The National Finals Rodeo in Texas
When we found out the NFR was moving to Texas, I had several people call and want to know my thoughts. Initially it wasn’t going to pay as much as usual and some thought it was a bad idea. My response was if there was no NFR, it would be hard to get contestants to leave home and rodeo because with the exception of a few rodeos through the year, the NFR is where they make their money.
I was excited and attended the 1st, 5th, and last performance. It was a little strange because being in Las Vegas for the NFR was all I ever knew. But Texas did an outstanding job and it was a first class production. Personally, I loved the arena set up. It gave the team ropers a chance to show case what they could do. The calf ropers had a left wall. By making the score longer it showcased guys’ ability with a rope and ability to ride their horses and keep them working for ten days.
I thought the steers were strong and didn’t handle the best early on. But they were no layups and it forced the guys to do a good job. The level of difficulty was pretty high. Personally, I loved the set up and thought a lot of guys had a chance to win the world title. Those last few rounds a lot of things happened and changed in the last two performances. It’s very exciting in our sport when multiple people have a chance to win a world title.
One thing it showed, that most people don’t realize, is how hard it is for heelers at the NFR. You have 15 headers at the NFR that can pretty much throw their rope when the barrier pulls. Even with the longer barrier they can reach. It takes a very special heel horse to be able to score and run when you have headers that drop three coils, hang it on a runner and still ride to their position to give the heeler a throw. It is very difficult for the heel horse when the header throws and the head horse ducks, for the heel horse not to anticipate it and drop to the inside. This changes all the angles and as we saw a lot of heelers missed or roped legs. With that set up, the steers being strong, headers reaching, the header has to do a good job controlling the head horse and giving the heeler a chance to get there and heel.
I won eight world titles as a header. I was a heeler my entire life until I made the NFR as a 20 year old kid and realized there was more room for improvement on the heading side. Now I have more clients who are heelers than headers because heeling is much more complicated at the lower level. It was truly a team roping that exposed holes in both head and heel horses, especially when you’re trying to be 3 or a short 4. But I loved watching it play out.
It was exciting to see the state of Texas rise up to the challenge of hosting and supporting an event of that magnitude, especially with the challenges of Covid. My hat’s off to our governor, and the officials of Arlington and Ft. Worth for making this a fun and welcoming event for the fans. By doing so, the fans showed up and supported the cowboys and cowgirls in Texas, allowing the NFR to pay what it was supposed to pay in Las Vegas. Rodeo is unlike other professional sports where athletes are paid regardless of whether they play or not. In rodeo, not only do they have to play, but they have to win.
Don’t get me wrong, Las Vegas was an outstanding place for me. But I never thought I would see the day when they would shut down casinos in Las Vegas and churches in the USA at the same time. I’m proud of what Las Vegas has done for rodeo but am excited that they’ll have some competition next time the NFR contract comes up for negotiation. I do believe the NFR could pay a lot more than it does with the impact it had in Texas. A big thank you to everyone in Texas who helped make this happen.
What’s new with me: My daughter turned 17 yesterday. The NFR had Breakaway this year and I hope to see it as a regular event at the pro rodeos. She has one more year and then she has the opportunity to qualify. We’re both excited and I think in the next few years Breakaway is going to get very fast. I think girls will get where they rope more like guys and there will be more girls who can. The girls don’t have to rope the neck like calf ropers do. They don’t have to get off and their horse can be stopping when they throw. When I roped calves my horse hardly ever crossed the score line because I love to throw fast and I needed more time on the ground. I’m enjoying teaching my daughter and am excited to see how far we can get her range in the future.