Rodeo's Rising Stars
They‚Äôre under 25 years old and poised to make their marks on professional rodeo. Meet the 13 young athletes you must watch in 2009.
Tuf Cooper‚Äôs run to the National Finals Rodeo began roughly eight years ago when his dad walked away from competition. The ‚ÄúSuper Looper,‚ÄĚ Roy Cooper, walked away with eight world titles and a desire to be the dad he hadn‚Äôt always been to sons Clint, Clif and Tuf.
From that time on, each of the kids has worked toward becoming as good as their dad was in his heyday. Clint is a two-time NFR qualifier, and Tuf is headed for his first NFR this year despite the fact he‚Äôs only 18 years old.
‚ÄúI remember watching Tuf rope calf after calf in 105 degree heat last summer,‚ÄĚ Roy says. ‚ÄúI told him it would all pay off the next year when he was old enough to join PRCA, and now it‚Äôs paying off just like I said.‚ÄĚ
The home-schooled teenager still hasn‚Äôt finished his high school curriculum, but he‚Äôll be roping for his share of more than $5 million at Las Vegas‚Äô Thomas and Mack Center next month.
‚ÄúI‚Äôve been planning on this for a while now,‚ÄĚ Tuf says with the wide grin of a kid living his longtime dream. ‚ÄúI planned on trying my hardest to make the NFR. Everybody dreams of hearing their name called in Las Vegas. It‚Äôs pretty exciting to know I‚Äôm so close to that goal now.‚ÄĚ
He‚Äôs traveled with his dad some in the past and routinely spent summers hitting every junior rodeo the family could find, but Tuf says the biggest adjustment is simply being away from home all the time.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs been tough at times, but I guess I‚Äôve handled it pretty well,‚ÄĚ he says. ‚ÄúNow, I just need to finish the season strong and see what I can do in Las Vegas.‚ÄĚ
Judging by the smile on his face, you‚Äôd have thought Jake Brown had claimed a world championship on a hot July night in Farmington, New Mexico. In theory, he had done just that. He‚Äôd just earned the National High School Rodeo Association‚Äôs bareback riding championship competing against a top-notch field of Americans, Canadians and Australians.
Unlike some of his Texas teammates, Jake isn‚Äôt focusing on professional competition just yet. Instead, he‚Äôll rodeo for his dad‚ÄĒrodeo coach Paul Brown‚ÄĒat Hill College in Hillsboro, Texas, and plan on making a run at the PRCA‚Äôs bareback riding rookie title in 2010.
‚ÄúI‚Äôve got my permit, and I‚Äôll probably just rodeo off that for two years,‚ÄĚ he says. ‚ÄúBut watch out for me in 2010. That‚Äôs when I plan on making my first trip to the NFR.‚ÄĚ
Jake recovered from a disappointing 67-point ride in the first round at the National High School Finals Rodeo with a second-round 78 that put him among the leaders going into the short round. Having seen his short-round draw earlier in the week, he knew all he needed to win the championship was to do his part. He turned in a 79-point ride to finish second in the short round and take the three-head average title by one point over Ty Breuer of North Dakota.
‚ÄúShe was outstanding when I saw her earlier in the week,‚ÄĚ he says. ‚ÄúIt was a great week because my first two trips to the high-school finals, I didn‚Äôt cover a single bareback or bull. I just couldn‚Äôt be any happier about winning the whole thing.‚ÄĚ
With the win, Jake joins an elite group. Previous NHSFR bareback riding winners have included Mark Garrett, Pete Hawkins, Ty Murray and Marvin Shoulders.¬†¬†¬†
Florida native Jared Smith won‚Äôt make the NFR in 2008. But the cowboy who now calls Ranger, Texas, home will claim the bareback-riding rookie title and add his name to an exclusive club of great bareback riders. Among them are world champions Mark Gomes, Ty Murray and Will Lowe.
‚ÄúI set the NFR as my goal because in my mind there‚Äôs no real reason to rodeo if I‚Äôm not going to try and be the best,‚ÄĚ Jared says. ‚ÄúI have to believe that nobody can beat me, or I might as well not be here. And I like to set goals that are hard to achieve. My mom used to tell me, ‚ÄėShoot for the moon and you‚Äôll land among the stars.‚Äô ‚ÄĚ
After rodeoing for two years at Ranger Junior College for world-champion bronc rider Tom Reeves, Smith believes he‚Äôs ready to be a full-time cowboy.
‚ÄúTom really helped me with learning how to enter rodeos and where you need be on which nights,‚ÄĚ he says. ‚ÄúThose are the things that make it so difficult to be a rookie out here. Every guy out here can ride or rope, but it‚Äôs the business stuff that we have to learn when we get here.‚ÄĚ
Jared grew up heading for his younger brother and would like to someday pick up a rope in PRCA competition. But with diesel fuel at an all-time high, he‚Äôs content to live the life of a rough-stock cowboy for the time being.
‚ÄúI guess some day when I‚Äôm old and crippled, I can team rope instead of riding bucking horses,‚ÄĚ he says. ‚ÄúMaybe fuel costs will have come down and I‚Äôll be able to afford to haul a horse around the country. But for now, I‚Äôve sent all my rope horses back to Florida for my dad and brother.‚ÄĚ
An economics major in college, Hunter Cure is described by his traveling partners as ‚Äúthe tightest bark on the tree.‚ÄĚ But give the 24-year-old Texas Tech graduate a break‚ÄĒhe‚Äôs got a wife back home to support.
Hunter, who took up bulldogging when he was 14 years old, has some work to do to earn his first trip to Las Vegas. But the cowboy has been steadily plugging along all season and should no doubt improve on his 24th-place finish in the 2007 world standings.
‚ÄúEvery season has its highs and lows, but steady is good,‚ÄĚ he says. ‚ÄúMaking the NFR was my goal last year, but I just didn‚Äôt get the breaks I needed. So that‚Äôs the goal again this year.‚ÄĚ
In Dodge City, Kansas, in early August, Hunter finally got one break. He qualified for his first short round of the season, an amazing accomplishment considering he was ranked in the top 15 at the time.
‚ÄúI guess I‚Äôve just been winning at the wrong rodeos,‚ÄĚ he admits. ‚ÄúI was asking myself all year if I was going to make one, and finally, eight months later, I managed to do it. I guess you could say I‚Äôve been short-round deprived.‚ÄĚ
Hunter travels with fellow Texan Jack Hodges and rides his two horses.
‚ÄúI‚Äôve got them both reserved for the national finals,‚ÄĚ he says. ‚ÄúNow, I just need to do my part and get the invite.‚ÄĚ
Married for two years now, Hunter says he‚Äôs lucky to have a wife who understands the rodeo lifestyle. He‚Äôs also got plans to own a ranch later in life.
‚ÄúBut as long as I can make a living out here on the road,‚ÄĚ he adds, ‚ÄúI‚Äôm going to stay with this rodeo thing.‚ÄĚ
At 24 years old, Adam Gray is relatively old to be a PRCA rookie. His main competition in the tie-down-roping rookie race, for instance, is 18-year-old Tuf Cooper. But there‚Äôs a reason Adam is somewhat of a late bloomer in rodeo: engineering.
‚ÄúI mainly went to college to rodeo,‚ÄĚ he says. ‚ÄúI didn‚Äôt know what I wanted to major in, but since I was good in math and science, they talked me into majoring in civil engineering. Once I got into it and found out how hard it was, I was too stubborn to quit. Five years later I have a civil engineering degree.‚ÄĚ
Adam could be holding down a ‚Äúregular job‚ÄĚ and pulling in big bucks in his degree field, but his dream of making the NFR was too strong. So he spent 2008 riding the highs and lows of professional rodeo. Riding a horse he spent his college years seasoning, Adam hopes to hear his name called next month in Las Vegas. At press time, he was locked in a tight battle among a handful of competitors for the final five slots in the tie-down roping field.
‚ÄúI had some bad breaks this summer,‚ÄĚ he says. ‚ÄúI came back high call at Cheyenne and only had to be 18 seconds to win. I roped my calf around the neck and my rope broke. Things like that just don‚Äôt happen.‚ÄĚ
As is the case with rookies and rodeo veterans alike, Adam realizes making the NFR is the only way to really make money in rodeo.
‚ÄúRodeoing full-time has been a lot different than I thought it would be,‚ÄĚ he says. ‚ÄúIf money wasn‚Äôt a concern, it would be a great life. But you‚Äôve got to keep winning to stay out here. I think the toughest part for me is the downtime‚ÄĒespecially when things aren‚Äôt going good.‚ÄĚ
Kaleb Asay was starting colts when he was 6 years old. Through the years, the lanky Wyoming cowboy grew out of a lot of things, but saddle-bronc riding wasn‚Äôt one of them.
‚ÄúI‚Äôve always watched the bronc riding,‚ÄĚ he says. ‚ÄúMy dad rode bulls and my brother rides bulls, but I always liked the bronc riding. There‚Äôs just nothing like the feeling of riding a good bucking horse.‚ÄĚ
Kaleb gained much of his confidence while riding young horses at the Cody (Wyoming) Nite Rodeo. He went on to win two Wyoming High School Rodeo Association titles in bronc riding, and during his junior year claimed the national championship in high-school rodeo. He won three of the four rodeos he entered as a member of the Casper College rodeo team, but dropped out after just one semester.
‚ÄúI couldn‚Äôt stand sitting in a classroom when I could be out riding a horse somewhere,‚ÄĚ he admits.
These days, Kaleb is encouraged when he sees names such as Billy Etbauer and Rod Hay on the daysheet next to his.
‚ÄúRiding against these guys, I treat every horse like it‚Äôs the 10th round of the NFR and the world championship is on the line,‚ÄĚ he says. ‚ÄúI‚Äôve grown up watching and idolizing some of these guys, and I want to prove that I belong here with them.‚ÄĚ
Kaleb hoped to follow in his brother‚Äôs footsteps and qualify for the NFR in 2008. Kanin Asay competed in the bull riding there in 2007. But the NFR will have to wait at least one more year for Kaleb. Despite that, he feels he‚Äôs benefited greatly from his Wyoming home. Living in the state, he‚Äôs grown up riding young horses from some of PRCA‚ÄôS best stock contractors, including Hal Burns, Hank Franzen and Ike Sankey.¬†¬†¬†¬†
It‚Äôs been an up-and-down year for Isaac Diaz. He‚Äôs struggled at times to keep his head in the game, and yet finds himself in contention for his second consecutive NFR berth as the season winds down.
A win in St. Paul, Oregon, helped him right the ship over the Independence Day holiday week and earned him valuable tour points that will help in his quest.
‚ÄúMy year started off pretty good and then went south for a while,‚ÄĚ Isaac says. ‚ÄúI felt like I couldn‚Äôt get my head right, and when I did draw good I was just falling off. But it‚Äôs been better since the 4th of July.‚ÄĚ
Getting used to different arenas has been one obstacle for the Florida cowboy who now has a place outside Stephenville, Texas. Arena quirks such as the trees inside the arena in St. Paul have taken some getting used to.
‚ÄúI had a horse jump a tree there once,‚ÄĚ he recalls. ‚ÄúSt. Paul was my biggest win this year. My first year, I thought the St. Paul rodeo was in Minnesota. If it hadn‚Äôt been for my traveling partner, I‚Äôd have been wandering around Minnesota trying to find the rodeo.‚ÄĚ
Now that he sports a flashy champion buckle from the rodeo, it‚Äôs safe to assume Isaac knows the event actually takes place in the Pacific Northwest. The cowboy sets weekly goals in addition to yearlong quests such as qualifying for the NFR and the tour final√©s.
In addition to riding bucking horses, Isaac hopes to someday raise them.
‚ÄúI don‚Äôt know about being a full-time stock contractor and dealing with all those headaches,‚ÄĚ he says. ‚ÄúBut I‚Äôd like to raise young horses and maybe just sell them to the other guys when they‚Äôre ready to rodeo.‚ÄĚ¬†
Joel Allen Bach
Team Roping Header
Joel Allen Bach has the long, lanky look of his dad, four-time world champion Allen Bach. He‚Äôs also inherited his dad‚Äôs roping skills, although he‚Äôs chosen to ply his trade at the heading end (his dad is a heeler). That means the two might even rope together in PRCA competition in the future.
But for now, they are simply traveling partners along with their respective roping partners (Paul Eaves and Speed Williams). Joel has traveled the country with his dad in the past and spent the 2007 season hitting many of the big open and amateur events in Texas to prepare for his rookie season. With the 2008 heading rookie title in the bag, Joel has set his sights on catching the guys in the top 15.
‚ÄúMy dad will be roping in Las Vegas, and I hope to be there, too,‚ÄĚ he says. ‚ÄúI‚Äôm sure he‚Äôs rooting for both of us to get there.‚ÄĚ
Bach says the biggest problem following in his father‚Äôs footsteps is that many expect him to be just as good as his more-experienced dad.
‚ÄúThere‚Äôs some added pressure from that,‚ÄĚ he says. ‚ÄúBut I expect more from myself than anyone, so it‚Äôs not a big deal.‚ÄĚ
Making the NFR might be out of reach for Joel in 2008, but he‚Äôs spent much of the year in the top 25 of the world standings and figures to continue to improve. He‚Äôs also experienced that success while dealing with the temporary loss of his top horse during the lucrative summer run.
‚ÄúWe originally bought Rex for my little brother, but he was too much horse for him,‚ÄĚ Joel says. ‚ÄúSo I started practicing on him. We did everything we could to ruin him‚ÄĒran way too many steers on him‚ÄĒand he just got really good almost overnight.‚ÄĚ
Team Roping Heeler
Realizing that getting to the NFR can be a two-year deal for many cowboys today, Rhen Richard hoped to use the 2008 season to get qualified for the building rodeos in 2009. And with any luck, that would be a springboard to the NFR.
But things went a little better than planned for the Utah roper. Heeling for Oklahoma veteran Nick Sartain, he‚Äôs climbed into the top 20 at times this year and had a good chance to qualify for his first NFR a year earlier than planned. Rhen just graduated from high school in May, and even competed at the high-school finals this year during a short break from pro rodeos.
‚ÄúNow, I‚Äôm just trying to stick it out and see if I can get to Las Vegas this year,‚ÄĚ he says. ‚ÄúThings weren‚Äôt working out with my first partner, and I‚Äôm pretty good friends with Matt Sherwood. He helped me hook up with Nick, and it‚Äôs worked out great so far.
‚ÄúI‚Äôd always hoped to be in this situation earlier in my career. Nick‚Äôs a great fit with me, and it helps that he‚Äôs been around for a while and knows the ropes.‚ÄĚ
Rhen describes himself as a catcher who‚Äôs pretty reliable when it comes to picking up the hind feet on a steer.
‚ÄúMy partner likes to go pretty fast, though,‚ÄĚ he says. ‚ÄúSo we can be good in a one-header or an average roping.‚ÄĚ
A calf roper also, Rhen is tying down calves mainly at circuit rodeos while he concentrates on getting to the NFR in team roping.
‚ÄúWe had a 10-day stretch where we won $26,000, so we‚Äôve had some good runs this year,‚ÄĚ he says. ‚ÄúI just want to do whatever I can to get us both to the NFR.‚ÄĚ
Greenwell Springs, Louisiana
Fans had best enjoy Janna Jarreau‚Äôs presence on the rodeo trail while they can. Along with her parents, the Louisiana cowgirl committed to making a run at the NFR in 2008.
But if things don‚Äôt work out this time, she might be limited to rodeos in her circuit the rest of her career.
‚ÄúWe decided I‚Äôd try to make the NFR one time and then go have a normal life,‚ÄĚ Janna says. ‚ÄúMy dad‚Äôs not going to pay for me to do this forever.‚ÄĚ
Janna recently graduated from Louisiana State University with a degree in resource management and plans to pursue her masters in business administration.
‚ÄúI‚Äôve been in the top 20 the last couple of years despite going to school,‚ÄĚ she says. ‚ÄúAnd I had a couple of bad breaks that got in the way of making the NFR. I just think it would be so awesome to make the NFR. I know my horse would be tough in that building.‚ÄĚ
Janna‚Äôs main horse is Comet, an 11-year-old gelding with a small stride that‚Äôs well suited to indoor arenas. She can also ride 14-year-old Lulu in the bigger pens.
‚ÄúI don‚Äôt ever plan to quit all the way, but I probably won‚Äôt go as hard in the years to come,‚ÄĚ Janna says. ‚ÄúThere are only a handful of people who are actually making money out here. If you go full-time and don‚Äôt make the NFR, then you‚Äôre in the hole.‚ÄĚ
Of course, if Janna makes the NFR this year, there‚Äôs always hope her parents will get caught up in the excitement of it all and help her make another NFR run in 2009.
‚ÄúI‚Äôm really hoping this year is my year to get there,‚ÄĚ she says. ‚ÄúAfter that, we‚Äôll just have to wait and see.‚ÄĚ
Mount Pleasant, Texas
Maegan Reichert is the only one of our 13 rising stars who has already seen her name in the Las Vegas lights. She qualified for her first NFR in 2007 and finished the year in sixth place overall. And she did it despite having to study for her college finals while competing at the Thomas and Mack Center.
A college senior majoring in kinesiology, Maegan has plans to continue her education and pursue a master‚Äôs degree.
The Texas cowgirl has competed in amateur and open events since she was 8 years old. She then made the leap to Women‚Äôs Professional Rodeo Association competition and hasn‚Äôt looked back. Now 22 years of age, she says there‚Äôs a good chance she‚Äôll always be juggling rodeo with college or a career.
‚ÄúNow that I‚Äôve made the NFR once, I‚Äôm just going to see what happens,‚ÄĚ she says. ‚ÄúI still have to pick and choose when and where I go, so that makes it tough to compete for a world championship. But school will pay off in the long run. Once I‚Äôm done with my masters, I might have a year or two to go rodeo full-time. But most likely I‚Äôll always be juggling two things at once.‚ÄĚ
Maegan‚Äôs biggest advice to NFR rookies is to take care of their horses.
‚ÄúWithout your horse, you won‚Äôt be winning anything,‚ÄĚ she says. ‚ÄúA lot of people get so caught up in trying to make the NFR that they sacrifice their horses‚Äô health. They are going to need those horses when they get to Las Vegas.‚ÄĚ
As for her goals in 2008, Maegan simply hoped to qualify for the tour final√© event in Dallas, Texas, this month.
‚ÄúI‚Äôd really like to make it there so all my family could be there,‚ÄĚ she says. ‚ÄúI thought I‚Äôd made it there last year and got knocked out at Puyallup [Washington].‚ÄĚ
A broken pelvis put Douglas Duncan in the hole just as his PRCA career was set to begin. He‚Äôd just turned 18 when the injury occurred at an open bull riding in Del Rio, Texas.
The injury set him back two years, and at age 21 he‚Äôs just completing his rookie season.
Douglas set two goals after filling his permit and buying his professional card for the 2008 season: win the rookie title and qualify for the NFR. He‚Äôd just about wrapped up the first goal by the end of the summer run (topping traveling partner Stormy Wing) and was nearly guaranteed of accomplishing the second by then, as well.
‚ÄúMy goals have changed a little as the season has gone along, but my main goal every day is just to ride every bull I get on,‚ÄĚ Douglas says. ‚ÄúI truly believe the guy who rides the most bulls will be the champion when it‚Äôs all said and done.‚ÄĚ
Douglas got a true introduction to the difference between professional and amateur rodeo earlier this season in Laramie, Wyoming. He‚Äôd drawn a young bull that he described as ‚Äúcute, with no horns and didn‚Äôt look mean or anything.‚ÄĚ The ride on Hal Burns‚Äô bull turned into one of the wildest he‚Äôs faced all season.
‚ÄúI nodded my head and he piled me up so fast and just drilled me,‚ÄĚ Douglas says. ‚ÄúThat sucker bucked. But at this level, you‚Äôve got to expect to get on a good bull every time.‚ÄĚ
Like many in this story, Douglas has dreamed about the day he‚Äôll hear his name called at the NFR in Las Vegas.
‚ÄúJust thinking about it the other day gave me goosebumps,‚ÄĚ he says. ‚ÄúThere‚Äôs nothing in life I want more right now than to come riding out of those yellow bucking chutes.‚ÄĚ
Rock Springs, Wyoming
Seth Glause might provide rough-stock cowboys with their best chance to bring the all-around crown back to their end of the arena. Only timed-event hands have claimed the title since Ty Murray won his record seventh all-around in 1998.
Seth and fellow rough-stock hand Stephen Dent were the only non-ropers to spend much of the season in the PRCA‚Äôs all-around standings top 10. And both are relatively young cowboys who should only get better with time.
It‚Äôs odd to hear Seth talk about 2008 being his ‚Äúbest year‚ÄĚ when considering that it‚Äôs only his second as a full-fledged PRCA member. A win in Waco, Texas, in 2007 qualified him for many of the PRCA‚Äôs top winter events this season, and helped get his year off on the right foot.
In addition to riding bulls, Seth climbs on saddle broncs at many rodeos.
‚ÄúI really enjoy riding broncs, so I hope I can excel at it one of these days,‚ÄĚ he says. ‚ÄúBut right now, the bull riding is the stronger event for me. I‚Äôm still trying to learn some things in both events so I can continue to improve.‚ÄĚ
As for the all-around, well, it‚Äôs a nice thought, but for the time being other goals are more important.
‚ÄúThe goal for everybody out here is to make the NFR,‚ÄĚ Seth says. ‚ÄúI‚Äôm still trying to make sure I obtain that goal. I wanted to win the circuit this year, too. But I‚Äôm mostly just trying to focus on riding good. If I can do that, the winning will take care of itself.¬†¬†¬†
‚ÄúIt would be neat to have a rough-stock guy win the all-around again. But that‚Äôs one goal that might have to wait a while.‚ÄĚ
Kyle Partain is a Western Horseman associate editor. Send comments on this story to email@example.com.