Las Vegas…. The good, the bad and the ugly

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Breaking it Down by Speed Williams – January 2024

Trying to help Hali prepare for the Breakaway Finals was challenging because we had to try and work around her injury. For those who don’t know, on October 7th Hali had an accident while unloading her horse from the trailer. He stumbled coming out, and when he caught himself, his foot went down the side of her leg and landed on the top of the outside of her foot. Thinking it would mend, she tried competing at the UPRA and Circuit finals, but it just kept getting worse. After having an MRI done, we found she had a tear in her Achilles, a tendon partially torn from the bone, a hairline fracture on the outside of her foot and turf toe where the ligaments are strained. I always wondered how football athletes making millions could be out for six weeks because of turf toe. After experiencing it myself, I understand because it’s extremely painful.

Due to the severity of these injuries, for most of the weeks prior to leaving for the finals, she was unable to practice or ride a horse. We started by running a few on the dummy at a walk and trot before Thanksgiving. It was extremely painful, so we waited until the week before we left to run a couple of calves each day. It was hard keeping her from practicing because once she felt good enough to run one or two, she wanted to rope a bunch and I wouldn’t let her because we couldn’t risk causing a worse injury.

I told her we probably shouldn’t rope at the NFR, but if she was going to rope, we had to try and get through it without doing too much damage. I knew the first day of running five calves would test how well her foot really was. She did pretty well for her circumstances. She missed her first calf; split the second round; she was a little late and too long in the 3rd; she won the fourth round and missed in the fifth. She was in a lot of pain that evening.

After all my years of competing at the NFR, it was emotional and difficult for me to watch my child trying to compete hurt and knowing there was nothing I could do to help her. She was given an option of blocking her foot where she couldn’t feel it to run the next five calves. She chose not to because she was afraid she would pull the tendon completely from the bone if she rode like she normally does. I think that was the smartest decision. But on the second day as she came across the line, she would pull her right foot up, riding with only her left foot in the stirrup only and be completely off balance. She came close to catching four calves very fast but was a hair off all of them.

After the finals, Hali drew out of all the Breakaway ropings she had entered in Vegas. Her goal is to give it until Christmas and then try to get ready for the Ft. Worth rodeo. I was proud of her for toughing it out and very impressed with her heartfelt interviews.

The question I heard most was “when will the Breakaway be added to the NFR at the Thomas & Mack.” I did meet with the PRCA President, Tom Glause, and WPRA President, Jimmie Munroe. Tom said we first need to fill the seats in the South Point arena during the NBFR. In my opinion, that’s counterproductive because they can’t sell more seats at the Thomas & Mack, though I understand his point. I think if we (the contestants and their families) could bring on national sponsors and significant money, we would have some options. There’s no telling how big this sport could grow, especially if the payout was increased to resemble the finals at the Thomas & Mack. Not only do I have a daughter who competes, but it’s fun to watch how fast the girls can go.

I would like to thank Michael Gaughan, and the whole staff at South Point, for hosting the Breakaway Finals. And for how well they’ve treated the team ropers competing at the World Series Finals. It’s a first-class facility and we’re fortunate to have access to it.

Now for the team roping part of this trip. Gabe qualified for the finals by winning the #14 in Abilene. A month later, he and his partner both had their numbers raised. I told Gabe to put my name down in the #14.5 and then he could find someone else. I didn’t really want to heel because I knew I wouldn’t get to practice while helping Hali get ready for the finals.

Gabe did an outstanding job of heading. We were 7 on our first; 6 on our second. For our third steer, Gage gets out, sets the corner up and the steer comes around and takes a hop. I let off my swing and the steer jumps in the air, and I laid it beside her. I did exactly what I teach not to do. In our defense, we were sixth team out and didn’t know how fast we needed to be. But I did a poor job of reacting and dropped the ball for us to be in the top five teams of the roping.

Riding out Gabe isn’t mad and is kind of giggling and laughing at me. I didn’t get mad or show emotion. I apologized and he said, “Don’t worry Dad, we’ll get them next time.” I heeled a lot of tough steers this week, but to miss that one…. It will haunt me because of what that could have meant financially for my son.

People have asked why I have him heading so much. I feel like his heeling is on the verge of being good enough to compete. He’s 17 and has another year before he can get a permit. If I can teach him how to head correctly, then he will have options, depending on the best partner, etc. We have a long way to go on his heading, but are making steps in the right direction. It’s something I can teach my son that he can use the rest of his life. Both of my kids still get on the Speed Trainer to work on certain aspects of their roping. I’ve spent hours at the WSTR Finals watching team ropers come across the line using their reins for balance and hanging on with their legs. It’s amazing how well their horses work even though they’re doing all the wrong things.

I don’t know what to say about the team roping at the NFR this year. It’s been amazingly fast. I feel like Coleman Proctor and Logan Medlin got a bad call for a world record and for their name to be in the history books for probably a very long time. But that’s a judgement call and I’m not here to debate. But I maintain we need a way to challenge a call to make sure we get it right.

I’ve had to restructure my lessons as I was staying booked 45 to 60 days in advance and some of my regular customers were not happy having to wait for two months. I teach almost every day except the ten days per month I’ve blocked off to spend with my family.

You can book a group of up to four people, or a private lesson for one that includes a stall and RV hookup. If interested, please contact me for pricing. I’m so very fortunate to have folks that come and stay for a week to ten days. We rope, break down the videos, and are able to focus on and isolate problems. We use the Speed Trainer to work on balance, riding across the line while swinging, and handling steers. My lessons are intense and cost more than most, but when you’re looking at the payout this week in Las Vegas, don’t you want to be as competitive as possible? I love teaching people, and my kids, something I truly love.

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