Roping them in: Westfield teen an accomplished competitor on the rodeo circuit

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Tatum Coker was all of 3 years old the day her grandfather, Mike, sat her down on the back of a horse for the first time.

Then, like now, something made sense.

Fast-forward 11 years to today when Coker, on the verge of starting her freshman year at Westfield High School, is regarded as one of the nation’s premier female rodeo competitors in her age group.

Those competing in rodeo possess a blend of fearlessness, discipline and strategic, split-second thinking as they train to rope calves, barrel race, tie goats and more.

 “I first got started in it when my grandpa took me to the state fair when I was 3,” Coker said. “I rode the pony rides there, and I loved it so much I kept going and going and going.”

 The next step was taking Coker to a horse farm for riding lessons, where the minimum age was 5.

Coker, only 4 at the time, was provided an opportunity, anyway – thanks, in part, to the persistence of her grandfather – and proved to be a quick and enthusiastic study.

As she grew older, Coker sampled jumping and barrel racing. Eventually, she learned to rope.

The competitions she takes part in at this stage of her rodeo career are breakaway roping, goat tying and ribbon roping.

Tatum Coker competes in breakaway roping, a variation of calf roping in which a calf is roped, but not thrown and tied. (Photo courtesy of Troy Coker)

In early July, Coker, a three-time Junior Girls National Little Britches Rodeo Association finals qualifier, was in Oklahoma for nationals. She is the 2022 Indiana Junior Rodeo Association Junior (IJRA) Girls Breakaway Calf Roping champion and a third-place finisher in goat tying.

Coker’s 2021 wasn’t too shabby, either.

She was Midwest Youth Rodeo Association Junior Girls Reserve All-Around Champion (barrel racing, pole bending, Texas 8, flag racing, goat tying and breakaway calf roping). At the national finals, Coker was a top 7 Buckle winner in girls breakaway calf roping.

Coker’s horse, Deuce, is stabled at the Palomino Ballroom in Zionsville. Coker rides out there as often as she can to keep her rodeo instincts and timing as sharp as possible.

Next up is the IJRA event held at the Hendricks County Fairgrounds in Danville from Aug. 6-7.

“Tatum has no fear. She’s ridden bulls and has done about every rodeo there is to do,” said Troy Coker, Tatum’s father. “It probably comes from me and her grandfather being ex-drag racers.”

With four years of high school ahead of her, Tatum Coker has plenty of time to explore the possibility of being part of a rodeo program at a college or university.

Actually, she’s already started.

“I don’t know how all of this is going to work out,” Coker said. “But I want to rodeo in college and study to be a nurse.”

Coker has sampled more mainstream athletic activities in her life, playing soccer when she was 6 and running track last spring as an eighth-grader. She once even thought of playing softball.

However, when it comes to rodeo, the connection is different-level powerful.

 “I didn’t find any interest to those sports like I do this,” Coker said. “I like the friends that I make, and all the fun that I have in rodeos because everybody’s so nice. I’m not saying they’re not nice in the other sports, but something about rodeo has always had a special place.”

Tatum Coker is one of the nation’s premier female rodeo competitors in her age group. (Photo courtesy of Troy Coker) 

Tatum Coker is one of the nation’s premier female rodeo competitors in her age group. (Photo courtesy of Troy Coker)

Getting to know Tatum Coker 

Q: Do you have a favorite rodeo rider?

A: I would have to say one of my good friends, Dakota Murphy. She’s a year older than me and is from Freeburg, Ill. She’s got nice horses, a good arena, calves, steers and all that stuff she can practice with. I want to be like her one day because she’s really good at what she does.

Q: What clothing is required during competition?

A: You have to wear a cowboy hat or a helmet when you’re riding. I wear a cowboy hat. You have to have a long-sleeve shirt on, jeans and boots.

Q: What’s the most-cherished award you’ve won?

A: Probably reserve all-around champion at the IJRA, which is the Indiana Junior Rodeo Association. I got a breast collar, which is something that goes on the front of your horse, and I got a belt buckle, too. Belt buckles are pretty cool, but saddles are cooler. I would love to win a saddle someday.

Q: Does superstition enter into what you do?

A: Some people are like, ‘Oh, these are my lucky pants’ or ‘This is my lucky hat’. Me, personally, I don’t really care for that stuff too much. You wear what you wear.

Tatum Coker competes in breakaway roping, a variation of calf roping in which a calf is roped, but not thrown and tied. (Photo courtesy of Troy Coker)

A look into rodeo

Tatum Coker has competed in various events of rodeo competitions, though these are the ones in which she presently specializes:

  • Breakaway roping – A variation of calf roping in which a calf is roped, but not thrown and tied. The roper attempts to throw a lasso around the neck of the calf. The fastest run wins.
  • Goat tying – The participant rides to a tethered goat, dismounts, catches, throws and ties any three of its legs together. The goat must stay tied for six seconds after the contestant has backed away from the animal. If the goat becomes untied before six seconds have passed, the rider receives no score.
  • Ribbon roping – A team rodeo event that features a steer, a mounted rider and one contestant on foot. It is a timed event. The roper starts in the box and the runner must start from a designated spot determined by the field judge. The event begins when the steer breaks the barrier. The roper must rope the steer. Any type of catch is legal. The roper must then “dally,” which is to make several loops around the saddle horn with the rope. The runner must then grab the ribbon off the calf’s tail. The runner races back to the box, and the time is stopped once the runner crosses the barrier.
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