On The Trail with the Dickens Family
Written by: Courtesy< Back to Articles
story by Shiley Blackwell
Last month, college junior Maddy Dickens was racing to the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association barrel racing reserve championship on her main mount, Bucky. This month, you can catch them on the WPRA rodeo trail. “It’s all I’ve ever done,” she says. “When I take a step back, there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.”
Maddy rodeoed for Odessa College this last year, taking the southwest region all-around and barrel racing titles. This fall, she plans to rodeo for Tarleton State University while majoring in business administration and finance. “It’s motivating knowing that putting the time and the work in will eventually work in my favor,” she comments.
“This is my second year having Bucky. I got him before I went to school my freshman year in college. His name is Bucky because he tried to buck me off an embarrassing amount of times. He had never bucked until I got him, so he was renamed to Bucky. He’s 11 this year, and so this is his first year going to a lot of pro rodeos… He’s one in a million, and I’m really lucky.”
Maddy’s main support system is her family, as rodeo is a way of life for the Dickens, who call Loveland, Colorado home. Brothers, Joey and Kyle, are PRCA tie-down ropers. Dad, Skip, a former all-around cowboy, is always behind the chutes helping. Mom, Lisa, was a trail rider turned barrel racer, former rodeo photographer and now the self-dubbed family videographer.
Over the years, all three kids were members of the Colorado Junior Rodeo Association, National Little Britches Rodeo Association, Colorado State High School Rodeo Association and NIRA. Kyle and Maddy were also members of the Colorado Junior High School Rodeo Association (which was formed after Joey was in junior high). “We traveled with 6 horses, 3 kids and 1-2 goats,” Lisa adds. “Our own mini circus.”
While all three kids are now grown, they still support one another through the thick and thin of rodeo life. “My brothers have gone a lot more than I have, so they have a lot more ‘on the trail’ sense of everything,” Maddy says. Both brothers rodeoed for Colorado State University and competed at the College National Finals Rodeo themselves. “They’ve helped me a lot with my mental game, how to enter the rodeos, where to go and other things you learn as you go. I’ve been able to pick up from them a little bit because they’ve been going so much.”
Kyle says, “It’s nice to be able to help her. I feel like she’s had a lot of the same mental hurdles that it took me awhile to struggle through and figure out.” He has tried to “at least decrease the learning curve” for Maddy.
Mastering the mental game has proven to be even more important for Kyle and Joey, as they both quit their jobs in January to rodeo full-time. Joey, the oldest, remarked that Kyle was the driving force behind it all, as “he’s been planning this for years.”
“I just felt good about my abilities and felt good about my horses. It was something I wanted to try and not wonder ‘what if?’” Kyle says. It’s the one thing I enjoy the most, and if I can make a career out of it, I might as well try.” Joey and Kyle share a rig and in Joey’s words, they’re both trying to win. “It’s good to go with someone who has the same goals,” Kyle adds. “It’s good to have a supporter.”
Their transition from weekend warriors to full-time calf ropers has been fairly smooth. The biggest difference? “When we were working full-time, we had to cram in a lot more rodeos on the weekend so we could get as many in as we could,” Kyle says. They’ve realized they don’t need to exhaust themselves getting to rodeos since they have more time as full-time contestants.
And when the rodeo trail gets tough, Joey says perspective is everything. “I’ve had a real job… You know what I mean? I’m not one to complain about rodeo being hard.” For Kyle, remembering his goals pushes him on the trying days. The drive to accomplish what he set out to do motivates him, and he believes it’s “pretty counter-productive” to quit, even when that feels like the easier route.
Joey looks to his dad as his role model, as Skip “had to figure it out on his own.” Skip has worn many hats in supporting his kids’ rodeo pursuits– from practicing with them every day after work to teaching them the fundamentals of roping. He recently retired from his job, and now helps with the horses, keeps the rigs running and calls vets when they’re on the road.
“Rodeo is just something we’ve always done as a family. It was great. It was awesome,” Lisa adds. “Where other parents may have said, ‘Yeah, I don’t see my kids on the weekends,’ we were with the kids from junior/peewee age all the way through high school. We got to spend time with our kids all the time… I wouldn’t trade a minute of it. We loved, too, the opportunity to meet people from different parts of the country and the lasting friendships you make.”As Skip and Lisa have helped their kids over the years, they recognize the valuable lessons it has brought. “They learned how to be good sports in and out of the arena, whether they win or lose,” Lisa states. Responsibility is one of the greatest quality rodeo instilled in their kids. “You have to take care of the animal. You have to practice. If you don’t do well, if you don’t win, you don’t pay for your fees. And I think they’re learning that as they go down the road and are trying to make money at it,” Lisa says. “They have to be accountable for everything they do.”
While they experience the ups and downs of the rodeo trail, the Dickens kids know they have one another to lean on. “They tease each other, and they really like to pick on Maddy,” Lisa laughs, “But they are right there behind her, offering advice. They support each other all the time. They call Skip on things and ask his advice… As a mom, that’s really, really cool.”
“Every time the boys rope or Maddy runs barrels, I get videos, I get phone calls of what’s going on— ‘What could we have done? This was good, this was bad,’” Skip adds. “Just that interaction is great… That’s the biggest cherry on top of the sundae to me.”
The Dickens children attribute much of their success to Skip’s and Lisa’s early sacrifices for them, but their parents wouldn’t even call it a sacrifice. “I think the only thing sacrificed was time, and spending time with your kids goes without saying. It is not a sacrifice. It is what you do,” Lisa says.
“That’s the best thing to me— The kids want to spend time with us,” Skip adds. “All three of the kids help one another all the time. They are their main supporters. And I think that’s really the best part… We get along and work as a family to try to make this work, and I think that’s incredible.”