Tolton turns roping into a profitable business |

Tolton turns roping into a profitable business

Robert Tolton, 17, built the Rockin' RT Arena with his own money as a place to practice roping.because it was just something he loved to do. Courtesy photo Rockin' RT Arena

History shows the entrepreneurial spirit has flourished among youth along the Missouri River for well over a century. Meet young Robert Tolton and you’ll be convinced nothing’s changed.

Just completing his Junior year of high school in Fort Pierre, SD, Robert already owns and operates a lucrative business – a business built with his own money, his own hands, and his own sweat and calluses.

Robert was reared on a ranch near Midland, SD, where he still makes his home. He’s a cowboy, but doesn’t recall a time he consciously decided to become one.

“I grew up on a ranch,” he grined, “so that was just kind’a part of it.”

Practical, understated, and very down to earth, Robert can’t think of any “cowboy heroes.” When it comes to those who’ve helped him, he quickly says, “Oh … a lot of people.” Names that came to his mind right off were Leigh Furnival, Don Battleon, and Brent Belkam, but he didn’t forget to mention the Doyle and Melody Musick family, Don and Teri Heninger family, Jerry and Sherri Schwahn, and Brad Janecke “for supporting and helping me weekly through the year with boarding and pursuing my roping career. Due to the distance between our ranch and town home it’s been extremely helpful to have good folks helping me practice, welcoming me into their families and encouraging me.”

Help has always been welcome and appreciated, but Robert’s operating plan seems to center chiefly on helping himself. For instance, when in need of a place to practice roping he just decided to build his own arena. He sold his fall calves and used the proceeds to buy the necessary supplies. As for the work, he did that mainly himself, with some help from Brian Scott and Vince Bruce.

“It took an entire summer to get it done,” he says.

Asked if he ever felt like it was too big a project to have undertaken singlehandedly he chuckled, “Hundreds of times … every day. I dreaded goin’ out there, it was so much work. But Dad just told me to keep at it and get it done.”

So he did.

“I am just so proud of him and what he has accomplished already,” said Robert’s mother, Tammy. She went on to describe all the work Robert has had to do make this dream a reality and how hard it’s been for she and her husband to help him with his business since so much of the family’s time and money goes toward caring for his two younger brothers, Sammuel and Matthew, who both have autism.

Is it a money-maker for him today? Robert affirms, “Yeah, it is.”

The young entrepreneur rents Longhorn/Corriente-cross roping cattle from the Lapp Ranch at Hayes Center, NE. He holds ropings every two weeks during the spring, summer, and fall so the cattle periodically get slow or sour. At that point he has to load them into a stock trailer and drive back down to Nebraska for a fresh bunch. It’s all made worthwhile when ropers are paying him for the privilege to practice and jackpotting every two weeks – and that’s good business.

Never one to overlook opportunity, Robert has been considering his options concerning the down season. His mind is already latched onto “hopefully” putting up an indoor arena where they can rope even during the winter.

After all, it will give him and his horses more practice, as well as providing the service for all other ropers within driving distance of his Rockin’ RT Arena.

About those horses, he said he’s competing on two 4-year-olds, a sorrel and a buckskin. He bought them as two-year-olds then broke and trained them himself – just the way he wants them. He said he does train some outside horses for roping; after all, he’s got a good place to do it, with plenty of practice cattle.

He ropes either end but said if he did have a favorite it might be heeling. His current team roping partner is Casey Heninger from Fort Pierre. Robert explained they’re on summer vacation now and are concentrating on high school rodeo.

“Our Regional Finals are the first weekend in June,” he said.

As to future rodeo goals, Robert didn’t enumerate any specific high school or college goals, but said he’d “like to go pro” someday. You get the feeling that Robert basically lives in the moment, and his main goal is doing his best every time he nods his head … and doing better the next time.

With another year of high school in which to make up his mind, Robert isn’t locked into a major for college, but he does plan to further his education, and to compete in college rodeo.

“I might go into Ranch Management, or something like that,” he said. His present plan is to attend Eastern Wyoming College at Torrington – hopefully on a rodeo scholarship.

When asked if he thinks of himself as an entrepreneur, Robert replied, “Yeah, I guess.”

As to the establishment of a lucrative business while still a teenager in high school he shrugged, “I just made it happen.”

And does he have any advice for other young entrepreneur’s? He said, “No. I’m not good at advice.”

He could give you a hot tip on roping, though – just drive on out to the Rockin’ RT Arena and get all the practice you need to polish up your game and become a winner. You might even catch the entrepreneurial spirit.


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