The Meaning of Rodeo

Recently, I’ve been thinking about what a life in rodeo means. Several different circumstances converged in the development of our June issue all at once in the last few weeks that have resulted in my waxing philosophical about the sport.

The first was a project we worked on for the June issue. Dr. Frank Santos, our magazine’s vet since the first issue 16 years ago, has decided to ride off into the sunset. From the wonderful accounts you’ll read in the June issue, he was an NFR-caliber cowboy, but never went. He was even invited back in those days and declined. Instead, he chose to focus on raising a family and developing a veterinary clinic. Both of which he did to great success. Though he never gained rodeo fame, he was a part of the rodeo family. He will be missed by our staff and readers for his concise, informative, helpful articles. For Dr. Santos, rodeo is a passion, but not a vocation. An extended family he never left his immediate family for.

The next thing that got me thinking was an article I worked on with Kory Koontz. We wanted to talk about what it means to be a good role model, why it’s important and what informs his actions. Needless to say, Koontz went deep and while it’s a bit of a departure from what we typically do in the magazine, I found it refreshing that his actions have meaning beyond personal gain. For Kory, rodeo is a career, but also a platform to demonstrate his faith.

The last was Fred Whitfield. We’ve excerpted a portion of his autobiography in the next issue. Because of his longevity, I’ve had the unique opportunity to watch him as a fan of the sport, work with him as a member of the PRCA staff and now cover the twilight of his career as a reporter with Spin To Win. I would have never thought as I sat with my college buddies watching Fred do his thing at the Thomas and Mack that one day I’d have a relationship with him to a level that he’s willing to share the stories of his career. For Fred, rodeo was a way to pull his life to another level.

So, as I looked at these men’s stories, I began to think about what rodeo means to me. I’ve been covering the sport in some capacity for about 13 years. It’s provided a nice living for my family and I’ve made many friends. I’ve tried to inform the fans about what the pros are thinking and doing—both from a human-interest level and from an instructional perspective. I’ve also tried to be an advocate for the sport where possible. It’s funny though, despite all that, for me rodeo has largely been a learning experience.

I’ve learned about how men and women are making a living with a very specific skill set born of cowboy necessity. I’ve learned that rodeo life isn’t as hard as the cowboys make it sound nor as easy as the scoffers say. I’ve learned that relationships matter, treating people well and standing up for right and wrong pays off. I’ve learned there are good people and bad people in any walk of life. But above all I’ve learned that rodeo, though large, is an exclusive club. You earn your admittance by merit—not just with your rope or spurs—but what you can contribute to the sport. I’ve learned I’m not there yet, and I’m unsure if I ever will be. But I’ve also learned to love it. Everything from a team stretching a steer to bronc rider scratching a wild one to the NFR press room to early morning slack in a dusty arena to a few laughs at the trailer. It’s a great sport and I’m so thankful it’s where I’ve been placed.

Editor’s NFR Picks

Here we are, just a little over a week out from the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, and, in case you don’t get our magazine, here’s are our picks for the world champion race. Because this is a little less formal medium, I’m going to explain my process for making these picks a little further for each one. Admittedly, there is so much money to be won in Las Vegas and so much I can’t foresee, that this is really a fool’s errand. But it gets people talking, thinking and excited about the Finals. Really, this mostly based on gut feelings. I’ll look back on Dec. 16 and realize the mistakes I made, but oh well, here goes.

All-Around: Trevor Brazile. Well, I’ll at least get one right, I bet. Although Steven Dent doesn’t have a realistic chance, he’s closer than you might think.

Bareback Riding: Until Kaycee Feild loses, I’m not picking against him.

Steer Wrestling: All signs point toward Luke Branquinho, I know that. But, it may be me being a homer, I think Wade Sumpter is going to have a real strong Finals. I’ve got nothing to base this on. I just see him as a champion and this could be the year.

Team Roping: Time to make everybody but two people mad! In the magazine, I went with Clay Tryan and Travis Graves. I just see a determination in Clay that I can’t ignore. Trevor and Patrick are probably the odds-on favorites and there’s no compelling reason to pick against Chad and ClayO. Plus, every year the eventual-world champion comes from further and further down the pack to win. More than any other event, it’s anybody’s game. It’s all about who catches fire for 10 days. The team that wins a couple rounds early, then places high in the average, will take it. Right or wrong, I’ll stick with my original picks.

Saddle Bronc Riding: Jesse Wright has come alive at the Thomas & Mack for two years in a row. Wade Sundell might be able to hold him off, there’d be no surprise if he did, but my gut’s saying Jesse.

Tie-Down Roping: Look, Tuf Cooper is going to win many more world titles. But I think Cody Ohl has put himself in a spot to win it this year. If Tuf does beat him, it will signify a major maturation in Tuf’s game and he’ll be real hard to beat for as long as he has the desire.

Barrel Racing (per Managing Editor Chelsea Toy): Brittany Pozzi. No arguments from me. Great horses and a lot to ride for.

Bull Riding: Cody Teel’s name keeps coming up, but I just don’t feel it. J.W. Harris is my pick. Shane Proctor could become a factor, but might be too far out to contend.

Broc Cresta, 1987-2012

I heard about Broc’s untimely death via the incredible team roping/rodeo network, just moments before it exploded on social media. Like many others, I was shocked.

The first questions that zip through our heads are Why? and How? What we know is he died in his sleep in a living quarters trailer at Cheyenne and was found on the morning of July 28. He was 25.

Other details concerning his death are still forthcoming—and may or may not be important. My mind wandered to the personal memories I held of Broc.

The first time I met him was in 2008. The year before, he won rookie of the year, and he was headed for his first NFR berth. I interviewed him for Spin To Win Rodeo magazine in Puyallup for a how-to instructional article. He was both hesitant and helpful. I sensed that he didn’t feel like he had the credence to be giving advice in a national magazine (which, of course he did). But overriding that was his attitude of not wanting to let someone (me) down who asked for his help. He didn’t know me at all, but jumped right up and gave a great interview. Read it here.

Since then, he’s appeared in our magazine dozens of times in various contexts. I got to talk with him when he won Cheyenne in 2008. Read it here.

Most recently, I interviewed him about winning Redding, a rodeo he won with his childhood pal Spencer Mitchell for our July 2012 issue. It was a special win for them because they had grown up roping in that arena together.

Those memories are fine, but what I remember most about Broc was how helpful he was in a behind-the-scenes way. At a rodeo, if I needed to find a roper whose face I didn’t know, Broc would point them out to me. I remember sitting on the back of the chutes in Denver this year with he and Spencer Mitchell, and I quizzed him about some finer points of the sport as we watched the team roping performance. It was truly insightful to get his perspective.

But, for an NFR-caliber team roper, my strongest impression of him was how unassuming he was. Sometimes, in my job, I deal with egos. Never with Broc. From a professional and personal standpoint, I appreciated that.

His death is a significant loss. He held so much potential. World titles were in his reach. But more than that, any time death invades our personal circle, we’re hit squarely with the imperfections of this world and the fact we will all face death. What’s more, and Broc’s death proves this point, we never know when our time will be up.

In that very first article I did with Broc, we talked about heeling behind a neck catch. His advice was very specific, but the overall theme was preparation. A heeler must be prepared for many variables in a run.

From a bigger picture perspective, I think we should heed Broc’s advice and be prepared—ready to go as it were—for whatever circumstances unfold in our lives. Up to and including death.

Who’s the Best?

OK, so I realize I’m treading on thin ice in regard to this subject, but in the editorial process of choosing our cover and finding an image, I floated the idea that Clay Tryan is the best header of our generation.

Of course, we have to define generation. From my perspective, the ‘modern’ team roping era is broken down into three categories. First, when team roping was coming out of its shell and being included in more often in rodeos while simultaneously beginning to form in a big way at the amateur level. Say, the era from 1985-1995. Clearly, Jake Barnes was the best header in that era. The next era could be defined as a transition from consistent, methodical runs to faster and faster runs in the rodeo arena and the boom in popularity for amateurs. Pin that era from 1995-2005. Again, the best header is pretty clear: Speed Williams.

Maybe it’s too early to define the best header of this era: from 2005-2015. But it’s fun to take some guesses. As of now, it’s my postulation that it has to be Clay Tryan. Here’s what Clay has done:

-2005 World Champion
-Only missed the NFR once (2008) in 10 years
-Set world speed record once and the Wrangler NFR record twice
-Won the PRCA regular season two times
-Set a new regular season earnings record for headers in 2010
-Won and placed second at the Wildfire Open to the World in 2010
-Won the Bob Feist Invitational three times
-Won the George Strait Team Roping Classic in 2012
-Won the US Open two times
-Won the NFR Average in 2004
-Won the California Rodeo in Salinas five times

In my opinion, only Chad Masters and Matt Sherwood can challenge these credentials.

With all that in mind, check out a story about our cover boy winning his third BFI title. Plus, we’ve got great stuff from the Reno Rodeo, the College National Finals Rodeo, 4th of July run. Plus, look for instructional help from Trevor Brazile on heeling, steer wrestling tips from Ethen Thouvenell and all kinds of news and notes from the roping world.

Hopefully my above assertions create some great conversations. We’d love to hear what our readers think, so jump on Facebook and let us know if you think I’m wrong, or if you think I’m right. As for the best heeler, I’m not opening that can of worms…yet.

2012 Team Roping Pairings…with Commentary

So, although the 2012 season has already technically begun, we’re won’t see a lot of the new team roping teams until the next few weeks in Odessa and Denver.

The major shakeup came when Jade Corkill first announced he would head for the 2012 season, then later decided he would not rope at all. Since that’s where the dominoes began to fall, let’s start with his former partner, Chad Masters.

Chad will team up with Jake Long for 2012. I see that as a really solid partnership. Chad has some great rodeo horses, is always searching and developing new ones, and Jake’s Mikey is as a good as they come on the heel end.

They’re both thoughtful, level-headed and well-intentioned guys. I see it as a good match both in and out of the arena.

Jake’s 2011 partner, Brady Tryan, is paired with Allen Bach for Odessa, but Matt Zancanella for Denver and the foreseeable future. Brady’s big brother Travis roped with Zanc and they made the NFR in 2002 and 2003. There’s some familiarity there, however, Zanc didn’t rodeo much for a couple of years, but in 2010 finished 21st.

Speaking of Travis, he entered Odessa heading for Joel Bach (yes, Joel did head last year). But entered Denver with Brad Culpepper. He and Brad will rope at Denver, San Antonio and Houston. Again, that’s a partnership that makes a lot of sense on paper. Both guys are veterans and know what it takes to win. However, Travis and Joel will rope again after that. I haven’t heard who Brad who will rope with after that.

Joel Bach, on the other hand, entered Denver heeling for Quincy Kueckelhan. That could be a very rapid combo. Both guys are young gunners. Again, Joel and Travis plan to reunite after the winter run. Allen Bach did not enter Denver.

Perhaps the new team that I am most curious about is Charly Crawford and Clay O’Brien Cooper. Two veterans who will work hard with proven track records is always of interest.

Colby Lovell and took Crawford’s old partner, Russell Cardoza and again, that partnership looks good on paper. I think both Crawford and Cardoza were disappointed in 2011 after such a great 2010 NFR, so they probably needed a fresh start.

The other notable new team is Jake Barnes picking up Paul Eaves. Eaves has spent a lot of time with the Bachs over the years and this just might be his breakout season—especially considering how well Jake roped in 2011.

A few others round out the list: Kaleb Driggers/Caleb Twisselman and Ty Blasingame/York Gill are the most notable. I expect big things from Blaster and Gill, by the way.

Regardless, this list will once again be revised after the winter run and they’ll be a handful of new teams for Reno. Until then, best of luck to this group!

What new team do you think will make the biggest splash in 2012?