College cowboy dreams of going pro

Brian Gillen plans to turn ‘horse trouble’ into fuel for upcoming season


Brian Gillen is a 20-year-old tie-down roper based out of Elizabeth, and has been part of the West Texas A&M University Rodeo Team since 2019.

Like many who grow up in rural horse communities throughout Colorado, Gillen has had a lifelong dream of becoming a professional cowboy with the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA). Gillen roped his first calf at the age of 8 and knew by age 12 that he wanted to become a cowboy.
“Rodeo is something that I always wanted to do professionally,” Gillen told the Elbert County News in an interview at his family ranch outside Elizabeth. “I’ve played basketball and baseball, but nothing stuck with me like rodeo has.”
During Gillen’s interview, he walked throughout the ranch, pointing out the animals and sharing their names. The horses and goats were happy in the barn, the chickens pecked away at the ground in their pen, and the sheep, once a 4-H project of Gillen’s, snuggled up with the livestock guardians outside.
Walking throughout the large pasture behind their home was 25-year-old Thumper. Gillen won 2018 Colorado Pro Rodeo Association Rookie of the Year for tie-down roping while riding Thumper, a longtime family horse.
“I rode him from the time I was 12 until my freshman year of college. Dad rode him too,” laughed Gillen. “Now he’s 25 years old and is a great pasture ornament.” Gillen hopes that he can train his new horses to the level of Thumper.
His two college roping horses, Ace and June, stood in the quaint barn and quickly walked to Gillen as soon as he approached.
“When I started with WT, I was riding Ace. I’ve been riding him for two years now. He wasn’t running well though, so I switched to June, who needs a lot more training. I ran into a lot of horse trouble,” said Gillen. “If you’ve got a good horse, it makes it exponentially easier to win. I’ve heard that the horse is 75% of the deal.”
Tough season
The 2021 season was not kind to Gillen as he struggled to bring home any wins for tie-down roping.
“I really felt terrible. I’d never gone a full summer without winning a dime. 2021 was my worst summer ever. Every time I went out there and I didn’t win, I felt this awful pit in my stomach. You just love the sport so much that you want to do your best,” said Gillen as he leaned against the pasture fence looking toward Thumper. “I went to a rodeo in Coffeyville, Kansas where I really got beat. It was the farthest I’d ever traveled for a rodeo. As I was driving back, I realized that I needed to take a break from rodeo.”
After Gillen’s losing 2021 season, he questioned if he wanted to continue roping. Working toward his degree in plant and soil science, Gillen’s long-term plan has been to work for a crop consulting company, helping farmers. After his losing season, Gillen began to consider that soil consulting should be his life’s goal and that he should leave the rodeo world behind.
“At the beginning of this school year was the first time in my life that I had no desire to rope. I really didn’t want to get on the horse. I actually sent June back home to Elizabeth because I thought my roping days were behind me,” said Gillen. “I was sitting on the couch watching TV in my apartment down in Texas when it hit me, though. There is nothing I’d rather be doing than riding a horse.”
“Throughout the fall 2021 semester during my break from roping, it hit me that I wanted to be my own boss,” said Gillen. “I also realized my true love for horses and that my life goal has changed. Now, roping is my main career goal, and crop consulting is just a fallback plan. I’d rather be here squeezing out a dollar than making good money in a squishy office chair.”
Gillen has turned his struggle into fuel for the upcoming season, desiring to re-enter the rodeo circuit.
“My goal for next season is to step into the semi-pro circuit to get my feet wet. I want to get Ace trained up really well, win a lot in semi-pro, then move into pro,” said Gillen. “I’m currently working on getting Ace ready to go back down to Texas so I can train.”
Gillen has other rodeo goals for himself as well: making big money and becoming an official card-holding cowboy.
“I have big dreams of making big money in professional rodeo. You can walk away making thousands of dollars in one weekend,” explained Gillen. “One of my biggest goals, though, is to become an official member of the pro-rodeo association. Currently I’m a permit holder with the PRCA, but once I win at least a thousand dollars, I will be a cardholder and can call myself a real cowboy.”
Like father, like son
Gillen’s father, also named Brian, was moving hay for the animals during a portion of the interview. “Dad was a professional tie-down roper and he was really good and won a lot,” said Gillen. “I saw how much he loved it, so I decided I wanted to be a cowboy too.”
When asked his thoughts on his son’s roping career, Gillen Sr. shared both his praises and concerns. “I am really proud of him. He’s a hard worker and accepts any challenge and sees it through. He’s had a great career so far,” said Gillen Sr. “Being out there as long as I have, though, you see the dangers. It’s a dangerous profession and I don’t think I’ll ever get over the fear. I now have an understanding of what my parents were saying when I was riding.”
Gillen heard his father’s concerns and smiled, acknowledging that the rodeo world is dangerous, but that he will not be swayed to change his career goals.
“This whole year has been a big learning experience for me,” shared Gillen. “I’ve really learned what it takes to be successful in rodeo. Honestly, there is nothing that has humbled me like rodeo has. It will kick your butt across town and then kick it again.”
For the 2022 season, Gillen plans to participate in multiple one-event jackpots throughout the area as well as the Cowboy Up in Kiowa Rodeo on June 24.
“My overall sports goal is to be World Champion Tie-Down Roper,” said Gillen. “I look at the winners every year and now can see that before they were big champions, they started where I am now. One day I will be in their shoes, hoping to inspire someone starting out just like me.”
To follow Brian Gillen’s journey, you can find him on Instagram as @brian_j._gillen and on TikTok as @briangillen17.
To learn about tie-down roping, you can visit the PRCA website at
Brian Gillen, rodeo, colorado, West Texas, elizabeth


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