By Sonja Eschenburg
EVENT: Team Roping, Heeler
HOMETOWN: Jay, Oklahoma
Originally from Jay, Oklahoma, professional team roper Travis Graves grew up in the central of cowboy country. His dad (Ronnie) was a team roper and now trains horses for a living, so it was only natural for Graves to pick up the sport. In an interview with the Stephenville Empire Tribune Graves said, “My dad taught me how to rope. He wasn’t a professional roper or anything, but he’d been roping his entire life. I guess I got started at about age nine or so and have been roping ever since.”
As a kid Graves also spent many of his days learning from Walt Woodard, who often put on team roping schools at the Graves’ home. Woodard played a big role in showing Graves the ropes and helped to steer him in the right direction of where he one day hoped to go.
In 2001, Graves won the International Finals Youth Rodeo (IFYR) and in 2002 he joined the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA). However, it wasn’t until 2005 that Graves, a then 21 year old, won his first “major”, which quickly signaled his entrance into the big time. Although he always placed well, Graves was, for a long time, only thought of as one of the greatest jackpotters ever, said an interview with the Wrangler Network.
Since he joined the PRCA, however, Graves only continued to climb the ladder of success in the rodeo arena. In fact in an article with EQUISEARCH he was noted as a “can’t-miss success in Pro-Rodeo.” This nickname without a doubt held true earlier in 2015 when Graves won first at the American.
To make matters better, he turned right around and then continued on to win first as well as fourth at the 33rd Annual George Strait Team Roping Classic – all of this in just the first two weeks of March. By the end of the month Graves had earned purses totaling over nearly $300,000 in cash, and left with a handful of other prizes, too. Nearly 685 teams entered this year’s George Strait Team Roping Classic, making it one of the year’s biggest payout events in team roping. That pressure didn’t phase Graves at all, though. In an interview with Spin to Win Rodeo, partner Clay Tryan even said, “Between the American and this, [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][Graves] was pretty dialed in. You can tell when a guy is not going to mess up, and he dang sure looked like that.”
Graves is one of the few top team ropers out there that rides only two main horses. All of his jackpot success he experienced on a horse he calls Superstar. Originally his dad’s horse, Superstar came to the Graves family as a three year old prospect with hardly any miles on him. During an interview with EQUISEARCH Graves said, “[Superstar] is pretty much a natural. From day one [I] knew he was going to be good. We just took it slow and didn’t rush anything. When I turned 18, he was ready.” Superstar went on to later even be named top heel horse of the year at the 2008 Bob Feist Invitational in Reno, NV.
Graves quickly realized he would need another mount to support his roping habits, though. That was where Babydoll came into the picture. Although a little older, Graves said she is more of a “rodeo horse.” Later on in the 2008 season Babydoll was awarded the top heel horse of the year title at the annual Spicer Gripp Invitational Roping. It was on Babydoll that Graves then continued on to launch his first trip to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR) at the end of that same year. Each horse has their own style and strengths, and that alone has particularly helped Graves in the rodeo arena. Since then, the two horses have each continued to pull their own weight. Graves said, “A lot of heelers only have one [horse,] but it’s a freak deal that I have two. They’re both [just] so good, I can hardly pick [between] them.”
Graves has other commitments outside of the arena, as well now. With a family of his own, he has learned to balance his time between being on the road and at home. Although this has been a busy season for Graves, he was lucky enough to travel with family to many of the rodeos up and down this year’s rodeo trail. As the 123rd cowboy in ProRodeo history to win $1 million, Graves surely had a good season all around!