I could ask for. I do ride our hazing horse for heeling, too,” the cowboy said.
Bulldoggers typically loan steer wrestling and hazing horses out to other cowboys, for a percentage of their winnings, and the Draper steer wrestling horse team is demanded by the competition. “I’m fortunate to have my own team of horses, and Dad does my hazing, so I can keep the whole check if I get some payback,” Draper said.
Practice stock is essential as well. The family keeps seven head of team roping cattle, a couple handfuls of bulldogging steers, and a dozen or so roping calves on hand year around.
Considerable time is spent in the practice pen. “I try to practice every night unless work has to be done on the ranch, which of course comes first. We generally just practice one event a night, bulldog, tie-down calves or stretch some steers; sometimes we might rope calves and steers the same night. I do a lot of practice on the ground, bulldogging steers and tying calves, and rope the dummy all of the time,” Draper said.
A community arena in town is available for practice sessions when weather becomes inclement.
The family’s Logan County ranch operations include a 2,000-head growing yard, and about 300 cattle on wheat pasture. “We ride our arena horses to work cattle, and that makes them better, too,” Draper said.
Admitting there are a “lot of long nights,” that becomes even more emphatic when Draper explained, “I also play high school football, so we head out to the fall rodeos Friday night after the game’s over. Obviously, I’m asleep, and fortunately my family’s willing to do the driving.”
Reflecting on times to win, the young cowboy’s best bulldogging run to date has been 4.4-seconds, with an 8.2-seconds tie-down run his fastest, and a smoking 6-flat in one run of team roping.
The past weekend was spent relaxing from the previous week’s state high school finals. “We’ve been practicing, getting ready for the national high school finals. I’ll be going to some KPRA rodeos, other rodeos, jackpots and the like, this summer, and then back competing at the Kansas high school rodeos for the next two years. I sure want to make the national high school finals in three events both years if things will just work out,” Draper said.
Looking to a lifetime career in agriculture business, Draper anticipates going to a junior college upon high school graduation.
“I’ve had some rodeo team scholarship offers, but that’s a ways away. I want to stay in the area, not too far from home, maybe Garden City, Panhandle State, or Kearney. Time will tell, and after that, I’ll probably go on to another college. I sure want to compete at the National College Rodeo Finals as many times as I can,” he said.
“Of course, I hope to become a pro, compete and win at the National Finals Rodeo someday, maybe in more than one event. I’d like to try for the all-around there, too,” concluded J.D. Draper, with a proven record verifying without dispute, that’ll be a likely probability.