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Riding the road and the rodeo

Meet Joe Haney, Clearwater's urban cowboy. During the day, he works at the family business, Weldon Haney Carpets in Clearwater. At quitting time, the worst time of the day for traffic around here, he drives to a pasture off Starkey Road in Largo where he keeps his horse.

"I fight traffic to get to him every day," Joe said. "I'm about to go nuts."

But he has to exercise his horse because on weekends they become rodeo performers!

Clearwater and Largo are a far cry from Stillwater, Okla., and Kaufman, Texas, where Joe and his horse have lived in recent years, but they're making the best of it here.

"Mama (Jo Haney) knows I'll go crazy in this store if I stay too long," Joe said, so sometimes he just walks outside and does rope tricks. He also heads for the golf course once a week.

Joe was born in cowboy country out in Texas. There's a picture of him sitting astride a horse when he was 2 weeks old; not visible is his dad, who was holding him up. "I was raised on a horse out in Texas," Joe said.

The family moved to Clearwater in 1962 when Weldon Haney joined the Clearwater Bombers. He became one of its star players and later its manager. Joe was 10 at the time.

Joe became a pretty good baseball player himself, starring at Clearwater High, where he graduated in 1970, and at Manatee Junior College in Bradenton. Then he was drafted by Major League Baseball but decided, with his family's help, that a college degree was more important.

He went out to Oklahoma State University in Stillwater to major in animal husbandry, a preveterinary course of study. Instead of joining the baseball team, he joined the university rodeo team.

Joe's specialties were, and still are, individual and team calf-roping and bulldogging, or what some call "steer rassling." That's when you jump off your horse, grab the steer by its horns and throw it to the ground.

"It's 180 pounds versus 600 to 700 pounds," Joe said, "and the steer is going 25 to 30 miles an hour when you grab him."

He said he earned just enough on the rodeo circuit to pay the entry fees. He had to start installing carpet, a trade he learned from his father, to help pay college expenses.

He got his college degree, although not in veterinary medicine. He stayed out West, running his own carpet installation business and performing at rodeos.

Joe returned to Clearwater when his father's cancer was diagnosed, and he has helped his mother run the business since Weldon died last May.

Joe, 37, didn't do any rodeo performing for about 15 months during his father's illness, but got back into it several months ago and is loving it, even if this is Florida, not Texas.

Actually, Joe said, this is rodeo season in Florida because of the good weather here and bad weather elsewhere. He performed at the Florida State Fair in Tampa last week and worked a rodeo on the East Coast this weekend. He has a weekend coming up where he plans to do rodeos in Kissimmee Saturday morning, Okeechobee Saturday night and Panama City Sunday.

Our urban cowboy is back in the saddle while also adjusting to life in the slow lane. "I'm getting better," he said. "Out West, it takes 20 minutes to go 20 miles. Here, if I have to go 10 miles, I figure an hour."