Paul Eaves may call Millsap, Texas, home these days, but Lonedell is where he first learned and fine-tuned his skills in team roping.
If you don’t know Eaves’ name, you must not follow professional rodeo news. Eaves is well known in the rodeo world, where he ended 2012 ranked No. 10 in the world for team roping, according to the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.
Last year alone Eaves won a string of competitions, including the St. Paul (Ore.) Rodeo, the Strathmore (Alberta) Stampede, the Daines Ranch Rodeo (Innisfail, Alberta), the Richland County Fair and Rodeo (Sidney, Mont), all with his current partner Dustin Bird, and the Parade del Sol (Scottsdale, Ariz.) with Jake Barnes as his partner.
For the first time he made it to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo held in Las Vegas in early December, where he finished 13th and won over $29,000.
His total winnings for 2012 were over $115,000.
And it all began here in Franklin County.
Began Roping at Age 12
Eaves’ parents, Russ and Joyce, moved their family of six to a 300-acre farm in Lonedell when Paul was 8 years old. One of the reasons, Eaves recalled, was to give the family an opportunity to begin riding horses.
Eaves is the second born of four children. His siblings include Shannon, Kelly and Lucas.
Eaves starting riding when he was about 9 or 10 years old. It was a few years later when he was 12 that he was introduced to team roping and began practicing with his family.
A year after that, Eaves entered his first competition and was hooked. He began competing in events around Missouri, eventually widening his circle more and more.
“The more we did it, the farther away we went and the bigger the events,” said Eaves, sitting in the kitchen of his parents’ home in Lonedell over the Christmas holiday.
Looking back, Eaves doesn’t believe team roping is a skill that came naturally to him. He had to work at it, study it and practice.
“It took lots of work,” he said, with a serious face. “It meant getting a lot of help and practicing a lot.
“I learned from watching instructional tapes and just putting in lots of time.”
By the time Eaves was 14, he had made up his mind that he wanted to do team roping full time. That’s when he really doubled down on practicing and improving his skills.
But he’d gone about as far as he could go learning in Missouri, so after he turned 17, Eaves left home for Texas where he enrolled in four-time World Champion Allen Bach’s roping school.
“I’d gotten to the point where I was pretty good, but I’d hit a barrier,” said Eaves. “I wasn’t getting much better, and I knew I needed to get with guys who roped better than me if I wanted to improve.”
He had previously met Bach, who had invited him to come stay with him in Texas.
“It ended up that I just didn’t leave,” said Eaves.
Big Win, Followed by More Wins
Shortly after he began studying under Bach, Eaves entered the 2008 Wildfire Open in Salado, Texas, with Kelsey Parchman as his partner and won big — a $100,000 prize. It happened to be his 18th birthday and he couldn’t have dreamed of a better gift.
“I didn’t have any money. I was broke,” Eaves recalled. “It meant a lot for me to win.”
More than the money, though, he was excited to have found a roping partner, which is crucial to success.
In team roping, two riders work together to rope a 500-pound steer. One is called the header, and the other the heeler.
The header goes first, roping the horns, explained Eaves. The heeler, which is his position, follows, roping the two back feet.
In competitions, the team with the fastest time wins. Eaves’ fastest time is 3.6 seconds.
Ideally in team roping, partners stick together all year, said Eaves. But last year he ended up working with six different headers.
After his $100,000 win in 2008, Eaves won several more competitions and ended the year ranked 42nd in world standings.
By the end of 2010, he had won the Fort Worth (Texas) Stock Show & Rodeo and the Young County PRCA Rodeo (Graham, Texas) and set an arena record of 4.2 seconds at the Ellensburg (Wash.) Rodeo in the second round. The previous mark had been 4.5 seconds set in 2002. He was ranked 29th in the world standings.
In 2011, Eaves edged his standings up to 23rd, and last year was his best to date, although he hopes to do even more this year.
“I keep trying to get better, do better, make more money,” said Eaves, noting his dream is to win the World Championships.
The competitions for 2013 are already under way. Eaves was scheduled to compete in the Sandhill Stock Show and Rodeo in Odessa, Texas, last week.
“There really is no down time,” he said. “This really is the longest stretch, about three weeks, after the NFR until after Christmas.”
Eaves’ mom, Joyce, who goes to watch him in as many competitions as she can, said she doesn’t get nervous for him anymore. She was never really concerned for his safety — roping isn’t too dangerous of a sport — but was nervous about his performance.
Now he’s good enough and consistent enough that she’s able to relax more.
“I’m pretty used to it . . . watching is fun,” said Joyce Eaves.
Rodeo competitions are a family hobby for the Eaveses. Although Paul is the only one who competes professionally, the rest of the family compete in amateur events.
An entire wall in the family’s home office features photos of each one in action and belt buckles from various wins.
Eaves, who will turn 23 in just a few weeks, hopes to make team roping his lifelong career. It’s not a rodeo sport that’s so physically demanding, like bull riding, that his age should ever matter.
“I can last as long as I want to have a career,” he said, confidently. “I can go until I’m 50 or even 60. Some have done it until they were 80.”
As a matter of fact, Eaves noted that there are more older ropers competing today than younger.
“There aren’t a lot of guys my age out there,” he commented.