Growing up around horses and cattle, the cowboy way of life was natural to him.
As he approached adulthood, Cody Nickels began to realize there was something missing from that way of life in his hometown of Raymondville and the rest of Texas County. While small, private arenas allowed a handful of people to partake in equine sporting activities, there just wasn’t a place suitable for larger gatherings or sizable events.
Nickels had a vision that he could make such a place happen and made it his goal to do just that.
In 2009, that vision became reality when the Silver Nickel Arena opened for business on Highway 137 just north of Raymondville. Beginning with a chuck wagon race in July of that year, the venue has been host to numerous equine competitive events during a season that runs from April through October, including team roping, barrel racing, team penning and Cowboy Mounted Shooting.
Since its inception, Nickels, 25, has made a point of maintaining a family atmosphere at the Silver Nickel; alcohol and “rowdy behavior” are not part of the program.
“We wanted to build a place for families to come together and enjoy the cowboy ways,” he said. “We’ve always been known for trail riding in this area, but as far as arenas or equine sports, there wasn’t a lot to do. I’ve always loved this stuff and it’s kind of who I am.”
The original plan was for the arena to be an indoor venue, but circumstances dictated otherwise.
“In order for that to have worked, we would have needed to get into more national-type events,” Nickels said. “In a way, I would have like to have gone that route, but yet the whole point of it was to have something for people in this area, and I thought if you start bringing in the big events, you start pushing out the small guy again.
“And I think the small guy has been pushed out enough.”
As it turned out, the facility’s main feature is its 130-foot by 230-foot outdoor arena that has effective lighting for night use. Other amenities include a concession building with a covered outdoor area and clean bathrooms, grandstand seating, and loads of parking space for cars, trucks and trailers.
“Looking back on it, I’m pretty pleased with the way things have turned out,” Nickels said.
Events staged at the venue are always open for public viewing and offer an unusually low-cost entertainment option.
“One unique thing about the Silver Nickel Arena is that we do not charge an admission fee to almost any of our events,” Nickels said. “Thanks to all the support from our wonderful sponsors, we’re able to allow spectators to come and enjoy what we do without a gate fee.”
Nickels, a lifelong Raymondville resident and a graduate of Licking High School, put together a team roping series this year that will culminate with an Oct. 15 finals. At the series’ conclusion, the high points roper will be awarded a saddle and the top header and heeler will receive belt buckles. Ropers of all ability levels are welcome to practice at the arena on Thursday nights.
On Friday nights, Silver Nickel Shooters club members get together for Cowboy Mounted Shooting practice (weather permitting). After trying mounted shooting for the first time last year, Nickels has quickly grown to love the sport and has even placed high at several events sanctioned by the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association.
He added another feather to his shooting cap this month, scoring highest in his class in competition at the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia and finishing 15th overall in a strong field of 65 that featured numerous top-level shooters. On the way to the win, Nickels and his horse Brownie were clean through four rounds and cleared four stages in just over 57 seconds ¬- only 7.5 seconds off the winning time.
“It went pretty good,” Nickels said. “I shot well and Brownie did a good job.”
When he’s not preparing for an arena event or making plans for his next mounted shooting competition, Nickels is busy with a couple of day jobs. In addition to running cattle on the family farm, he also works part time for the United States Department of Agriculture eradicating feral hogs from public and private properties all over Missouri.
After high school, Nickels hooked on with the Missouri Department of Conservation trapping feral hogs for a couple of years. As the problem continues to grow in the state, the USDA recently asked him to become their first employee dedicated to hunting unwelcome hogs.
“I really wanted to turn it down because I was so busy with everything else,” Nickels said, “but it’s something I like doing and I’m pretty good at it. And it’s hard to turn down a chance to get paid to hunt.
“It’s a term position that’s going to run through next March or April, and then they’ll decide if they want to go permanent with it or do something different.”
Nickels recently put the finishing touches on the arena’s web site, and scheduling and other information can now be found at www.silvernickelarena.com.
Next year, in the Silver Nickel Arena’s fourth season of operation, Nickels hopes to host several more events than in previous years. A big event in the planning stages for next spring is a chuck wagon race featuring an estimated 100 teams. The race would be a qualifier for the annual national finals in Clinton, Ark., and would subsequently draw many of the best teams in the country.
“If that all comes together, that will be a big thing,” Nickels said. “Having the wagons here worked out well before, and the racers that were here said it was one of their favorite tracks in the country.”
Another roping series is in the works for 2012, and Nickels hopes there will be enough interest to stage series in penning and mounted shooting as well.
“You can’t give away the expensive prizes if you don’t have the participants,” he said. “But I think there’s a lot of people interested and we’ve got those other events going in the right direction.”
As he and the arena move forward, Nickels invites people to provide constructive input.
“I’m not some guy who’s so set in his ways on everything that he’s not going to listen,” he said. “If somebody has an idea for an improvement or an event we should be doing, I’d like to hear about it. And if someone says they want to do something but they don’t have the place to do it and they want to use our place, I’m willing to work with them any way I can.”
Nickels said his parents, Randy and Jeanette Nickels of Raymondville, were instrumental in the creation of the arena and have been supportive in its operation, and that other family members and volunteers have made staging events possible.
“I couldn’t do this without them,” he said. “It takes a lot of people to put on some of these events and I can’t thank them enough for all the things they do to make this work.”
The bottom line is, the Silver Nickel Arena is a location where good clean fun is available to anyone who loves horses and horse-related activity. And as long as its namesake owner is around, it will remain that way.
“I believe there’s a lot to be said for sticking to your morals and your values and being a Godly person,” Nickels said. “I know the world sort of downplays that and you can take a lot of grief for being that type of person. And I know that there are a lot of big events that have gotten that way by sort of promoting the wild life.
“But we didn’t want to go that direction here, and it’s been real nice getting together with people who have common interests. I think it shows that if you let God take the reins, He’ll point you in the right direction.”
For more information about the Silver Nickel Arena and to viewschedules and photos from events, log onto www.silvernickelarena.com.
The facility also is on Facebook, and owner Cody Nickels can bereached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone at417-967-6484 (Nickels recommends using the phone if a quickresponse is desired).