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Thu, April 25

Veteran bareback rider Heath Ford inspires on pro rodeo circuit
Final Prescott Frontier Days performance for 2016 is today

Heath Ford rides I'ma Be in the Bareback during the second round of the Prescott Frontier Days Rodeo Wednesday night. (Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier)
Photo by Les Stukenberg.

Heath Ford rides I'ma Be in the Bareback during the second round of the Prescott Frontier Days Rodeo Wednesday night. (Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier)

PRESCOTT – As a member of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) executive board, 18-year pro bareback rider Heath Ford of Elkhart, Texas, serves in an advocacy role for rough-stock competitors.

Rodeo, events conclude today

• Courthouse Plaza Arts & Crafts Show, downtown

• Yavapai Brass Quintet, noon on the plaza

• Prescott 4th of July Celebration, noon at Mile High school field, downtown

• Rodeo Performance #8 - 1:30 p.m., Prescott Rodeo Grounds

• Fireworks, 9 p.m. downtown.

A PRCA event representative on the Contestant Executive Council, Ford, 39, didn’t just compete at the 2016 Prescott Frontier Days Rodeo on Wednesday, June 29. He chatted up his fellow bareback riders who were entered with him, enjoying their company while either listening to their thoughts or dispensing advice behind the chutes.

“I represent the bareback riding, bronc riding and bull riding, and their views and opinions on rodeo when it comes down to important votes,” Ford said of his role with the PRCA. “I have to be careful because my job as the bareback director [on the board] is to represent the bareback riders. And sometimes the other two events have different ideas than what my guys have. So you’ve got to go for the better of the whole sometimes.”

Ford, currently ranked 26th in the 2016 PRCA world standings for bareback riders, wants to hear pro rodeo cowboys’ thoughts so he can report them back to the board. He helps cast board votes on several different matters. For example, one decision might involve whether proposed changes to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR; pro rodeo’s “Super Bowl” each December in Las Vegas) would be acceptable to contestants.

“I’m just their voice,” Ford added. “It’s a neat job, but it’s a tough job because you gotta be a whole bunch of voices in one.”

The personable, down-to-earth Ford, a three-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifier, was born into a strong rodeo family nearly 40 years ago, on Aug. 22, 1977.

Heath is the nephew of five-time world champion bareback rider Bruce Ford. His father, Glen, reached the NFR in 1976, and his cousin, Royce, was an eight-time NFR qualifier (2003-09, 2011). His brother, Jarrod, made it to the NFR in 2005-06 as a bull rider.

Heath said he was enamored with rodeo from a young age. He and his brother would ride ponies, bucking horses, bucking barrels and whatever else they could hop on.

“I don’t know that it was so much inspiration as it was a way of life,” he added about growing up around rodeo. “We woke up in the morning wantin’ to be bareback riders, and everybody around us was bareback riders and bull riders. Every day, rather than play football or baseball, whatever we wanted to play, we wanted to play rodeo.”

One of the most important lessons Heath learned about how to ride broncs came from his grandfather, who told him to keep his chin tucked.

“That’s something I’ve tried to do my whole life, just because he told me that,” Heath said.

However, Heath learned the most about riding broncs from his uncle Bruce and dad Glen. Heath said Bruce “was very flashy,” as he had a gift for making slightly weaker horses appear better than they were. On the other hand, Glen “could ride the rank horses and make them look like a day off.”

“I wanted to combine the two, where when I needed to have the flash, I had the flash,” Heath said. “And when I needed to have that grit, I had the grit.”

After almost two decades of pro riding, Heath remains passionate about it.

“I don’t love travelin’ near as much as I used to,” said Heath, who has a wife and two young children. “There’s some kids riding now whose dads I was riding with when I started. That’s kinda neat, but it’s kinda weird, too, to see.”

Heath is now a mentor for younger pro riders.

He remembers at 18 years old, when he turned pro, how his uncle Bruce taught him how to enter rodeos, told him the places he should go, and showed him how to “walk, talk and act” like a pro in the rodeo business.

“Over the last few years I’ve tried to take in somebody 18, 19, 20 years old every year – and take them down the road with me a little bit and try to help them get a feel for it from the right end so they don’t run out and get broke right away or get sour on rodeo,” Heath said. “There’s a way to make a living doing it if you do it right.”

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