December 5-14, 2024


The Way I See It – Part 2

Nov 17, 2023

The Way I See It – Part 2

By Susan Kanode

So there are lots of factors that make the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo special in every event. That is especially true in the timed events. It takes fast times to win with the short score and small arena.  Contestants talk about the start all the time. At some rodeos, when they discuss it, they talk about how much of the steer or calf they want to see come out of the box before they cue their horse. It all changes in Las Vegas. 

The Thomas & Mack Center prepares for the 2022 Wrangler NFR in Las Vegas. | Photo by Tom Donoghue

Some of the greatest moments of rodeo have happened at the NFR in the timed events. Who could ever forget round 9 in 2001 when Cody Ohl gritted it out to tie his calf with a blown-out knee. We watched Speed Williams and Rich Skelton win eight consecutive team roping championships. Every fan in the arena was hoping for Luke Branquinho to do well and shake his booty. That led to five world championships. And we had the incomparable Trevor Brazile compete in the tie-down 16 times and team roping 13. Do the math – he swung a rope 290 times in the Thomas and Mack Center.  I don’t know how the 2023 edition will top our history. I do know with bigger purses and cowboys’ competitive nature the timed events in Las Vegas will be just as exciting as the rough stock. 

Just as a reminder, each of the 10 rounds is going to pay $30,706 and that is per man in the team roping. The fastest total time on 10 runs will be worth a record $78,747. 

Steer Wrestling 

             Oh boy oh boy oh boy is this going to be great! NFR rookie Dalton Massey is at the top of the world standings and that’s no accident. Dalton got off to an early lead winning Rodeo Houston. He joined the PRCA in 2014 and made his first big push to qualify for rodeo’s championships in 2019 finishing 42nd, high enough to qualify for the buildings. The next three years he was 22nd, 19th and 17th respectively. 

            I asked Dalton what had made the difference for him this year. He never hesitated when he replied “horse power.” He has been sliding off the back of the Nutrena Horse of the Year, EDS Famous Bar, “Eddie,” owned by Tanner Milan. Dalton will be on Eddie in the Thomas & Mack Center and so will Steven Culling. Tanner will be hazing. This will also be Steven’s first appearance. 

Jesse Brown during Round 9 of the 2022 Wrangler NFR. | PRCA Photo by Hailey Rae

            There is approximately an NFR go-round check between Dalton and Jesse Brown who is in second place. This is Jesse’s fourth NFR and I look for him to do well. Last year, he won second place overall in the Thomas & Mack with a time of 48.1 seconds on 10 head. Jesse is an athlete and he has been working hard at improving each year. The jitters of riding into the Thomas & Mack are all behind him and I think he’ll take care of business and will be a contender for the gold buckle. Jesse will once again be riding Curtis Cassidy’s great horse “Tyson,” Dashin Haze, that finished as the Horse of the Year for the past three years and was reserve champion this year. Dakota Eldridge, a native Nevadan and fan-favorite, will also be riding Tyson. 

            Then there is Tyler Waguespack. It doesn’t matter to Tyler where he starts, it matters where he finishes, and he has finished at the top of the world standings four times. Here’s some things I know about Tyler. No one practices more than he does, and no one knows how to win in the Thomas & Mack better than he does. He’s been to the NFR nine times, eight of them in Las Vegas. Half of those eight, he’s finished at the top of the world standings.

2022 NFR Steer Wrestling Champion Tyler Waguespack during the final round in 2022. | PRCA Photo by Hailey Rae

            We can never count Will Lummus out. The college rodeo coach is starting in fourth place, and he will be riding Be Dun By Three, “Benz” who finished third for Horse of the Year. Will made a big impression at this first NFR in 2018 finishing third. The next year, he was 11th and that was the worst season he’s had. Every year since then he has finished among the top five. He’s training rodeo athletes how to win at Northwest Mississippi Community College and getting a gold buckle would bring all of those lessons home. 

            The final spot in this year’s steer wrestling was secured by Don Payne with $84,612. He’s got a lot of ground to make up in the standings and has no way to go but up. He decided to go to some circuit rodeos this year and when that went well, he changed his travel plans. His wife is expecting their second child with a due date over the top of the NFR. Hopefully, the baby stays put so Dad can concentrate on moving up in the world standings. 

Team Roping

            I think this year’s team roping is going to be very interesting. The past two years, Kaleb Driggers and Junior Nogueira have left Las Vegas with the gold buckles after having roped together all season. They have partnered all year this year and have the same PRCA regular season earnings at $160,144. Kaleb leads the heading standings and Junior is in second. 

Junior Nogueira during the final round of the 2022 Wrangler NFR. | PRCA Photo by Click Thompson

            Wesley Thorp, who is looking for his second heeling championship leads the standings and his partner, Tyler Wade, is second in the heading standings. These two didn’t start roping together until April. They competed in Texas preparing for a busy summer. After they won a round at the Reno Rodeo in Nevada in June, they hit a dry spell that could have seen them making changes. Instead, they stuck together and worked on having a positive attitude.

 They started winning again the middle of July. When they got hot, they were on fire. They kept the heat on the rest of the competition through the end of the season as well. This is absolutely the best season that Tyler has had in his 12-year career and I think the momentum will continue for he and Wesley in Las Vegas. 

Tyler Wade roping in the 2022 Wrangler NFR with partner Trey Yates. | PRCA Photo by Click Thompson

            Third place on the heading side is Nelson Wyatt who is roping at his second NFR, but first in Las Vegas. He qualified in 2020 roping with Levi Lord. Nelson had success with several partners this year and he won the NFR Open with Tyler Worley who qualified for the NFR in 15th in the heeling. Nelson will be roping with Jonathan Torres while Tyler Worley will be roping behind NFR rookie Jake Clay. 

            It’s exciting to have Derrick Begay back in the mix this year after missing the 2022 NFR. He’s starting in fifth place with his long-time friend and fellow Arizonan Colter Todd doing the heeling. Colter is in third. Colter qualified for the NFR three years from 2006 – 2008 as a header. This is his first time heeling in the Thomas & Mack Center. There aren’t any team ropers that are true to their roots than Derrick and Colter. They have a lot of fun roping, but they are both cowboys in every sense of the word and are as comfortable ranching as they are rodeoing. 

            Clint Summers got a huge compliment when his great horse, Mr. Joes Shadow Bar, “Joe,” was selected as the heading horse of the year. Clint qualified for the second time in the heading this year and will be roping with Jake Long in Las Vegas. Prior to last year’s qualification, Clint was heeling in the Thomas & Mack Center so he is also on the “switch ender” list. 

            The other newcomers on the list are Marcus Theriot and Cole Curry. If the Theriot name is familiar it should be. This is world champion tie-down roper Herbert Theriot’s oldest son. Marcus joined the PRCA in 2015, In 2016, he won the all-around and tie-down roping at the college level for East Mississippi Community College. The next year he finished 19th in the world standings. It’s taken a lot to get him to Las Vegas where he will be roping with his cousin. 

            I’d like to give a spoiler alert, but in all reality, every contestant in the field is a spoiler in this event. In the heading, Kaleb has a $62,392 lead over the man in 15th place, Luke Brown. The heeling has a little bigger spread at $78,170. The reality of that– it’s less than three go-round wins so I think there is going to be a lot of moving and shaking in the standings from night one until night 10. 

Tie-Down Roping 

            A year ago, Riley Webb qualified for his first NFR, won the tie-down roping Resistol Rookie of the Year and finished the season in 10th place, just one spot ahead of where he started. It wasn’t what he wanted. He and his family left immediately after the 10th round and headed home to Texas. The next day he was trying out a new horse. That horse has made a huge difference in his record-breaking regular season, and I look for that to continue in Las Vegas. But it certainly isn’t a given. 

Riley Webb during Round 4 in the 2022 Wrangler NFR. | PRCA Photo by Phil Doyle

            Riley comes in number one with the 2020 world champion Shad Mayfield nipping on his heels. Riley is $73,801 ahead of Shad with $280,405. Shad has $206,604 and the 2019 world champion, Haven Meged, is close behind with $195,068. 

            I’m really looking forward to watching Shane Hanchey in the Thomas & Mack Center this year. Last year, he was on a new horse and a lot of people questioned him sticking with the 10-year-old gelding. Shane’s wife, Taylor, kept encouraging him to give it time. When he and “Bugsy” found their groove, they started winning and now, Bugsy is the Nutrena Tie-Down Roping Horse of the Year. 

            Shane starts in fourth place with $156,660 in regular-season earnings. And, he has won all but about $3,500 of that on Bugsy. Hunter Herrin and Caleb Smidt also rode Bugsy this year and both will be nodding their heads in Las Vegas. 

Shane Hanchey during the first round of the 2022 Wrangler NFR. | PRCA Photo by Hailey Rae

            I’m rooting for Blane Cox who qualified in 10th place. Blane has one more qualification to his credit, seven years ago in 2016. The next two years he finished in that dreaded 16th place. Then he was 34th in 2019, 19th in 2020, 27th in 2021 and 20th last year. He’s been so close so many times and it would have been easy to quit and stay home. It’s going to be fun watching him in Las Vegas. 

            There are two NFR rookies in the tie-down roping, Canada’s Beau Cooper and California’s Brushton Minton. They will start at 11th and 12th respectively. 

            The tie-down roping is always one of my favorite events to watch. I personally think that the horses are some of the most underrated athletes in the business. They amaze me. They go from standing still to an explosive run to backing up and standing still again in a matter of seconds. And for part of that, they don’t have a rider on their back to control or cue them. I promise with this field of ropers and their horses, I’ll be holding my breath while I watch at least once every night.