|A Real Case of Rodeo Love|
Married couple who met on the rodeo circuit ride and rope together throughout the year
Phillip and Tiffany Kelce met on the rodeo circuit where love bloomed amid bumps, bruises, fractures and, best of all, plenty of awards for their riding and roping abilities.
Rodeo fans in arenas around the Southeast almost expect to see one or the other or both pick up another saddle or silver belt buckle as a result of another victory in team roping or breakaway events.
Phillip Kelce, 32, a successful team roper who began competing before he entered the first grade, has won more than two dozen silver buckles, 40 saddles and numerous other awards.
They ride and rope their way through the year, carefully scheduling events so as to not interfere with their "day jobs."
"Everybody else would be partying on Friday nights and I’d be at a horse show or just working with a horse somewhere," he said. "I’ve always been like that. I’m just an outdoor kind of guy."
His accomplishments include being the most recent International Professional Rodeo Association’s (IPRA) All-Region Champion Header. He is ranked second as a header in the Professional Cowboy Association (PCA) and is a 10 time Professional Cowboy Association Finals qualifier.
Tiffany, who has a bachelor’s degree in criminology at Auburn University and a nursing degree from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, has racked up numerous awards of her own.
She was the 2010 Megan McCain Memorial Open Breakaway Champion, the PCA year-end Breakaway Champion last year, is a four time PCA finals qualifier and is among the top 15 in PCA rankings.
Most weekends will find the couple on the road, heading to some place in Alabama or states far from home for rodeo competition.
Since Tiffany has more of a structured employment regimen than her husband, she works out a schedule involving 12-hour days so she can join him for weekend trips far from their home in Calera.
"They do a lot of sleeping on the road because they travel so much," said Griffin, one of several sponsors who help the couple meet rising expenses, especially when it comes to gasoline. "It takes a certain breed of folks to do what they do and they really enjoy it."
The Kelces have a large horse trailer with living quarters that can accommodate not only them and their mounts, but also friends who accompany them.
Professional rodeo riders are a lot like professional golfers who have to dip into their own pocket, especially if they don’t win a tournament or finish high enough to at least pay their expenses.
"We know we can’t win all the time, but we’ve done very well in many of the events we enter," Tiffany said.
The Kelces have had better results than many on the rodeo circuit, but they know they’ve got to keep winning or placing in the money if they expect to continue doing what they have been doing in recent years.
"We met at a competition and since that time have always cheered for each other," said Tiffany. "We were friends with a lot of the same people and have a lot in common. Everything just worked out for us."
They have no children – unless their horses count which is the case since they consider their four-legged "offspring" part of the family.
Tiffany rides "Honey," a 10-year-old mare owned by Hackney Quarter Horses in Lincoln, another of their sponsors. The two have been inseparable since Tiffany first laid eyes on her.
"She had never been involved in roping a calf and I trained her," said Tiffany. "We’re always training. Honey is good. She knows her job."
Phillip received a national award in penning competition at the age of 13 when he was honored by the American Quarter Horse Association. Since then, his name has become well-known in rodeo circles, especially when he wins another silver buckle or expensive saddle.
He’s competed in many of the top rodeo events in the country including a big one at Fort Worth, Texas. On long trips, especially to places like Oklahoma and Texas, the couple try to pair up with other friendly rodeo competitors to help pay for gasoline.
It costs them $140 to fill the tank of their Dodge Ram 3500 Mega Cab, reason enough to have somebody to help pay for it. Their long trailer amounts to a home-away-from-home on the road. It has sleeping quarters, a kitchenette and other comforts.
Many of the best athletes at other sports play with pain and the Kelces are no exception. They know it’s part of the rugged world of rodeo competition.
"I’ve broken my right hand two times and hurt my fingers, too," said Phillip. "I had a cast made once. I’ve wound up with no feeling in two fingers and just taped them together and kept going."
"I take care of him," said Tiffany, a trauma nurse at UAB who has seen her share of trauma at the hospital. "When it comes to riding, I’ve been bumped off my horse at times and there’s nothing graceful about that. We ride in all kinds of weather including rain and lightning."
Phillip recalled the time his wife was in a pen getting ready to compete when a horse in front "flipped over on her and her horse, and mashed her hand.
"I could see how her hand began to swell up," he said. "But, she didn’t let it bother her. She competes in a timed event and has to be ready to go at all times."
Phillip’s sponsors are Hackney Farms, Mid-State Farmers Co-op, Rope Smart, Classic Ropes, Rodeo Rigs and Bratton Automotive while Tiffany’s are Hackney Quarter Horses, Mid-State Farmers Co-op and Haselrig Saddlery.
Alvin Benn is a freelance writer from Selma.