Jon Ragatz crisscrossed the country countless times participating in rodeos since his steer wrestling career began in 2005.
But the Midwest Horse Fair here in Wisconsin holds a special place in his heart.
“It’s one I really enjoy going to and doing well at, because it’s in my home state of Wisconsin,” Ragatz said. “There are a lot of people I know at that rodeo, and the stands are always packed. It’s just great to go there and do well and represent my home state the best I can. This rodeo means a lot to me.”
Ragatz, 37, hails from the Grant County town of Beetown, where he lives with his wife, Alison, and sons, Toay, 8, and Teddy, 6. The family operates Spring Valley Ranch, a 760-acre beef cattle farm with 200 head of Angus.
He will spend a couple of days away from the farm later this month to showcase his skills at the 2018 Midwest Horse Fair, scheduled for April 20-22 at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison.
The Barnes PRCA Rodeo, sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, starts at 7:30 p.m. on April 20-21. Steer wrestling will be among the seven standard events, along with saddle bronc riding, bareback riding, team roping, tie-down roping, barrel racing and bull riding.
Ragatz is coming off his best season ever, having qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas four months ago.
That accomplishment marked the culmination of a longtime dream for Ragatz, who began riding horses at about the age of 5 in the hills near his family’s southwestern Wisconsin home. He started with barrel racing and other youth events before trying steer wrestling at about the age of 13.
“I immediately took a liking to it, and I’ve pretty much been doing it ever since,” he said. “I liked that with steer wrestling you could be a little more physical and aggressive.”
That mind-set came in handy at Lancaster High School. The 6-foot-1, 225-pound Ragatz excelled in football and wrestling, and also won state high school rodeo titles in 1996 and 1999.
His late mother, Kathy, a longtime rodeo fan, was instrumental in the success of the Wisconsin High School Rodeo Association. And his father, Ted, was a standout football player.
Ragatz attended National American University in Rapid City, S.D., on a rodeo scholarship. After graduating, he started steer wrestling professionally in 2005 and won numerous events over the next few years — but he always missed out on the prestigious National Finals Rodeo.
In 2010, Ragatz moved back to Beetown, took over the family farm and made it operational again. For the next several years, his primary job was raising beef cattle, but he continued dabbling in steer wrestling when time permitted.
Then, out of the blue, everything came together last year for Ragatz.
Squaring off against many hungry, young competitors, Ragatz relied on solid technique, physical strength and years of steer wrestling wisdom to qualify for bigger rodeos as the year progressed.
He rode that wave of momentum until “it got to the point where my wife and I had to make a decision if I could make a real push for the National Finals Rodeo.”
“We knew it would be tough, because I would be gone for longer periods of time and she’d still be doing her job and handling more work and taking care of the boys too,” he said. “But she was great and very supportive. It was a big sacrifice on her part, and she was amazing the entire process. It wouldn’t have been possible without her.”
Ragatz maintained his hot streak all the way to the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, where he competed with his cheering family in the stands.
“It was great seeing Jon out there, because it’s something he wanted for so long,” Alison said. “And it meant the world to our sons.”
Said Ragatz: “Having my family out there, that’s what made it so special. The boys were old enough to see how special it was. They knew the sacrifice by not just me, but by my wife especially.”
Ragatz said he’ll always cherish the experience of competing at nationals.
“It was awesome,” he said. “Something we worked for as long as I can remember. It didn’t come to fruition before, but that was OK because I was always happy on the farm and being with my family.
“And then when it happened and I was heading to nationals, it was all kind of surreal. That dream was sort of on the back burner and I had kind of forgot about it. I didn’t think I’d have a chance at maybe getting to nationals again since I was getting older. So it was a pleasant surprise. Something I’ll always remember.”