Two and a calf: Longtime team roping duo competing in Perry County's rodeo

Friday, June 5, 2009
Mark Berry of Fruitland competes in a team roping competition on his horse, Cheyenne, May 24 at Flickerwood Arena. Berry has been a heeler in team roping for 20 years. Berry will be competing in the Perry County rodeo with partner Will Wilson of Wycliffe, Ky. (Elizabeth Dodd)

Partnerships play a big role in Mark Berry's life.

Twenty years in competitive team roping have taught Berry the importance of having a horse that knows the game and a roping partner capable of setting you up for the best shot at winning.

"You got to have a good horse," Berry said.

He added that the higher you get in competition level, the more important it becomes to have a reliable partner.

"Just because you're best friends doesn't mean you'll rope well together," Berry said.

Berry, 52, of Fruitland and his eight-year roping partner, Will Wilson of Wickliffe, Ky., will compete in the team roping event this weekend at the ninth annual Perry County Community Rodeo, held today and Saturday at the Altenburg, Mo., fairgrounds.

Wilson and Berry have been competing together since 2001, when they were both searching for a roping partner at a Mississippi event. They have since become good friends, Berry said.

Team roping evolved from a common ranching practice of two cowboys using their ropes to secure the hind legs and head of a steer, keeping the animal between them so it could be branded or doctored, according to U.S. Team Roping Championships.

In competition, the timed event starts with a steer running from a chute between the two riders, who then wait until the animal gets a 10- to 15-foot head start.

The first roper, called the header, tosses his loop of rope from the steer's left side to catch the neck or the horns and fastens the other end of rope to the saddle. Berry is a "heeler," meaning his job is to race up on the steer from behind and throw his loop so it encircles both hind feet.

"It's not a pretty picture, but my focus is on the back end of the steer," Berry said.

The entire run can take less than 10 seconds.

"It's mental, making sure you do everything right," Berry said. "If you miss your steer, you just got to let it go."

Balancing a day job

Berry grew up around horses and cattle but took up team roping as an adult because he wanted something more challenging than simple trail riding for an athletic horse he'd acquired. He said he quickly became addicted to the sport and wishes he'd discovered it earlier.

Wilson said his interest in roping was sparked by a video on the sport he found in a store in Sikeston, Mo., years ago.

He said he uses team roping as an outlet for stress. "It's a thing where I can leave my trouble behind from work and just be a cowboy for the afternoon," said Wilson, a pharmacist.

Many team ropers are like Berry and Wilson, competing in weekend jackpot events and in rodeos every month or so but not quitting their 9-to-5 day jobs.

"When it's all over you've got some really great stories," Berry said.

Berry, an industrial electrician by Procter & Gamble, said he often competes in team roping events at a loss, though he took home a check for $400 recently after a day's roping. He receives local support from sponsors Kohlfeld Distributing Inc. of Jackson and the Bayou Bar and Grill.

Berry said he's entertained the idea of hitting the road and competing professionally for a living but decided against it.

"I kid people that I like to eat," he said.

But even weekend roping can take its toll. Berry has suffered broken bones and third-degree burns on his hands from roping. He once had a thumb nearly severed in a roping mishap.

Sheri Daugherty, Berry's girlfriend and a registered nurse, called him "the most nonpatient patient in the world," saying he insisted on using electrical tape to hold his thumb together until the following day.

"A little ibuprofen goes a long ways," Berry said.

When not roping, Berry said he spends a lot of time outdoors, trail riding, training, hunting and camping on horseback.

"At least once in your life, get to ride a horse that has it all, then you get yourself a good dog, and then find a girl that'll stick with you. Those highlights are out of this world," Berry said.

The Perry County Rodeo is an International Professional Rodeo Association event and includes barrel racing, steer wrestling, calf roping and bronc and bull riding. It begins at 6:30 p.m. today.


Pertinent addresses:

Fruitland, MO

Altenburg, MO

Jackson, MO

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