From the World Show to the NFR and Back Again

From the World Show to the NFR and Back Again

Joseph Harrison excels in both arenas, sticking to the basics of good roping and good horsemanship. 

Team ropers compete at the AQHA World Championship Show.

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The American Quarter Horse Journal logo

By Jim Jennings and Holly Clanahan for The American Quarter Horse Journal 

Looking at the team ropers at the 2021 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, one might assume that they came up through the ranks in the usual way – through high school and college rodeos. That’s true of heeler Joseph Harrison of Marietta, Oklahoma, but he also took a detour through the AQHA show circuits, where he received a higher education in horsemanship.

Joseph is roping in his fifth straight Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, riding Main Street Boon, an AQHA reserve world champion, and CRR Hurricane Fajita, aka “Capone,” but in November, he was competing at the AQHA World Championship Show, earning some globes in his old stomping grounds. 

In junior heeling at the 2021 World Show, Joseph and fellow NFR roper Trey Yates ended up in a three-way tie for first. After a rope-off, Trey ended up winning first, and Joseph left with a reserve world championship on his horse, Shine Jose, and a bronze trophy for Catty Rey Dual, owned by AQHA Professional Horseman Bobby Lewis. And in senior heeling, Joseph also took home silver and bronze globes – for Spooks Cherry Bomb, owned by Bobby Lewis and Denice Bledsoe, and J Lows Glo, owned by Larry and Denice Bledsoe. 

It’s no accident that Bobby Lewis’ name figures prominently in Joseph’s World Show success. 

Joseph took a job with Bobby when he was 16, training and showing team roping horses. And though he is on the rodeo road full time now, Joseph, now 34, remembers his time at Bobby’s place fondly. 

“When I was offered the job (with Bobby), I realized it was a way that I could gain some knowledge about my horse, so I took it,” Joseph said in a 2017 interview. “It was hard, because my buddies would call me and they would be off at a rodeo somewhere, having a good time, and I’d be here working.

“It paid off. It was worth it,” Joseph says with conviction. “Bobby helped me a lot with my horsemanship and how to understand what was going on under me. I could feel it, but I didn’t know how to understand what I was feeling – and I didn’t know how to get the horse to do it again.”

Joseph was born and raised in Roff, Oklahoma, a small town in the south central part of the state, an hour and a half southeast of Oklahoma City. He grew up in a family that roped for recreation. That included his father and mother, his uncle and his grandfather. His grandfather roped calves, the others team roped. His dad and mother headed, and his uncle heeled.

Heeling became Joseph’s specialty. He roped in all the various junior rodeo associations in southern Oklahoma and north Texas, and in the National High School Rodeo Association. He went to college at Northeast Texas Community College in Mount Pleasant and rodeoed there, winning the team roping in the southern region of the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association two years in a row. At the NIRA finals in Casper, Wyoming, he and his partner broke the arena record with a 4.2-second run.

Meanwhile, Joseph worked for Bobby during summers, spring breaks, Christmas breaks – any time he could. After he graduated from college, he started working for Bobby full time. And that’s when he started showing both head and heel horses. He was a regular at all the shows that had roping classes, from Mississippi to Texas, and Oklahoma to Nebraska – and that included the AQHA World Show. 

“I like people,” Joseph says, “and Bobby gets along good with people, too. I think that’s the reason we get along so well. We spend 15 hours in a pickup together going to a horse show somewhere, and we never run out of things to talk about. I wouldn’t trade it.”

In 2008, Joseph purchased his permit from the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, which was the first step to gaining membership in the PRCA.

Then he had to “fill his permit,” which means he had to earn $1,000 in competition at PRCA-sanctioned events. Roping with professional team roper Clay Hurst, who is also from Oklahoma, Joseph filled his permit at the first rodeo they went to. However, Clay urged his friend not to apply for his professional card at that time because Clay knew the PRCA was talking about having some sort of a “permit finals” in Las Vegas in conjunction with the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. If it did, Joseph would have been eligible to go. As predicted, the PRCA Permit Challenge was begun the next year; however, it was 2014 before the event included team ropers.

Joseph and Clay had a really good year in 2008 with Joseph competing on his permit. The team made the Prairie Circuit Finals. But had he gotten his PRCA membership card right after he filled his permit, Joseph would have been the PRCA Rookie of the Year. A cowboy’s first year as a card holder is the only year he’s eligible to win the Rookie of the Year Award. The next year, when Joseph got his card, he and Clay didn’t go as hard.

The circuit system was developed by the PRCA for cowboys who compete but can’t devote all their time to pursuing a rodeo career. Each cowboy picks a home circuit at the beginning of the season, and points earned during the regular season at rodeos in that circuit count toward the circuit standings at the end of it. Then the top cowboys in each event can compete at the finals of their respective circuits.

Joseph continued to rodeo with another professional, Mike Bacon, and made the Circuit Finals another five times.

In 2017, Joseph took another step. Teaming up with professional header Charly Crawford, he qualified for his first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. Charly, who is from Stephenville, Texas, had been to the NFR eight times before and had won more than $1 million in PRCA competition.

Roping with other partners, Joseph has qualified for every NFR since then, and not counting his earnings from the 2021 NFR, he has earned $737,935. 

Wherever he’s at – a pro rodeo competing for cash or the AQHA World Show with a gold globe on the line – Joseph just sticks with the basics.

“Heeling steers is heeling steers,” Joseph says. “It doesn’t matter where I am. I just rope each steer for each steer. Whatever he does, I try to counter his actions. If it goes good, great. If not, better luck next time.”