BY KURT HEATH
Respect for others. Commitment to family. Honoring true heroes. Keeping your word. Doing what’s right. According to Jason Mattox, these are the hallmarks of the “Western way of life.” They’re also the values that drive him as a husband and father, a business entrepreneur and the “cowboy” culture he works so hard to preserve through his rodeo, The Challenge of Champions Tour.
Started by Mattox and his wife Nataly in 2009, The Challenge of Champions Tour is a traveling rodeo that draws the best bull riders to the best event venues around. From three events in its first year of operation, to an 18 event tour each year, the Mattoxes now produce one of the most successful rodeo operations in the Pacific Northwest, with professional competitions in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and, if all goes right, Hawaii later this year. With Nataly’s support, Jason manages five to six full time employees and a deep bench of volunteers; works with his team to secure all the riders, bulls, judges, announcers, and sponsorships needed for each rodeo; and produces a multi-event competition that includes bull riding, barrel racing and much more.
Despite the lonely rodeo cowboy mystique depicted in country music, for the Mattoxes, the rodeo is truly a family affair. Their three daughters, Joelle (9), Cassia (7), and Stella (4), have all grown up in a culture where the sense of community among rodeo families is strong and family togetherness is encouraged.
When the girls were younger, Jason admits it was easy to pack up the entire family for the roughly five days required for each event. Now that they’re in school, it’s a bigger challenge. Nataly, who also works as a realtor in Roseburg, is usually able to bring the girls for half of a Tuesday through Sunday event.
“It’s never easy to be apart during the tour, but it makes our time together that much more special,” explains Mattox. “At home, we’re constantly doing things together, working our farm, having fun. We aren’t watching TV or going to separate rooms. We love being
around each other and make the most of the time we have.”
From one standpoint, the Mattox’s success running a rodeo and balancing family life isn’t too surprising. Jason is a former professional bull rider, introduced to the sport at the age of seven by his friends, and members of a bull riding royal family, Cody and Jim Custer. Jason went on to a successful 11-year rodeo career that included a full scholarship to the University of Nevada Las Vegas, where he competed in the college national finals. Nataly is every bit Jason’s match when it comes to rodeo credentials. Her father, Jody Tatone, boasts one of the most successful and storied bull riding careers ever. Her mother is a former Miss Rodeo Oregon and champion barrel racer. When Jason met Nataly her freshman year of college, she was well on her way to becoming the collegiate barrel racing national champion, which she accomplished in 2005.
It’s one thing to be a bull rider or barrel racer. It’s another thing to run a successful rodeo business. As Mattox tells it, he’s not a natural business man. Instead, he credits much of his success to the people and business skills he picked up over the years in sales jobs and as a collegiate bull rider.
“I learned how to talk to people. Be proactive. Sell something and still be a genuine person,” says Mattox about his days as a water softener salesman. Mattox also gained experience selling sponsorships, and organizing and producing rodeos in college. That’s because the collegiate rodeo isn’t governed by the NCAA, and bull riders plan and execute their competitions.
One thing Mattox won’t do is take full credit for his success. Instead, he acknowledges the many great people and partners who help his rodeo draw the best riders, judges, and sponsors. He mentions in particular the importance of five or six quality bull providers. They ensure every rider gets a competitive bull that puts him in a position to win.
“Producing a rodeo is a huge undertaking with a lot of moving parts. We’re fortunate to have a great team of people that make our tour one of the best in the business. The addition to the tour of Coastal Farm & Ranch, Protect the Harvest, Boot Barn, Pendleton and all our great corporate sponsors has also had a big impact on our events for the better,” Mattox says.
After the dust settles and the sun sets on each event, Mattox hopes above all that rodeogoers leave with an appreciation for Western values. In fact, that desire motivated him to start The Challenge of Champions Tour after he retired from full-time bull riding.
“I wanted a rodeo that truly honors the cowboy way of life. That means everything we do has a bigger purpose than just making money. The day I put on rodeos for money and not for love of the game and to promote the values that make Western culture and the rodeo so special, that’s the day I need to retire.”