Fred Whitfield may be well on his way to becoming the “Six Million Dollar Man” but for now he’ll settle for being the “Three Million Dollar Man” – one who also happens to have 8 World Titles to his name as well and countless arena records.
The Hockley, Texas resident is synonymous with tie-town roping; crowds leap to their feet when his name is announced and their applause only intensifies when Fred does his signature “raise the roof” after successfully roping his calf.
Having been a PRCA card-carrying member for almost 25 years, Fred Whitfield has been a hero and a teacher to many of the guys who rope alongside him.
At 6’2” and 210 pounds he certainly has a dominating presence, both in and out of the arena. Whitfield has won almost every major rodeo that exists, from Cheyenne Frontier Days to the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo. He’s had 7 Hall of Fame inductions including the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame, Texas all of Fame just to name a few.
To say Whitfield has “been there, done that” is an understatement. He’s seen the good and the bad, both of which helped him in penning his book “Gold Buckles Don’t Lie”.
In 2010, Whitfield was approached about writing his book, an idea he says, “I always kind of had.” “Gold Buckles Don’t Lie” was released in 2013 and the response was overwhelming; “I just wanted to tell the real story, about overcoming obstacles, and not coming from a rodeo family”.
However in every corner of the world there is criticism and Whitfield has not been immune to it, “there’s but criticism but that’s always there. You’ve got to look at both angles. There are a lot of subjects in the book, good and bad, but you’ve just got to tell the truth. Society doesn’t always like the truth but you’ve gotta be real.”
The book starts with Whitfield’s Texas childhood and concludes with the 2012 National Finals Rodeo, Whitfield’s 20th NFR appearance.
Throughout his years on the road Whitfield has also seen how the sport of rodeo has progressed in some areas but he also notes it still has room to grow and changes will have to be made to keep the sport alive.
“Cowboys sacrifice a lot to be on the road and they’re not compensated enough. Some of these guys pay $50,000-$100,000 for a roping horse, they drive a $60,000 truck, and they’re pulling a $100,000 trailer. That’s a huge professional investment. Guys who aren’t making money are just upside down.”
Whitfield also mentions that cowboys can’t just compete for the love of the sport, eventually they have to calculate how they’re going to make a living. THE AMERICAN, which just took place, was the first rodeo to offer a million dollar purse.
Whitfield has learned how to make the money, and to manage it. He’s also learned that you have to maintain yourself physically, undergoing both neck and rotator cuff surgery in January 2007. He went on to win $100,000 at the Calgary Stampede 6 months later.
Whitfield credits hard work for his success; he started competing when he was 6 years, fell in love with the sport, realized he could compete, and went to work. His senior year of high school Whitfield worked for a rancher who had 100 head of horses. He put Whitfield to work, “I must have been riding 15-20 horses a day, roping about 200 calves a day….that’s what it takes to be a world champion. It’s more physical tolling now that I’m older but I’ve never shied away from competition and I like being known as a big game player.”
His wife Cassie certainly agrees with her husband, “When I first met Fred, just watching him he brought a special kind of intensity into the competition arena and to the event of calf roping that in my opinion no one else did back then, or still does. You know that Fred Whitfield is going to rope for first place when given the opportunity in a good situation every time. “
Whitfield has certainly proven him in the biggest rodeos arenas but he enjoys attending the smaller rodeos, they’re more laid back – fewer politics, they’re more appreciative.” However Whitfield is also looking to continue competing in Canada, he plans to shoot for the Canadian Finals this year, there’s not as many calves, they pay $60,000-$70,000, and the competition is just as good as it is in Vegas.”
Whitfield also has a goal of riding a horse he’s raised and trained at the NFR, something he feels quite confident about when discussing two of his current six horses, “Most guys are lucky to get ONE good horse and I’ve have three really good horses (Moon, Reno, Gator, and his current mound Jewel). I’ve learned that he better horseman you are, the better roper you are.”
Looking back Whitfield lists three life-defining moments, the first being the 1st time he won the World Championship (1991). “I’ll never forget that feeling as I left the Thomas & Mack. I felt electric.” Whitfield would come back to win the All-Around. And that’s when Fred Whitfield switches from roper to family man, “nothing comes before the birth of my two daughters.”
Looking ahead Whitfield doesn’t plan on a full-retirement by any means, he made the conscious decision not to pursue the NFR in 2013 but that doesn’t mean he isn’t leaving his mark. So far in the 2014 season he stands in the Top 10.
He hopes to incorporate more teaching into his life, something he truly loves and find gratification in.
He held 4 roping schools in 2013 and traveled to Brazil to teach several clinics. Having been what some would call “elusive” throughout his career, Whitfield is now seeking out the fan interaction in hopes to be able to not only thank his longtime fans but also to share advice with the next generation of ropers.
Fred Whitfield is a legitimate legend, he’s a family man, and he’s known as a fair and equal man. Having been involved in rodeo for 39 years and a professional for almost 25, his fan base is strong and it’s loyal, “I just want to give heartfelt thanks to all my fans who’ve always stuck by me.”
“My main piece of advice to anyone is to practice, practice relentlessly. Do your work and refine your skills. Stay consistent; don’t try to win everything all at once. Develop solid basics; get into a good pattern, set new goals every year. If you put in the work, you’ll be rewarded; I really believe in that.”
“Gold Buckles Don’t Lie” is available on Fred Whitfield’s website. A list of retail outlets also available online. http://www.FredWhitfield.com.
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