By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
Bobby Harris knew he had made it to the top of the rodeo world in the tenth round of the team roping competition at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas in 1991.
“We’d caught our last steer, and we knew we’d win the world championship,” Harris recalled. “I don’t know how to explain it. You know everything that you’ve dreamed of has finally come true.”
On July 16, Harris’ hard work in the rodeo world paid off as he was inducted into the 2022 class of the ProRodeo Hall of Fame at a ceremony in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Harris joins just a handful of other Wyomingites, including Chris LeDoux and Bill Smith, to be enshrined in Colorado Springs.
Harris, who won the world title as a champion team roper in 1991, qualified for the National Finals Rodeo 18 times. He also won the team roping average in Las Vegas three times and held the world’s record for the fastest team roping time for 15 years.
“It’s a very big honor,” Harris told Cowboy State Daily. “They look at my career, the board that votes on it, and it’s up to them.”
Growing Up In Rodeo
Harris grew up in northeastern Wyoming, where rodeo was a way of life.
“Growing up, you know, I roped calves and steer wrestled and then I also was successful in the single steer roping,” Harris said, but explained that team roping competitions were more common than other events.
“Then I was lucky enough to be pretty successful at it,” he said.
For Harris, rodeo was a family affair.
“My folks both rodeoed through high school and college,” he explained, “and my dad was a professional steer roper. So that’s just what we did.”
But Harris was more successful than most, and from a young age.
“I was the rookie of the year in the PRCA in the single steer roping in 1978, when I was 15 years old,” he said. “And then the first year I (qualified for) the National Finals Rodeo, I was 18 and I had just graduated from high school.”
Team roping, which was Harris’ primary event as a professional rodeo cowboy, involves a team of two cowboys roping one steer — the “header” catches the steer’s horns, then the “heeler” catches the back two feet. It’s a timed event, with the fastest team winning the event. If either the header or the heeler misses, the team gets a “no time” score, and is out of the competition.
As a heeler, Harris was dependent on his partner’s accuracy and consistency. The best chemistry he had in his career was with 26-time NFR qualifier (and three-time world champion) Tee Woolman, with whom Harris won the world championship in 1991.
“Partnership in team roping is a delicate dance,” said Dan Miller, who announced rodeos for 35 years on The Nashville Network and ESPN.
Miller said Woolman and Harris are both legendary names in team roping.
“I’ve always called team roping the ‘Desperate Housewives’ event of professional rodeo,” Miller told Cowboy State Daily. “Great partners and great teams come and go in the world of team roping, so when you find one that works, you try hard to make that relationship last – easier said than done.”
Harris pointed out that rodeo really is professional gambling.
“To compete, you have to put your money up,” he said. “So you need to be very well rounded, you need to be very well prepared. There’s way more losing in this than there is winning, so you have to learn to be able to adapt to that.”
“You see world champions miss,” Miller said. “And it’s a short pen there at the NFR, and they’re going for broke. But it is absolutely fascinating to watch.”
Held In High Regard
Those who competed alongside Harris hold him in high regard. Just ask Allen Bach, a champion team roper and heeler with four world championships under his belt who himself was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 2019.
“He was a great competitor,” said Bach. “It was so interesting, how he could have super good concentration and execute and make shots, anywhere, no matter what he was doing. It just really seemed like pressure didn’t really bother him – he knew how good he could rope, he didn’t have to tell anybody about it, but he just went and did it, kind of with the greatest of ease.”
“Bobby’s always been a winner,” said Miller. “That’s just Bobby’s history and his legacy.”
But Bach pointed out that the Hall of Fame honor only highlights success in the arena – he said Harris’ legacy was more than just that of a great roper.
“I think Bobby Harris could have been a stand up comedian in Hollywood or something,” Bach said. “He was that guy that could just laugh and kid around and have fun and still, you know, out-rope your rear end.”
Decades Of Memories
Harris started his professional rodeo career in 1978 at the tender age of 15, making his last appearance at the National Finals rodeo in 2010, which happened to be the same year he married his wife, Colleen. And in between, he said, there have been many meaningful moments.
“At Cheyenne Frontier Days in 2010, I won the team roping, and that was a very special win,” Harris said. “It was the last year I was going to rodeo, it was the last year I made the National Finals Rodeo. And (Cheyenne) is a hard rodeo to win. So to win that – because that’s almost like a hometown rodeo to me, you know? That was very special.”
It was also significant because shortly after Frontier Days, Harris’ mother passed away.
“She got to see me win Cheyenne, and so that was very special,” he said.
Life After Rodeo
While Harris doesn’t compete anymore, he continues to help other young cowboys and cowgirls learn the sport.
“We hold clinics here at the ranch every Tuesday through the summer, and then I do five big schools at different towns throughout Wyoming, Montana and South Dakota in the springtime,” Harris said. “I ride a lot of horses, sell a lot of horses and just love spending time with my family, my grandkids and my wife and kids.”
Bach said Harris was one of the rare rodeo competitors who was able to hang up his rope at the right time.
“I think he enjoyed his ranching and his life up there, and his family and all that,” said Bach. “And so I think he kind of knew, ‘Hey, time to go ahead and let go of the rodeo deal and go on and take care of other things.’”
Hall Of Fame
Harris said that the possibility of being inducted into the Hall of Fame wasn’t a driving force for his career – but the honor itself symbolized what he had hoped to accomplish all these years.
“You hope that you get in the Hall of Fame, you hope that people feel your career was worthy,” he said. “So when I got the call it was surprising, but yet very rewarding, very humbling.”
Bach said that in rodeo, competing against – and becoming friends with – stars like Trevor Brazile, Cody Ohl and Bobby Harris is something you don’t find in other sports.
“That might have been my favorite thing of all of (my rodeo career),” Bach said, “is to say, ‘Yeah, I rodeoed with Bobby Harris.’ We chartered planes together, I rode his horse, he rode my horse. We were buddies, I was friends of his family, he was friends of my family. And that is kind of the cool thing about rodeo – we’re all one big family. And to see him honored in this deal really makes me happy.”
Harris said his life has come full circle since his days as a young teenager roping steers.
“When I was 18 years old, I couldn’t wait to leave the ranch to go rodeo,” he said, “and when I was 40 years old, I couldn’t wait to come back.”
“So the Hall of Fame induction,” Harris said, “is just like a storybook ending.”