During the American Rope Horse Futurity this past October, I crashed at Ryan and Courtney Motes' house in Weatherford, Texas. Getting in late one night, I sat on the couch and worked on some stories for The Team Roping Journal's special Arizona Guide.
After roping all day, Motes and Chase Tryan were up watching the Houston Astros play the Boston Red Sox in the MLB's American League Championship Series, and we were catching up on team roping and real life.
It came up that I'd heard Tryan would rope with Bubba Buckaloo at the NFR and, of course, I asked him how he was feeling about the pairing. And I asked Tryan and Motes to give me some historical perspective on the best mismatched team ever to rope at the Finals, careful to tell Tryan I wasn't implying anything about his potential performance with my question.
As usual, Tryan had a pretty good answer: His cousin, Clay Tryan, and Michael Jones, in 2004, when they won the average by 15.5 seconds, set an NFR earnings record at $95,102 a man (which was extremely impressive when the NFR only paid $5.1 million that year), and came just a few thousand dollars away from gold buckles.
Clay Tryan had roped all year with the then-reigning Resistol Rookie of the Year Patrick Smith. Smith didn't have enough won to make the Finals (he finished 19th with $36,343), and Jones' regular season partner, Chad Masters, was roping with Dugan Kelly in Vegas. So Tryan and Jones paired up starting at the Dallas Tour Finale.
"My horse had gotten crippled," Jones remembered. "And I called in a favor with my friend Kory Koontz to ride his great horse Jackyl. We won enough money in Dallas to get me to the NFR, and Clay called and said 'Hey, if you get that horse to ride, I guess we'll be paired up at the Finals.'"
Koontz had both Switchblade and Jackyl, and he knew Jones needed a horse. So Koontz shared his iconic grade dun gelding.
Both just 25 years old at the time, Tryan lived in Arizona back then, and Jones in Texas. They only got in two half-day practice sessions together before Vegas, but Tryan had just started riding a 'decent' black gelding known as Thumper, and thought he might have a good shot on the up-and-coming horse.
"I had just got Thumper, and he loved big steers," Tryan said. "And that year, the steers were big."
Jones' dad, David, had come with him to Arizona to practice, and told Jones that he really saw something in the black horse Tryan was practicing on. When it came down to it, Jones told Tryan he thought he heeled best behind the black.
While both Tryan and Jones said those two horses were critical factors in their success in those 10 rounds in Vegas, Jones has another thought when it comes to what gave them the edge.
"We wanted to beat the best in the world," Jones said. "At the time, Speed [Williams] and Rich [Skelton] were still on their tear. Of course, a couple young guys who are fairly cocky in our own rights—to be mild about it—we wanted to dethrone the champs."
Jones was nervous behind the young-great Tryan, and missed the haze but still caught the first one. He over-hazed the second steer but still won a check, too. By Round 3, they'd found their groove and never looked back. They won Round 6 with a 3.9-second run, and then set an arena record with a 3.7-second run in Round 7. They placed in four more rounds, on their way to a 77.8 seconds on 10 head for a record $95,102 a man in NFR earnings.
"We were two nobodies who hadn’t won much," Tryan said. "The next year I roped with Patrick and I won the world. I won the BFI the next year. Winning that much at the Finals was the first time I had any money. I had no money before that. Everybody thinks you get rich rodeoing. You couldn’t win that kind of money anywhere—not at the Strait or the BFI. That was huge."
While Tryan won the world the following year, Jones bought Jackyl in 2006 and his career took off from there. Jones now owns a hydroseed company with his wife, Jennifer, and spends his time building their family business while mentoring young ropers like Resistol Rookie of the Year Ross Ashford.
Fast Forward to 2018
This year's mismatched teams are Tyler Wade and Cole Davison and Bubba Buckaloo and Chase Tryan. Wade roped with Trey Yates, Tyler McKnight, and Ryan Motes most of 2018. Davison roped with Kolton Schmidt, and Bubba Buckaloo roped with Tyler Worley to end his regular season. Tryan roped with young-gun header and World Series of Team Roping #15 Champ Brenten Hall.
Wade roped at the Finals in 2016 with Dakota Kirchenschlager, and Tryan roped with Keven Daniel in 2012. Wade and Kirchenschlager placed in four rounds in 2016, and Tryan won second in the average in 2012, finishing fourth in the world with $166,189.
"Bubba and I have practiced three or four times together," Tryan said. "If it's about good horses making this kind of team work, I feel like I have the best horse I've ever had. And out of the two Bubba said he will ride, they both felt pretty easy to heel behind. I just need to focus and do my job, and I have total confidence in Bubba."
Both Buckaloo (who will rope with Tryan) and Davison (who will heel for Wade) are long-time PRCA cowboys but NFR rookies this year.
"What's cool about me and T-Wade is that we grew up together going to the same junior rodeos and amateur rodeos," Davison said. "It's not really anything different to me. And I don't have any other experience with the NFR, so I'm just pretty excited. I don't really let things bother me or worry me. I'm just focused on doing my job, and I don't care what else happens." TRJ