The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Roping event slated


June 2, 2019

If there’s a heaven, John D. Holleyman is probably thundering across it, a rope twirling high above his head, a hardy steed below him.

In life, Holleyman considered it heaven-on-earth to be roping and ranching, so it makes sense to think he’d spend the afterlife busy in those same pursuits.

Holleyman passed away in 2013 at 93, just three years removed from his last time atop a horse. And though he may well live on in the great beyond, his daughter Karen Kibbe of Portales has been doing what she can to make sure Holleyman lives on right here in New Mexico. Kibbe started the John D. Holleyman Invitational Calf Roping and Break Away — scheduled for its fourth annual installment on June 9 at Eastern New Mexico University’s Lewis Cooper Arena — which donates whatever funds it raises to provide multiple $500 scholarships to Eastern New Mexico students.

Kibbe, who last month retired after a 41-year teaching career, looked for a way to both honor her father’s passion while raising money for her own.

“That was the goal,” Kibbe said. “I wanted something to keep my dad’s memory alive, and I was always involved in education.”

Her husband spent 30 years in the field. Kibbe herself has taught at Floyd, Dora, Des Moines, Muleshoe, and for the last 12 years at Texico. She can still keep a hand in education through the rodeo event, which begins at 9:30 a.m. next Sunday with something new to the festivities — the Ladies Breakaway. The men’s roping is slated for 1 p.m. that day.

The breakaway will serve as a qualifier for RFD-TV’s The American, a competition held each year at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas that offers a $1,000,000 prize. The qualifying event in Portales next Sunday, an open breakaway, includes 2-go rounds, followed by a Top 12 short round. It costs a total of $650 to enter and compete.

“These young ladies, most of them who are coming to rope are ladies who roped in college,” Kibbe said. “There are more opportunities for young ladies to rope on this big stage. For most women, once you got out of college there weren’t that many opportunities to rope, so it’s really a neat thing for them.”

Kibbe noted that the breakaway does not yet have a full schedule of entrants. Anyone interested should contact her at [email protected] or 505-699-4768.

Entrants shouldn’t be a problem for that afternoon’s roping competition, which will include 40 men, some from the professional ranks, some from college, some amateur, all roping for a $500 fee. The winner’s purse, though, is expected to be in the $5,000-$6,000 range. Last year’s winner took home $5,110.

“They’ll rope four calves,” Kibbe said, “and whoever has the fastest time on four calves will be named the champion.”

Kibbe’s father would likely be proud after a lifetime devoted to ranching, riding horses and working with young rodeoers. Born in 1920 and raised in Mertzon, Texas, Holleyman worked on ranches during the Great Depression. He did his World War II service as a mechanic crew chief in the Army Air Corps, working on B-26 bombers.

Holleyman returned home in October 1945 and practically jumped right out of his Air Corps uniform and into rodeo gear, beginning a lengthy career that saw him roping from Madison Square Garden to San Francisco’s Cow Palace and plenty of venues in between.

“He won just about all the big rodeos they ever had,” Kibbe said. “He won a lot.”

Holleyman was the world’s third-ranked calf roper in 1949, its third-ranked steer roper in 1951. In 1953, Holleyman seemed on a charge to finish as the world’s top-ranked calf roper with the spry horse that Kibbe called “the best horse he ever had in his life.”

One day, though, that horse stepped on a nail. Holleyman brought the wounded animal to a veterinarian, asking him to take good care of his four-legged friend while he had business that needed attending in Sidney, Iowa. When Holleyman later called the vet to check up on his horse, he was informed that it had died of blood poisoning.

“He would’ve won the world that year,” Kibbe said.

Holleyman did finish fourth, just a notch below Clovis’ B.J. Pierce.

“After that, (Holleyman) never was in the top three or four,” Kibbe said. “He continued to rope for the next 30 years of his life, but he bought the ranch in ’56 and ranching became his primary career. He had to make a living.”

That ranch was in Corona, New Mexico, where Holleyman’s attention turned and remained for the rest of his life. In 2004 he won the Foy Proctor Memorial Cowman’s Award, given to those recognized as good stewards of the land. Five years later, Holleyman was inducted into the Texas Rodeo Hall of Fame.

He rode until the age of 90, but after losing his footing and breaking his leg one day while feeding his horses, Holleyman would never ride again.

Three years later, he was gone. But the education his memory can help deliver is allowing that old roper to continue having an impact.

“All of the proceeds that we make go for scholarships at Eastern New Mexico University for students who are involved in rodeo or agriculture,” Kibbe said. “That’s kind of who our scholarship is geared toward — students that have that kind of interest, because those were the interests my dad always had. He raised cattle and raised a lot of good horses, so I want it to go to somebody who’s interested in that as well.”


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