If you have ever been to a rodeo, you know that right before the competition begins is an intense one — a quiet fills the air as the participant and animals involved ready for the opening of the gate or chute. Then, with the grinding of metal, things begin to move at such a high speed.
Just making sure everything goes right can wrack on your mind - take a steer wrestler, who has to launch from the starting line, race to get perfectly positioned behind said steer, and then through dust and dirt, jump from a perfectly good horse to try and bring that animal to the ground.
For Jon Ragatz, he will spend close to a month away from his wife, Alison, and his two boys, Toay and Teddy, preparing to do just that for 10 days straight at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas.
Nearly a month away from home during the holiday season, practicing every day in Coleman, Okla., drilling and practicing for the chance to win $26,000, not for the event, but in each of the 10 rounds that will take place at the NFR.
“This year is the best year I have ever had,” said Ragatz, who left for Oklahoma on Nov. 17 to train with others. It is not where he thought he would be at this time of year, but circumstances led him to that point with the possibility to earn up to $26,000 a day during the competition next month.
To tell his story, one has to look back to last winter, when Ragatz qualified for the All-American Finals. A great showing there led to Jon winning some money, but more important it put him in the top five of the world standings, and allowed him to qualify for more rodeos.
A series of rodeos, and Ragatz was left with $20,000 earned after a rodeo in San Antonio. He came home and worked on the family farm, handling calving and preparing for the year, when his family talked over what should he do next.
Ever since he graduated college in 2004, Ragatz had been competing, but he never made it into the top-15 rankings. Close, but never in that top 15, which is how you qualify for the NFR. He had stuck to regional rodeos around the Great Lakes, taking his family to an average of 20 rodeos a year.
But this year seemed different. In a good position, only dropping in rankings because he wasn’t competing, the family talked it over. “We have a good opportunity, we thought take a chance,” Jon reflected.
So instead of 20 rodeos, Jon has participated in 98 this year in the United States and Canada, averaging four rodeos a week. And things went, well, not great during one stretch.
“I had a terrible Fourth of July,” Jon noted.
And the week after that wasn’t much better, as he saw his standing plummet to 22nd. But staying positive, he went to rodeos in Salt Lake City and Canada in the final week of July, and won.
“We had a chance, and every week after that we had a good week,” Jon surmised.
He set himself up for some big rodeos in the fall, and after one in Houston, where he collected $50,000, he finished the season with $77,340 in winnings, and ranked 11th.
Ragatz said he wouldn’t have been able to do as well if it wasn’t support from home. He starts his list with his wife, Alison, “she sacrifices so much,” and then talks about how his two sons are old enough to know what he is doing, and be proud of what he accomplished.
Still, “Its tough being away from my wife and my boys” for that long, Ragatz said. So much so, that even though this year does set him up to be in great position for the start of the 2018 season, he doesn’t think he can be away from home that long, unless his family came along on the circuit.
Ragatz also noted his longtime friend Dan Clauer, who has been running the farm in his absence. Ragatz noted how much encouragement Caluer, who came on working full-time for the farm when they expanded, and has been supportive.
Being away during the holidays is tough, but Jon noted that he is training hard in Oklahoma, around a bunch of competitors that push him to be better for the NFR.
The completion runs from Dec. 7–16, and Jon will compete in a round each of the 10 days. The top winner for each round will win $26,000, and the rodeo pays out for the top six places. The event also pays out $40,000 for the person with the best overall average time.
Happy to be there, Ragatz said he also doesn’t plan to be satisfied with just being there, and hopes the holidays may be a little brighter after the competition.