December 5-14, 2024


Traveling Partners – Part One

Oct 21, 2022

Traveling Partners – Part One

Rodeo Cowboys traveling partners make good brothers.

Ask Tim O’Connell who his brothers are and he’s likely to mention his biological brother Will, then go through a list of bareback riding brothers. 

For rodeo contestants, the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s buddy system makes for relationships that not only stand the test of time, they are often as close as family members by virtue of  time spent together in close quarters.

Choosing a traveling partner is an important decision that can impact a contestant’s success and for some, it’s simply easier and better for them to go alone. 

Chase Brooks, Sage Newman and Kolby Wanchuk take time for a pose before getting their back numbers for the 2021 WNFR. This year, the fourth member of their buddy group, Tanner Butner, will be joining them. 

When Chase Brooks started his quest for a Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualification in 2013, his traveling companion had four legs, bad breath and a lot of fur. Now, the dog stays home and he has his own band of brothers. Chase started traveling with Sage Newman the first year he made the NFR in 2018. Then Sage broke his leg and Chase was on his own again. Sage finished 54th, and after he was all healed up, it took some convincing to get him to try again. 

He did that last year and qualified for the NFR competing alongside Chase and with their other traveling partner, Kolby Wanchuk. The fourth member of the crew, Tanner Butner, fell short at 24th. Tanner came to Las Vegas to ride in a bronc riding futurity. He spent some time with his buddies and they made a plan for all of them to be riding at the Thomas & Mack Center in 2022. 

Qualifying for the 2022 WNFR was a group effort for Chase Brooks, Kolby Wanchuk, Sage Newman and Tanner Butner.

It was a fight to the end and they put some extra miles on making it happen. Both Chase and Tanner were on the bubble. Sage was first in the world standings, a position that he has battled with Stetson Wright to have most of the season. 

Kolby started off with a win at the National Western Stock Show Rodeo in Denver, kept collecting checks and was in the middle of the pack. As it was coming down to the wire, all four of them made the final round in Oregon at the Pendleton Roundup. Sage won the first round. Kolby won the final round on the newly-announced The Black Tie owned by Sankey Pro Rodeo & Phenom Genetics. Kolby also won the championship and Tanner and Chase were in the overall placings. Collectively, their rig won over $18,000 at the legendary rodeo. 

And the money helped put Chase in 13th and Tanner in 15th. Their plans for 2022 are coming to fruition. Tanner and Kolby started traveling with Chase in 2020, the year that challenged everyone because of the pandemic. 

“We are all really good friends,” Chase said. “We have an awesome group of guys. We like being around each other and we work well together. We pretty much rotate the driving and it all seems to work out. I do all of the entering, but we talk about where we are going and make our plans as a group.” 

Don’t think for a minute that these groups of traveling partners aren’t competitive within the group. 

Tanner Butner, Sage Newman, Chase Brooks and Kolby Wanchuk proudly sport their mustaches that are part of a friendly wager among the group. 

About the time they made plans for 2022, they also started growing mustaches. They have an ongoing friendly bet. Whoever shaves first has to pay for a full day of mutually agreed upon outdoor activities that ends with a steak dinner for all. 

The camaraderie among the bareback riders is evident everywhere. For the past several years, the night before the NFR starts all 15 of them have gone out for dinner as a group. Their wives and girlfriends have their own party and this is a time to celebrate one of their goals. 

Most of this year’s top 15 are part of a buddy group that qualified. At the top of the list is Cole Reiner who has been traveling with Kaycee Feild and Tilden Hooper. Cole has been in a dogfight for that top spot with Jess Pope who travels with Tim O’Connell and Cole Franks. Caleb Bennett has been traveling with Leighton Berry who has qualified for his second NFR and first in Las Vegas. Leighton missed much of the 2021 season with a back injury that could have ended his career. R. C. Landingham and his traveling partner Clayton Biglow have both qualified as well as Tanner Aus and Ty Breuer.  

Jess Pope, Cole Franks and Tim O’Connell pose with their biggest fans at the Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo.

It is proof that iron sharpens iron, but getting it right isn’t always easy. 

“I think about traveling partners the way I think about world titles,” Tim said. “They need to have the same mindset, same ambition as I have. When 2 to 3 men live in the back of a Capri camper that’s the only way it’s going to work. 

“No matter how you enter or travel, everyone is on the same page and wants the same thing. When one person is down, the others can pick them up. There is a lot of positive reinforcement in that truck. It makes it a lot easier to live in the back of a pickup truck.” 

It also makes it easier to spend 10 days in a locker room where there is that kind of support as well. Tim, Jess and Cole Franks will have their gear next to each other bareback room at the Thomas & Mack Center. 

Before they leave that room, they share a fist bump and no matter how it plays out, they are a team within the individual competition. This is Tim’s ninth NFR and after missing the last five weeks of the season, it’s one he is really looking forward to. He injured his thumb on Tuesday, Aug. 23 in Kennewick, Washington. The following Friday he had surgery on that thumb. Eight weeks later (Oct. 21) he has been released and is very excited to be among the competitors in Las Vegas. 

“In my opinion, anyone of the top 20 guys could win a world title this year. That’s how good they all are. I think the 15 that made it are so tough that we could see a different round winner in the bareback riding every night. Everyone should be glad that they start the NFR with our event because I think this competition is going to be the best ever.” 

With the bands of brothers competing, that point is hard to argue. 

Stay tuned, there’s more to come. My name is Susan Kanode and I am a rodeo fan.