story by Michele Toberer Anna Jae Griffin goes by AJae, and the Mississippi native has been a cowgirl for a lifetime, and a Southeastern Professional […]
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Meet the Member Stephen Britnell
story by Lily Weinacht
Although Stephen Britnell’s 2016 season was a team roper’s version of musical chairs – competing with as many as 12 different headers last year – the heeler from Knoxville, Tennessee, won the 2016 SPRA Team Roping Heeler title. “I just kept going and roping with whoever could go that week,” says Stephen, 42. “It all ended up the way I wanted it to, and I want to thank everyone who roped with me in 2016.” This is his third title with the SPRA, while Stephen also holds five team roping world titles with the IPRA. He competed in the SPFR with Quinton Parchman, previously roping with Quinton’s older brother, Kelsey, winning two world titles in the IPRA during that time. He also competes in the NCA and PRCA Southeastern Circuit.
Stephen started rodeoing steadily in his late teens, but was inseparable from his rope when he was just a year-and-a-half. Tie-down roping was his dad’s pride and joy, and Marion Britnell taught Stephen and his older brothers, Gene and Pistol, how to rope. “He was rough and tough, but I wouldn’t be where I am without him.” Sadly, Marion passed away when 15-year-old Stephen was rodeoing for the weekend, but not before making Stephen promise to win a world championship. “I lost the only mentor I had then, and it was devastating. I turned to the partying crowd at school. One day I got a call from Ray Gist. He’d known me since I was about ten, and he’d found out what I was up to. He told me to be at his house the next day. I stepped out of the truck and he threw a rope in my hand, and I haven’t let up since.” Stephen and Ray were at a rodeo or jackpot every weekend, practicing in between. “I owe everything back to Ray, because without him turning me around, I probably wouldn’t be where I am, and he knew what that meant to my dad and my family.”
Stephen put himself through rodeo by shoeing horses, which he learned from his dad. Stephen trimmed a horse for the first time when he was 12. Incidentally, it was his horse, Cueball, who had also broken Marion’s leg. “My dad was laid up, but my horse needed to be shod. I had all the tools and I’d seen my dad and brothers do it enough, so I put on my dad’s big green chaps and I’d trimmed both front feet before my dad heard me hit the anvil. He came hobbling out of the house and sat on a bucket and coached me through it. Both front feet looked like a beaver had been gnawing on them, but I put shoes on and that horse didn’t limp away!” Stephen advanced his skills and now specializes in corrective shoeing, also working with a vet in Shelbyville, Tennessee. “It’s my pride and joy when someone walks up with a favorite horse, thinking it has to be put down because of its feet, and five years later, they’re still riding it.”
He also takes pride in his horses, and is always looking for ways to improve his horsemanship. Stephen trained his horses growing up, and one of his rope horses, CR Son Of A Doc, or Sonny, is a two-time IPRA Horse of the Year. “Tommy is the bay I rode all last summer, and I owe all the credit to this past world title to him.” Stephen’s wife, Rachel Britnell, and step-son, Dane Luke, also enjoy riding, and Dane competes in youth rodeos. “Rachel and I just had our first anniversary, and every time I’m down, she always finds a way to bring me back up on the positive side,” says Stephen. “She works for a healthcare company and then she’s right in the middle of practice with us. I couldn’t do it without her support.”
Stephen loves to hold roping schools, and he puts on two or three a year. “I keep working on my horsemanship, so when I have these schools, I can pass it on to other people. I also watch roping videos every day and text or Facebook message ropers I know. I’ve changed my roping a lot – I was throwing too fast – and Dustin Gay has helped me a bunch with my horses and riding.
“God’s given me a gift, and I’ll always owe the praise to him,” Stephen finishes. “The happiness in someone’s eyes when they go rope for a day and feel good about it, or they get to see their horse sound again, is worth every ounce of gold I’ve put into my life.”