But if you want to be a cowboy, it’s not a bad place to be.
That’s where Bobby Kerr now hangs his Stetson, deep in the heart of Texas.
The 56-year-old Pelham native’s vernacular switched from “eh” to “yup” a long time ago.
These days, he’s a noted trainer of wild mustangs, but his journey began back in the late ‘60s when an eight-year-old Kerr first got the itch.
“From watchin’ Roy Rogers on TV and watching’ the (Tom Bishop Wild West show) up the road (in Ridgeville), I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” Kerr says from his motorhome while en route to New York City.
He didn’t know how, but he was going to be a cowboy.
He found out how to make his dream come true one day when he was 13, working at an area farm mucking out stalls. A horse came in from Illinois, and on the back of its registration papers was the name of one Cletus Hulling. Hulling, Kerr found out, was a trainer of horses who kept 500 to 600 horses at his Smithson, Ill., ranch. This Hulling was known to hire cowboys.
“I got to thinking, ‘Man, this is where I need to be.’
“I hated school, ‘cause I wanted to be a cowboy. So there was another boy there that cleaned stalls … and I said to him, ‘I’m fixin’ to run off and find this place, do you wanna go?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’ ”
The other boy bought a pickup truck and the two built a wooden camper to put into the truck bed. Soon after, Kerr was in the family home freezer removing his life’s savings of about $650 that he had hidden there, and the two were off on that summer day, destination Smithson, Ill.
“We told our folks we was going to a rodeo … and we took off and went across to Buffalo, N.Y., and headed to Illinois.
The boys landed jobs riding horses for $50 a week. Kerr, who was 14, lied about his age and said he was 16.
As Labour Day approached, guilt set in.
“I got to feelin’ bad about my folks, so I sent them a postcard, tellin’ ‘em I was OK and blah, blah, blah.”
That postcard, his mother June recalls, said: “I’ll see you in the spring.”
“You’re going to see me sooner than that,” she says was her reaction.
June, who now lives in Niagara Falls, says she and her late husband, Bert, hightailed it to Smithson to retrieve their wayward son.
“They came to Illinois and got us … we had to follow them 850 miles back,” Kerr says. “My mother got the principal of the school (E.L. Crossley) to tell me I had to go to school, ‘cause I was too young, blah, blah, blah. And I said, ‘No, I’m going back to Illinois. Soon as y’all turn your back, I’m gone.’
“And I convinced them of that. And (the principal) said, at least you know what you wanna do. And he convinced my mother to let me go.”
“After talking to the principal, I said if you’re going to go, you’re going to go with our blessing,” June says. “You’re not going this way.”
Kerr’s parents made the decision to let their teenage son follow his dream.
“My folks took me over to Buffalo, N.Y., and put me on a Greyhound bus back to Smithson, Ill.,” Kerr says.
Kerr worked at the horse training operation for a year, then headed to Tyler, Texas, to work for a man he met while in Smithson. Texas became his home.
Over the years, he has worked as a trucker, motorcycle builder and creator of cowboy art and furniture, but he has always trained and shown horses.
Most recently, Kerr has gained a modicum of celebrity as a trainer of wild mustangs.
In 2010, he attended an event in Fort Worth, Texas, called the Supreme Extreme Mustang Makeover. Extreme Mustang Makeover events began taking place in 2007, with the idea of showing people the trainability of wild mustangs. The end goal being the adoption of the approximately 45,000 mustangs the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has in holding facilities, sequestered from the estimated 50,000 that roam free.
The events challenge horse people to adopt a mustang — Kerr says they sell for $125 — and train them over a period limited to 120 days. The horses then compete in categories such as trail and cow work. The top 20 make the final, where they compete in a three and a half minute freestyle. The horses are then offered for adoption at top bid.
In 2011, Kerr was voted fan favourite at the Supreme Extreme Mustang Makeover and finished fourth with his horse Poncho and fifth with Lefty.
He won the legends division on Maypop at the 2012 event and was voted fan favourite.
At the recent Mustang Million in Fort Worth, Kerr finished second and third atop Jingle Bob and Trigger, winning a total of $160,000. During the freestyle, Kerr drove a car while Jingle Bob sat in the seat next to him.
Kerr describes his training style as more horse whisperer than bronco-busting cowboy.
“You try to become their friend, so they trust you … then they get to try to please you,” Kerr says.
Kerr and four other Mustang Million competitors are the subject of a three-part series, Mustang Million: Place Your Bets, that will air on the National Geographic Wild channel Dec. 14, 21 and 28. The competitors were documented from the time they adopted their horses until the end of competition.
On this day, he is driving to New York City with his daughter Kelsey (he is married to Susan and has a son, Cody) where he is to appear on Good Morning America on Monday.
His “87 years young” momma will be watching proudly.
“He really has a gift with horses,” she says. “It’s a God-given gift.”