HOBSON — On his ranch just outside of Hobson, team roping instructor Shawn “Tater” Erickson and his star pupil Carson Patten are preparing for Sunday’s Roy Open Rodeo.
“You ready to do this?” asked Erickson, the heeler, to his header. “Are we going to get fired up and rope good?”
Steers are loaded. The gate opens. And the duo takes off on run after run after run.
Not every ride is successful, in fact most end without a catch. But there’s no place either of them would rather be.
“Everybody knows I’m a very good grand champion rider,” explained Patten, a 20-year-old graduate of Fergus High School. “This is a big part of my life.”
Carson Patten was born with Down syndrome. Nevertheless, he dreams of being a world champion roper, something that seemed impossible years ago. He started riding while competing in Special Olympics equestrian events and it was there that he first met Tater and his wife Erlonna.
“(Our relationship) really started with my wife (coaching) in the Special Olympics and that being a gift that we like to give and to work with,” Tater said. “Carson started to really rise to the top. And he liked being with us and being around us and started to come out to our 4-H events and he started coming out to our roping events. And every challenge we put in front of Carson, he was able to overcome.”
“I love cowboys,” Carson said simply. “I get along with everybody. Everybody gets along with me.”
Carson took to roping quickly. When he fell, he got back up. When he failed, he tried again.
And after graduating from roping hay bales on the ground to catching a Hot Heels dummy behind an ATV, Carson looped his first live steer last week. And you can bet he let everyone know about it.
“I was proud of myself, I caught one,” he beamed. “It got everybody happy and my family and my friends.”
Tears welled in Erickson’s eyes as he recalled the moment.
“And when he caught it, and it was finally a real live steer, it was really emotional at that time,” he said. “And then when he hollered at my father-in-law, clear across the arena, he said ‘Mr. Mickelson, Mr. Mickelson, I caught my first steer!’ The water works came at that time.”
Carson has always loved rodeo. He travels the state with his parents Kaylene and Carl and can list his favorite events each summer.
“Roundup, Billings, Lewistown, Belt, Harlowton, Great Falls,” he recited.
His favorite roper is three-time world champion Tuf Cooper. In fact, Carson has “Tuf” emblazoned on his saddle and on his horse trailer. And inside that trailer is a top-notch horse named Casper. When Carson graduated from high school, his parents promised him tickets to the NFR. But when he told them he wanted to be a team roper, they got him a horse instead.
“Casper and me are friends,” Carson said. “He doesn’t get in trouble with me, and he does roping, cattle and trade horse. And also he likes to lope and he loves to go after the calves.”
Watching Carson and Casper develop in the arena gave Erickson confidence that they were ready to take the next step.
“So we got this hair-brained idea, that if he kept roping and he kept working at it, me and him would enter the Roy Rodeo,” Tater said. “So we went and I said, ‘If we’re going to enter, we’re going to enter with full fees,’ and so we were able to talk to the Roy Rodeo committee and say, ‘Hey, we don’t want a whole bunch of special treatment.’”
The Roy Rodeo is an open community event. You won’t see many stars and the payouts aren’t huge. But for Carson – it might as well be the NFR.
“I can get one in Roy,” he said confidently. “I can be a grand champion and can count my money like my dad said.”
His mother, Kaylene, believes none of this would be possible without a strong support system that will be out in full force this Sunday in Roy.
“This is his world championship,” she said. “The Roy Rodeo is his world championship. He’s pretty confident he’s going to catch it and win it, and whether he does or not he’s still going to be really proud and really happy.”
That’s for certain, because Carson is happiest when he’s on a horse.
He pumped his fist as he quoted Woody from Toy Story, “Fly like the wind, Bullseye!”
Tater believes this is only the beginning of Carson’s rodeo career.
“He really doesn’t have any disabilities,” Erickson said. “When I look at someone with a disability, there’s something they can’t do and we honestly haven’t seen anything he can’t do right now. I don’t think he’ll stop at this; I think he’ll continue to reach higher dreams than we’ve even thought of.”
Maybe the NFR isn’t so far-fetched after all.