Presented by Best Ever Pads | Photo by Matt Cohen
“I’m not one of those guys who ever felt entitled to a gold buckle. I put in the work to give myself the chance. But it was always just a dream.”
Down to Round Ten
For me and the other heelers at last month’s National Finals Rodeo, winning the gold buckle came down to Round Ten—the way it so often does.
The way I had it figured, in the final round whoever did better between me and Chase Tryan and Joseph Harrison would be the world champion. Or, if all three of us stubbed a toe, Junior Nogueira would have a chance at the title.
In other words, it was pretty much up in the air.
Out of those teams that had a chance at the world title, me and Cody Snow were up first in the final round. I felt the pressure and knew I couldn’t hold anything back. If we just caught, we’d win the average. We needed to be aggressive. It was worth the risk to win the gold buckle.
This was my fourth NFR and my third roping with header Cody. In 2017, during our first NFR together, nothing seemed to go right for me and Cody. Cody threw some great loops that just kind of popped off. His horse stumbled on one when he was pulling across the arena. I missed when I shouldn’t have. We won one check—it was for first—so that helped. But otherwise we couldn’t get much going.
Before the start of the 2018 NFR, me and Cody really worked on trying to make a controlled run. Cody rode his horse straight to the steer—similar to a jackpot run but more aggressive. He used his horse more. That gave me more of a consistent read. And it worked well. We had a really good Finals. I finished 2018 ranked fifth and Cody finished fourth. That gave us a lot of confidence.
We stuck with the same strategy coming into the 2019 Finals. If anything, we practiced even harder, going for consistency, making sure our horses worked exactly how we wanted them to.
Me and Cody live about a mile away from each other in Stephenville, Texas. We set up a practice arena using the exact dimensions from the Thomas & Mack. We had them send us a blueprint showing the size of the boxes and the width of the arena. We got steers that were similar in size and condition to the ones we would rope in Vegas. We tried to recreate the conditions, and then we spent a month practicing.
I’m a big trial-and-error guy. It helps me to know what feels good in a certain setup and what doesn’t feel good. We worked and worked. We wanted to be confident in our strategy, to be patient and trust the process through those ten long nights at the NFR.
Hitting Our Stride
By Round One, I was anxious to get started. I wanted to get the ball rolling. And we did. We made a good run on a stronger steer. We were 4.9 seconds. Normally, that would have placed, but we were out of the money.
We drew another strong steer in Round Two. The run didn’t go perfectly, but we still caught him in six seconds. This is where having a game plan worked for us. It’s easy to get impatient after two decent runs and not placing, especially when you know each round pays so much. It makes you want to rush or panic or do something a little extra to win some of that money. But we stayed the course.
The game plan paid off in Round Three. Our steer was kind of sharp. It was a really good steer, an honest steer with a lot of momentum. We had all the right angles and made the run we wanted. We were 4.0 and placed third in the round. It was good for our confidence. It reinforced the idea that we needed to stick by our plan and trust that things were going to work out.
We stuck with our plan, but in Round Four, we took a no-time. Cody split the horns. I wasn’t worried about it. It was a fluke deal. I knew deep down that Cody was going to turn the rest of them.
We weren’t too worried about the no-time in Round Four. The way it is nowadays, with team ropers at the Finals limited to two loops, not three, if you make nine good runs out of ten, you’re going to place in the average. You won’t necessarily place first—there might be one or two who catch ten—but you’ll have a good shot at winning a good average check. So we weren’t worried about that no-time in the long run.
In Round Five, we had a really good steer. Cody did a good job, but I got a little bit inside and went into catch mode. I caught, and we were 5.3. The round was a little softer, and we ended up placing fifth.
Round Six was a lot like the previous round—solid but nothing special. We were 4.9 and placed sixth. I was still getting a little too much to the inside, being a little conservative.
I guess I did start out a touch conservative. I wanted to be smart and get a rhythm going. I seem to do better that way versus trying to do too much early on. As we started putting some checks together, my confidence built.
In Round Seven, we drew a great steer, which put us in a spot to be more aggressive. I decided to take a different angle. Sure enough, the steer ran real straight, which allowed us to get a better finish and a faster flag. We placed first with a 3.6, which tied for the fastest time of the 2019 NFR.
It was cool to make that kind of run. It gave us the lead in the average. That’s when things really seemed to come together.
Sometimes, however, your most important runs at the NFR aren’t the ones where you win first—or place at all. For us, Round Eight was like that.
In Round Eight, we drew a strong steer that went left. It was a tough steer to catch—a steer that could have sure taken us out of the average. If Cody got a good start, the plan was for him to stay aggressive. But Cody didn’t get a great start. The steer turned his head right when Cody nodded. He had to pull, and the steer took off, and Cody missed the barrier a little. He didn’t get to throw right away. He had to take two more swings. I knew, strictly from the feel of it, that we couldn’t place in the round. It was my job to catch and nothing more. I took an extra swing and heeled him. We were 6.2 and didn’t win a dime, but we hung on to our spot in the average. To me, that was one of the most crucial steers of the Finals.
Then, in Round Nine, we were 4.9 and placed fourth. Clay Smith and Jade Corkill took a no-time. That was another breakthrough point. That’s when I realized we had a chance to win the world championship.
Cody had more money won than me, but he was going to have a harder time winning the gold buckle because header Clay Smith had such a phenomenal winter and summer. The way it looked for Cody, he needed to win first or second in Round Ten, and Clay and Jade needed to stub their toe again, which was unlikely.
For me, like I said earlier, whoever did better in the final round between me and Chase and Joseph would be the world champion.
Down to the Wire
We backed into the box. Cody nodded his head. Even though we had drawn a tough steer, I could tell Cody got a great start and was close when he headed the steer. He didn’t have to reach much—maybe a coil or coil and a half. Cody did a great job heading him, and then he kept riding his horse to keep the movement fluid and keep the steer at a steady pace. Cody took a tough steer and made him easy for me to heel. We were 4.4, which put us in first place—for the time being.
Chase and his partner were up next. Man, it was close. Chase roped a leg to tie me in the round. If he hadn’t roped a leg, he’d have won the gold buckle.
Joseph and his partner went next. They missed for a no-time. That was the moment when I knew I had the world title won. Junior and his partner ended up winning the round, but even that wasn’t enough to put him ahead of me.
I was in the back alley next to Cody. After his run, Joseph rode by me and gave me a hug and told me congratulations. I thought that was pretty cool.
Cody was super excited for me. Honestly, we didn’t know for sure if he had or hadn’t won the title himself. Clay placed fourth in the round. We just didn’t know how things would play out.
In the end, Clay had enough won to take the gold buckle. That was tough for me because I was super proud of Cody and sad that he couldn’t be there to share the win after helping me get there. But that’s the way the cards fell.
Winning the world championship was an overwhelming feeling. I was pretty emotional and a little bit in shock. I’m not one of those guys who ever felt entitled to a gold buckle. I put in the work to give myself the chance to be there, and I strived to be in that spot. But it was always a dream. I look up to all the other guys I compete against. They’re so tough. At all the jackpots and rodeos throughout the year, they’re so dang tough to compete against. It makes it to where I can hardly believe I came out on top.
But I did. And ever since, I’ve been living the dream. It’s been awesome.
Presented by Best Ever Pads | Photo by Matt Cohen | Featuring Wesley Thorp