Special Photo. International World of Rodeo organizers include, from left, Emily Tomlinson, Keith Roberts and Lenny Austin.
Keith Roberts could have pursued a career in electrical engineering. Instead he chose to be a cowboy. Over the last few decades, he's worked as a bull rider, bronc rider, calf roper and horse trainer.
In his latest endeavor, the 54-year-old owner of KR Ranch in Covington is the lead organizer for the area's first International World of Rodeo performance and competition. The rodeo takes place on May 28 at 7:30 p.m. and May 29 at 3 p.m. at the Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers.
The rodeo features bronc riding, calf roping, steer wrestling, team roping, barrel racing, a calf scramble and bull riding. There's also a Buffalo Soldier demonstration, an equestrian drill team and a live buffalo on display.
But what makes this rodeo unique is that Roberts is making an effort to include competitors from as many ethnicities as possible -- those from white, black, Latino and American Indian backgrounds.
Having organized the Atlanta Black Rodeo from 1995 to 2003, open only to black cowboys, Roberts said he "felt bad not letting" people from other races compete. But, at the time, "that was the market."
"We had always talked about opening up the rodeo and I think that's how it ought to be," said Roberts.
He recently drove to Florida to visit with Seminole Indians involved in rodeo and met with local Hispanic cowboys, mostly bull riders and ropers.
"We actually pursued the different nationalities" for the International World of Rodeo show, Roberts said.
Raised in Connecticut and in a small town in upstate New York, Roberts said his parents kept horses, and he began horse riding at age 7.
At 19, Roberts got a job as a rodeo pick-up man, the person who helps cowboys get out of the ring once they've been thrown by a bull or bucking bronco. One day while he was laughing at a cowboy who'd been thrown into the mud, the cowboy challenged him to try a round with the bull.
"It went poorly. I remember nodding my head and the gate opening ... but I loved it," Roberts said.
As he earned a college degree and landed a job as an electrical engineer, Roberts continued to work with rodeos, both as a pick-up person and a rider. Eventually, five years into his electrical engineer job, he quit.
"It was interesting, but it wasn't rodeo," said Roberts.
He made a living riding broncs and bulls and in the offseason he trained horses. After age 30, when his body could not longer take the punishment of riding bulls and broncs, he moved to calf roping.
Roberts came to metro Atlanta in 1989 to be closer to his parents, who had retired to the area. As Atlanta grew, he moved farther east in search of ranch area, living first in Stone Mountain, then Lithonia, then Conyers, and then Covington, where he relocated in 2003.
He said he hopes to take the International World of Rodeo on the road, eventually covering the eight states of the Southeast.
"One thing about the rodeo is that it is always exciting. There's always something going on," Roberts said.