Punching leather now
CHRISTY SWIFTThere are only about six custom saddle-makers in the state of Florida. Former world champion rodeo cowboy Rabe Rabon is one of them.
Published: June 13, 2012
Published: June 13, 2012
Wearing a brown leather apron, the Okeechobee resident designs, cuts, assembles and sews the leather pieces in the workshop behind his house. He matches the size, weight and tooling designs to the needs and specifications of the rider.
"I enjoy working with my hands," said Rabon, 46, who was named after his grandfather. His saddle-making and repair business is actually the reincarnation of his father's business; John Rabon closed up shop in the 1980s to follow his son's professional rodeo career.
Rabon started rodeoing at 10 years old, and by the time he hit high school was already a promising calf roper and steer wrestler. He was the first competitor to win the calf roping title all four years at his high school.
He won the steer wrestling title two of those years. His senior year he won All-around Cowboy and Champion Calf Roper at Nationals in South Dakota.
After graduation, Rabon went into full-time rodeoing with the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. By 1985 he was 20th in the world. In 1987 he made his first National Finals Rodeo, the "World Series" of the rodeo industry.
The zenith of his career was in 1989, when he was named World Champion, meaning he'd won more prize money than any other rodeo cowboy in the U.S. and Canada — about $90,000.
He didn't get to keep all of that money; some went to the owners of the horses he rode. "A roping horse is 90 percent of a roper," Rabon said humbly.
"Everyone sets goals," he added. "From the time you are a little kid, you want to be the best. I was fortunate enough to fulfill my dream."
During his rodeo career, Rabon was living in Texas and met cowboy celebrities such as Roy Cooper, Joe Beaver and Tom Ferguson. It's conceivable that his name could eventually have been listed with the likes of theirs, but he chose something more important than fame and fortune: he chose family.
"In 1993, I quit and moved home," Rabon said. He was 27 years old and his wife, Karen, had recently given birth to their daughter, Raychel. "I didn't want to raise a child on the road," he stated, explaining that cowboys travel eight months of the year. And he doesn't miss traveling back and forth between work and his family, not to mention the insecurity of being "hot this week and broke the next."
These days his one-man business keeps him busy, along with a 500-head cow/calf operation and some horse training on the side. "I really enjoy each day of what I do," said the dedicated dad, who was also helping to plan a graduation party for 18-year-old Raychel.
"The Lord has blessed me," Rabon said. "I'm thankful we have a good family and we're healthy."