Steer everywhere know the sound of a certain cowboy’s boots walking up to his horse and mounting it, preparing himself and his horse in a box for the next six to eight seconds of adventure in the arena.
The animal in the middle box surrounded by the two cowboys on either side is anxious, waiting for the nod of a cowboy.
When the gate bursts open, the bovine rushes out, only to be roped and tied up in less than 10 seconds from a team of two cowboys. When the tied animal frantically looks around, it meets the eyes of the cowboy whose boots it recognized - Jerry Pair.
Pair is the true example of a roper. The friendly Pair is a tried-and-true cowboy who has been frequenting rodeos as both a contestant and judge for the past 54 years. From practicing on a roping dummy to winning and placing in competitions, Pair has been through it all, following his dream to rope.
“It’s always been my life dream since I was big enough to walk and ride horses,” Pair reflected. “When I got to compete [after buying, training and reselling horses], it’s been my life.”
Born 69 years ago in the Greens Creek community, Pair was surrounded by the country life. He grew up on the family farm and ranch and played football in high school while riding horses. He started roping around the age of 15 or 16 when he was a sophomore in high school. Although Pair loved riding horses, he cannot look to his family tree for the reason why.
“My great grandfather was a cotton farmer, my grandfather a blacksmith and cotton farmer and my father a peanut farmer,” Pair recalled. “I’m the only one who loved horses.”
While Pair’s attraction to training and riding horses grew, he decided to try roping during his senior year of high school. A cowboy who lived nearby in Dublin, Dan Taylor, agreed to train the young man on roping calves. Taylor trained Pair throughout the rest of Pair’s senior year.
After saying goodbye to Taylor, who had left that summer for the rodeos, Pair graduated from high school and married his sweetheart, Jan. However, before she accepted his marriage proposal, Jan told her future husband that he would not be getting a cowgirl as a wife. Pair told her that she would be getting a cowboy as a husband. The lovebirds happily agreed on the terms.
The newlyweds moved to the south plains of Texas to help run a farm for Pair’s uncle. Soon, Pair was back to practicing roping calves. Pair would compete in calf roping at rodeos in West Texas until a fateful accident in 1964.
While participating in a calf roping competition, Pair suffered from a broken leg that was badly injured.
“My foot was in my shirt pocket,” Pair described.
The young couple moved back to Greens Creek to stay with family while Pair’s injury healed.
When Pair was off crutches, he began to ride young horses during rehab. A friend of his, Tyson Neighbors, told Pair about a job opportunity in California. The Mee Ranch (owned by the California Land and Cattle Company) needed someone to ride colts. The Pairs and their new son left Texas and moved to California cow country in the coastal mountain range where Mee Ranch was located.
At the ranch, Pair rode colts and doctored cattle. He soon became familiar with a rodeo event that California was famous for - team roping. Team roping is an event that grew out of a ranch chore where steer must be roped in for branding and doctoring. It takes both coordination and cooperation of cowboys and their horses in order to rope in a steer.
In team roping, one cowboy, a Header, ropes a fast running steer around the horns or the head, another cowboy, a Heeler, ropes the steer’s legs. The cowboys have a six to eight second range to complete the roping if they want to win the competition.
“The Heeler keeps his rope in his mouth until he needs to rope the steer,” Jan explained with a smile. “Since the rope goes around the steer’s legs, you always want a clean string.”
With the help of his partner Terry Davidson, whom he has roped with for 20 years, Pair’s best time team roping was just short of four seconds. The world record is 3.5.
Since calf roping was almost non-existent in California, Pair made the change to team roping in order to keep on doing what he loved. Pair was able to learn all about it during his six-year stay from experienced team ropers while working on a ranch adjacent to the Mee Ranch. While in California, Pair was the Header in his team.
In the fall of 1970, the Pairs moved back to Texas to live on Jan’s great-grandfather’s land, which they still owned. The family felt the need to move because their oldest son, who had just graduated from sixth grade, would have had to go to a high school that was over 30 miles away. The Pairs had to go back.
“We loved it there,” Jan explained. “It was very good to us. But we were afraid to lose the boys there, that they would want to root down there instead of in Texas.”
Team roping was still new when the family returned so Pair went back to calf roping until the event grew bigger. After moving to Alexander, Pair started team roping again. With his training in California from old team ropers, Pair had an advantage.
“Coming from team roping country, I had a bit of an edge,” said Pair. “Team roping in Texas was a lot simpler [than in California] because it was still in its infancy.”
Pair attended every Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) Circuit Finals in Texas until 1988 when he turned in his card. The PRCA Circuits allow cowboys who work during the week and cannot travel far to compete at the level of a circuit close to home. Pair would also sometimes compete at the larger rodeos such as one in Denver, Colorado.
In 1989, Pair joined the National Old Time Ropers Association and the Old Time Rodeo Cowboys Association, participating in several rodeo events.
In 1993, Pair competed against the best ropers in the United States and Canada at the National Senior Pro Finals in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He won second in calf roping, third in team roping and won the ribbon roping. That same year, Pair won the United States Team Roping Championships (USTRC) No. 9 Preliminary roping in Guthrie, Oklahoma. Later, Pair won the USTRC Reserve World Championship.
While Pair was away at roping competitions, Jan and their two sons, Dan and Randy, would care for the ranch back home.
“Without them, I couldn’t have competed,” Pair said as he looked at his wife of 51 years as of June 15.
Pair has been competing in the Texas Senior Pro Rodeo Association, which caters to cowboys who are 45 and older, every year since he came of age to enter. In 1995, he won the Texas Senior Pro Rodeo’s title in calf roping. This year, however, Pair was unable to compete because Jan had knee replacement surgery. Since the surgery, Pair has been learning the ropes about caring for a home along with his own ranch duties while his wife heals.
“I’ve never done the dishes and watered the garden before,” Pair laughed as his wife nodded her head in agreement.
Pair is no stranger to replacement surgeries. He has had a hip, knee and shoulder replaced due to injuries sustained from ranching and roping. Around six or seven years ago, a spooked colt jumped the ring it was in with Pair on its back.
“He’s lucky he wasn’t killed,” said Jan, who shook her head.
Pair sustained a broken arm, three broken ribs and other internal injuries to his spleen and liver. It took him two years to heal.
“Injuries seem to go along with it [roping and ranch work],” said Pair. “No matter how careful you are or how good of a rider you are, equipment can fail and accidents can happen. Horses respect us and won’t intentionally hurt you, but their instinct is to preserve themselves.”
After living in Alexander for 30 years, the Pairs returned to the Pair family farm near Dublin, which has been in the family since 1873 when Pair’s great great-grandfather bought the land. Although his favorite is calf roping because that is the way he started out, Pair is not able to participate in that event anymore due to his age and the injuries throughout the years. He is still, however, able to team rope as a Heeler.
Pair has had steady team roping partners through the years but he now trades his partners, where he is given a partner at the rodeo. After drawing a partner, the team must draw a steer to rope.
“Many think that all the steers are the same, but they are very different,” explained Pair. “Some are slow and some are very fast. You want to get the slow ones.”
Today, Pair competes in U.S. approved ropings and jackpot ropings while caring for his ranch that includes horses, cattle and one jenny, a female donkey. Two years ago, Pair competed in the No. 10 USTRC and won eighth out of over 600 teams. He still practices heeling on his ranch and when he does not have a partner around, Pair practices on his jenny.
“She doesn’t get hurt, of course,” Pair said. “She just steps out of the rope. But I pretty much practice on anything that I can.”
Pair also judges United States Calf Roping Association (USCRA) roping events. He does the flag roping and watches the barrier carefully to make sure that the cowboy does not cross the rope before the calf has a head start. When the barrier is broken, a horn blasts and adds 10 seconds to the cowboys’ time. It takes Pair’s full concentration while judging. When faced with a difficult call, he usually gives the cowboy the benefit of the doubt.
“I’m fortunate to judge and flag roping,” said Pair with pride. “It’s quite an honor to do that. Your peers look at you and you get to call the flags. They trust me to do that.”
Awards that Pair has won over the years for his true dedication to the sport surround the couple’s home, but his true trophy is a common one that can be seen on the walls and refrigerator of many homes.
“My family is my true trophy,” Pair said with a smile as he looked at the pictures of his family. “I have two children, four grandchildren and a great granddaughter. They’re all into sports, but I’m still hopeful for my two youngest grandchildren [to join him in roping].”
When asked how long he will continue roping, Pair had a positive outlook on his future.
“As long as the doctor keeps patching me up, I’ll rope,” Pair laughed. “I’m like a Timex watch, I just keep on ticking.”