The Perfect Run: Rich Skelton A look back at Prorodeo Hall of Famer Rich Skelton’s most memorable ride.
By Abigail Boatwright
Rich Skelton has qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo 22 times. In his decades-long career, he’s won 35 NFR rounds, eight world titles and over $2.9 million in Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association competition. But the Llano, Texas, resident’s “perfect run” was one of his many NFR rides—and it wasn’t even the final ride of the Finals. But this one was meaningful because of what it earned for him: his very first world championship.
In 1997, Skelton had qualified for the NFR several times, starting in 1990, and while he’d come close to winning the Finals, he’d never won it. That year he was heeling with partner Speed Williams and riding his good horse Roany. The gelding has been named the PRCA/AQHA Team Roping Heeling Horse of the Year four times, starting in 1997. By the eighth round, they were sitting pretty.
After a smoking run, the pair won the round. And Williams, being a numbers guy, calculated their earnings.
“We had won that round that night and that made us enough money far enough ahead of everybody else that we couldn’t be beaten,” Skelton said. “Even if we didn't get any more times or won anything else, we couldn’t get beat.”
So sitting in the stands with his wife Rhonda, realizing he’d won his first world championship after chasing it for years, Skelton watched history happen—more than once.
“Two guys broke the calf roping record that night, one right after the other,” Skelton said. “I was so relieved because we’d worked so hard to get to that point, and at the same time, it was such an exciting night watching all those records get broken. I’ll never forget it.”
According to nfrexperience.com, in 1997, Blair Burk broke the tie-down roping record with a 7.0-second time, then two rounds later, Fred Whitfield broke the record again after turning in a 6.9-second time. Soon after, Jeff Chapman clocked a 6.8-second time. Overall that Finals, Whitfield roped and tied 10 head in 84.0 seconds to capture the aggregate title, a feat the site calls “the greatest tie-down roping performance in NFR history.”
Since then, Skelton went on to win a record eight straight world team roping titles with Williams. He won the NFR team roping average in 2001. And he’s continued to compete and win all over the country— this year, he’s been competing together with his daughter, Lainey and he’s in the national standings. And recently, he was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame. But he’ll always remember that ride in ’97.
“To me what made it memorable was that I had worked so hard and came close to winning the championship and never had accomplished it,” Skelton said. “Then we got down to that night winning it, and knowing that I had it won before the NFR was over. I think that's what made it stand out, knowing that I had it won. It didn't matter what happened after that, the next two nights, we had won.”