Roping 50 International Finals Rodeos: Ken Bailey watched his dad rope calves. Now he's back for one last go-round

Great State
GUTHRIE, Okla. (KFOR) – If anyone has a right to feel at home walking into the Lazy E Arena in January, it’s Ken Bailey.
He remembers being a young cowboy watching his dad rope calves at the beginning.
“I would have been 3 years old then,” he guesses.
He has memories of growing up around Henryetta and Okmulgee, and coming here every year.
Bailey states, “I know I’ve been to every IFR. I haven’t been to every performance, but here every year.”
Practically born with a rope in his hand, his extended family dominated the sport of tie-down roping for most of the 90s.
Bailey’s journey from spectator to competitor started in 1989 and went right through into the years of the 21st Century.
“I was probably 31 or 32 before I even had a regular job,” he says. “And I didn’t want one.”
Making an honest living and raising a couple of kids took him away from full-time rodeoing for the better part of a decade, but a few friends started joking with the old man, and the call of the ring pulled him back for at least one more go-round.
“You always go back to it,” he says. “Once you’re a gladiator, you always want to come back.”
He might not be the roper he once was, but consistency got him back here for his 14th IFR appearance as a tie-down roper.
Ken insists, “I love it. I can be up here watching them, but when you’re down there it’s a lot different.”
He’s got a pretty good seat picked out for everything but calf roping, up high and quiet where his quick eye can best process the action.
Ken has earned this lofty perch, too, as one of the few who’ve seen this rodeo from every angle.
Bailey’s first ride takes place Friday, Jan. 17 at the Lazy E Arena near Guthrie.
Rodeo action continues through Sunday.
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