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Rodeo may be a sport that evolved from skills associated with cattle production, but for one of the sport’s most decorated cowboys during the past decade, it was work at a poultry farm that helped him become the success he is today.
Jared Keylon, a native of Dover, Arkansas, specializes in the bareback riding. In that event, cowboys must stay aboard a bucking bronc for eight seconds. They have no saddle or reins, only a bareback riggin, which is a handhold that resembles a suitcase handle. The riggin is attached to a leather strap and pad, and is placed around a horse in a similar fashion that a saddle is placed.
In order to reach success in the highest level of professional rodeo – in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) – a lot of hard work and dedication is required. That’s something Jared said he learned all about while working at poultry farms.
Jared did not come from a rodeo family, nor was he raised on a cattle ranch like so many of the stars of the sport. Instead, he came from rather humble beginnings.
He vividly remembers when he started working in the poultry sector, even though it was at a very young age.
“My dad came out and got me. I’ll never forget it. I was on a pond bank fishing. I had just caught this, like, nine-pound catfish and drug it in, and my dad said ‘Jared, get in the truck. I want you to come to the store with me,’” Jared said prior to competing in the bareback riding at Kansas Largest Night Rodeo in Pretty Prairie, Kansas.
During that trip to the store, Jared met a man by the name of Tommy Robottom, who owned two layer houses. He took the Keylons to the farm and asked them to take slats out of the barn. Impressed with their work, Jared and his older brother Bo were offered the opportunity to gather eggs for him. It was a job Jared held for about four years.
Around the same time frame that Jared was working at the layer farm, he began competing in junior rodeos. He and Bo tried their hands at bareback riding. They both had fallen in love with the thrill of staying aboard a rank horse, and continued to ride. Bo, who has also gone on to become a successful bareback rider, purchased a second-hand riggin that they used.
Then, around the time Jared turned 14, an offer to do work at a different type of poultry farm came to the Keylon brothers. Don Rich had offered them jobs to work on a crew where they caught chickens for a company that subcontracted for an integrator.
For a short while, Jared did both jobs, but his dad thought that was too much for him to handle. He worried that the lack of sleep would get to him.
“For a 14-year-old kid making $700-$800 a week, you’re doing really good,” he said. “But my dad made me choose. I didn’t want to quit either one of them, but since I had to choose, I chose catching chickens. I did that until I was 18 or 19.”
He even worked at a Tyson plant for a period of time, doing live hanging, he said.
Jared knew the value of a dollar at a young age, and he had watched his parents struggle to meet expenses.
He knew his poultry-related work helped him pay entry fees and travel costs involved with rodeo. But at the time Jared didn’t quite realize the importance of an education. He told his dad that he thought it was ridiculous that he was spending so much time at school, and not getting paid for the work he was doing there.
While that is not the sort of thing that parents like to hear, his father came up with a solution.
“Dad said, ‘If that’s how you feel, then get your (general education diploma) GED.’ He knew I had always kept my grades up, and he told me if that’s what I want to do, he’d pay for it, as long as I worked hard to get it,” he said.
Jared did work hard, and earned his GED in rather short order. After completing his GED, he enrolled in a welding school. He completed that school, and got one job offer that was particularly attractive. The only catch was he had to be at least 18 to get the job. Jared was barely 17 at the time.
So, instead, he continued to work in the poultry field and compete in amateur rodeos.
Jared’s talent in the rodeo arena caught the attention of the coaching staff at Fort Scott Community College (FSCC) in Fort Scott, Kansas. FSCC’s rodeo program has a good reputation for recruiting top-notch bareback riders who go on to achieve success at the professional level. Among FSCC alumni was 2000 World Champion Bareback Rider Jeff Collins, who mentored Jared.
Jared proved worthy of the scholarship he received. During his freshman year, he finished third in the nation, and he finished sixth in the nation during his sophomore year.
While at FSCC, Jared met Ashley, who is now his wife. They remained in the Fort Scott area, as they now call nearby Uniontown, Kansas, their home.
Jared earned an associate’s degree in applied sciences from FSCC in 2006, and after that, he became a member of the PRCA.
Jared Keylon | Photo courtesy of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association
It didn’t take Jared long to make his mark in the world of professional rodeo. In his early years of competition, he won first-place checks at PRCA rodeos from Florida to Oregon.
Then in 2012, he reached the pinnacle of the profession by finishing among the top 15 bareback riders in the world and qualifying for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. Several months later, he tied for the win at the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo.
Now that he and Ashley are the parents of two children, he does not rodeo as hard as he once did. But so far in 2017 he has won the bareback riding titles at rodeos in Strong City, Kansas; Lauderdale, Mississippi; Licking, Missouri; Ponca Nebraska; and Alexandria, Louisiana. Amid tough competition in Pretty Prairie, Jared collected prize money for a third-place tie.
Another top 15 finish in the world standings may not be on the horizon for Jared, but that is of his choosing. Still, he’s grateful for the opportunities he has had.
“I’ve been very blessed throughout my career,” he said. “My family keeps me at home more these days. Otherwise, I’d probably never slow down.”