Five years ago, Jared Keylon was working on a chicken farm in Arkansas when his brother, Justin, appeared with a bareback riding rigging. Little did Keylon know that moment would chance the course of his life.
Until then, the then-16-year-old Keylon figured he'd never leave Arkansas, had never entertained the thought of going to college and certainly never thought he'd climb on the back of a bucking horse.
These days, Keylon is seventh in the PRCA rookie bareback standings, is ranked fifth in the Prairie Circuit bareback riding standings and just finished competing in his second Collegiate National Finals Rodeo. He's busy, and happy.
"Coming from a chicken farm, it was beyond my wildest dreams to even ride a bucking horse," Keylon said. "I probably would have never bought my pro card had I not started college rodeo, having Bo Casper and people like that telling me I should try. I doubt I would have ever started pro rodeos, but gosh, I'm glad that I did."
Keylon's rodeo experiences started as a teenager when he and his brother would ride a friend's colts on Sunday afternoons. The man started offering advice on how to enter amateur rodeos, and Keylon went to about 14 his first year.
"The next year, I went to something like 70," he said. "It got pretty wild. I figured that was what I wanted to do, and I told my Dad I didn't care what one of those riggings cost, but that I wanted the best one on the market. I ordered a Barstow. It cost me $503.49 it's funny how I can still remember that."
College, and college rodeo, came in a very roundabout way for Keylon. He dropped out of high school and obtained his GED at age 15, then became certified as a welder. While working on the chicken farm and competing in the amateur rodeos, Keylon said he realized rodeo was a lot of fun, but never expected too much from it. Then, Fort Scott (Kansas) Community College coach Chad Cross heard about Keylon and they started to talk.
"He just started calling," Keylon said. "I was scared to death to leave Arkansas. I'd never been out of Arkansas my whole life. I finally went when I was 19 after talking to him for about six months."
Keylon also had no way to pay for college, but Cross said he'd help out, getting Keylon some scholarship assistance in return for the cowboy giving "everything he could" to the rodeo program.
He wasn't crazy about college rodeo at first. It was different than amateur rodeo, but Cross encouraged him to "just hang in there," until Keylon broke through with his first college win.
"I was really tickled, and I was winning the region after the first college rodeo, so I wanted to stay and see how it'd work out," he said.
Two years later, he's still at it, and he's blossomed at Fort Scott. He carries a 3.4 grade point average in agriculture business and plans to transfer to Texas Tech University in the fall, where he'll pursue a degree in Animal Science.
He's blossomed in the arena, too. He's gone from riding bareback horses for fun to competing at the highest level of college rodeo and in the professional ranks, too. In his freshman year, Keylon placed third in the bareback riding competition at the CNFR and finished 26th this year after posting a no-score in the third round. However, he won the second round at the 2006 CNFR with an 83.5-point mark, something he was "just tickled" about.
"I was really happy," he said. "I've always wanted to win a go-round out there. I thought it'd be exciting to win the whole deal, but it didn't work out this year. But there are a lot of good hands out there."
With two years of collegiate rodeo left and a pro career just beginning, Keylon is proving he's one of those good hands.