This is a story of dreams, disappointments, determination, hope, family support, and the courage to take risks and follow a dream. A lifelong love of horses is at the center of the tale.
The hero of the story is cowboy Bobby Kerr of Hico, who will bring his award-winning rodeo act to the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo as part of the “Mustang Magic” program at 6 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 20. Kerr’s act, to be sure, will be all mustang and all magic.
Along with his mustangs, Poncho and Trigger, Kerr was honored last month as the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s top specialty act of 2017 and for Kerr, 60, the award capped a 50-year journey.
Fort Worth fans will be on their feet when they see him and his mustangs perform at John Justin Arena, but if they knew the long trail Kerr has traveled to be in the spotlight his story would hit them square in the heart.
Improbably, the dream was given legs in Ontario, Canada, when Kerr was just shy of 15 years old and his high school principal advised his parents to let him quit school to be a cowboy.
Bobby had run away when he was just 14 to work for the late Cletus Hulling, a legendary horseman who was based in Smithton, Illinois.
Riding horses all day and doing a man’s work for $50 a week, Kerr was living a grown-up dream but he was still a boy and he knew his mother was worried about him. He wrote her a letter, which enabled mom and dad to use the letter’s postmark to track him down. They soon showed up in Illinois to take him home.
Shortly after arriving back in Ontario, Kerr found the principal at his parents’ kitchen table, informing him that he would be returning to school.
“Not for long,” Kerr said. The allure of a life working with horses still beckoned.
After a lengthy discussion, the principal turned to Bobby’s parents and said it was clear what their son wanted – and that his passion and determination were rare for someone his age. Let him follow the dream, the educator said.
Kerr returned to Illinois to work for Hulling and eventually landed in Texas, where he became a horse trainer. During many of the years between then and now, Kerr’s life did not look much like a dream.
But no matter the disappointments he never quit trying, never gave up hope.
“It’s always been about never giving up, doing what you love, and never losing the dream,” he says. “Eventually, the door opens and you go for the opportunity.”
Before the door opened, Kerr did whatever he could to make a living.
For many years he trained and competed in the cutting horse industry. Needing more steady income he turned to fine furniture-making, metal art sculpture, and designing and building custom motorcycles. At one point he became obsessed with water skiing and spent years developing that skill. He went so far as to build his own ski lake on his property.
Finally, needing more income, he turned to over-the-road trucking, trading his saddle and water skis for an 18-wheeler.
At that point his wife of 38 years, whom he met at the Fort Worth Stockyards, began to worry – probably the same way his mother worried when he was a teenager wandering far from home. Susan Kerr wanted him off the road, safe at home with her and their two children.
Horses had never left his mind or his heart, so he decided to give his first love another shot.
In 2010, Kerr attended Fort Worth’s Supreme Extreme Mustang Makeover, an event where horses rescued from the wild competed for prize money and were later made available for auction. Bobby decided to adopt a mustang and train it for competition.
Today the top horse in his act is the stout bay Poncho, who may have come to him from the hand of God. Kerr had bought a mustang at auction who became misplaced in the process of shipping and Poncho was given to him as a replacement.
So that he could train Poncho full time. Kerr parked his 18-wheeler and he and Susan literally lived on peanut butter sandwiches.
By the time the 2011 Extreme Mustang competition rolled around, Kerr and Poncho and another of his horses finished fourth and fifth and won the fan favorite award. They were now in the money, although not big money.
He came back for more in 2012 and did well enough to stay at it.
The event in 2013, by then renamed “The Mustang Million,” brought the big money. He won $173,000 and was fully on his way to becoming an in-demand rodeo act.
Putting Poncho and Trigger through their paces with a variety of stunts and tricks, Kerr performs all over the U.S. and Canada from January until early December. A year ago his act was featured at the NFR, the Super Bowl of rodeo.
He’ll unveil pieces of his 2018 show during the special performance in Fort Worth
Spectators here will see the work of a horse training “genius” who has become a superstar the old-fashioned way, through family support, hard work, love of animals, determination, grit and, probably most important, what the cowboys call “a lot of try.”
Richard Connor is president and publisher of the Fort Worth Business Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org