Holcomb’s good mare tore her hip last winter, forcing him to use his other mount, a 10-year-old Dash- For-Cash-bred palomino gelding—registered Short Round Taxi—a horse his granddaughter, Jacey, aptly named Sparkles.
“He was standing there in the field one day and the sun was really reflecting off his mane and tail and she said, ‘Grandpa I know what we have to name him!’ So, Sparkles it is.”
It wasn’t always shimmering light. After fighting Sparkles in the box since last October, Holcomb was thrilled when the horse really started to prove his worth in Hamilton.
“I was a little nervous going in to the short round, but honestly, the horse was working so good.” Holcomb explained. “He was always nice in the field, but he had some box issues. I think more than anything, my horse really worked well through the whole deal. He was better than he had been at any previous jackpot.”
There’s no shortcut to the short round and Holcomb and Stamps had decided early on that fast was good, but consistent was better.
“We did visit before (Hamilton) and agreed we’d just go up there and be really smooth on our cattle,” Holcomb recalled. “We drew four really good steers. The cattle were just great. Really, about the only thing I’m good at, is just run to the hip and rope them, and for that we couldn’t have asked for better. They were just four smooth runs.”
Holcomb first started roping calves in high school and later took up team roping. Although he has qualified for the World Series of Team Roping Finale twice in years past, one obstacle or another has always kept him from making the trip to Vegas. This year, he won’t miss it.
“We’re kind of at that point in our lives where we’re taking it all in. We’re really looking forward to going to Vegas.”
Holcomb and his wife, Donna, have been married 34 years and she’s in fact the one who encouraged him to take a second look at his winning mount.
“She’s kind of the horsepower behind this,” Holcomb laughed. “Seriously, though, she’s the one who encouraged me to make the trade. She said I needed him. She’s picked a bunch of good ones over the years.
“I think one thing that keeps me going down the road is just getting to spend quality time with my wife. We get to visit more going up and down the road than we do any other time.”
Holcomb has spent his career in the oil and gas industry and recently had the opportunity to go out on his own as an independent contractor.
“I had been offered the role of consulting years ago,” Holcomb explained. “But so much of the time you’re away from home. We decided to pass on it then and I had the opportunity arise again. It was a little scary. I had been with the same company for 26 years, but I’m really glad I made the move, it’s been really good for us.”
And as for winning with #13 Heartland Finale with his long-time partner and good buddy, Kyle Stamps, it was a similar response.
“As much as a roping partner, Kyle is a really good friend,” Holcomb explained. “I met him when he first came to this area. It’s a shame we don’t get to rope together more. It’s always good when we get the opportunity.”
Kyla and Kenzie Stamps have their dad’s #13 Heartland Finale Cactus trophy saddle on display in the middle of the kitchen and they’ve been taking practice swings, roping each other from atop the fancy elephant seat since he brought it home.
Kyle Stamps and Randy Holcomb came back high call in Hamilton, but it wasn’t the type of scenario to get the guy in the heeling box shaking in his stirrups, at least not nearly so much as when he’s watching his daughters compete.
“We didn’t have to be but an 8.8 or 8.9 or something like that. We knew we needed to go make a solid practice pen run,” Stamps recalled. “Randy got out and took one extra swing and it was just smooth. At this point, I think I feel more pressure when I’m watching my girls compete than when I back in the box myself.”
Stamps lives in Hallwood, Texas, with his daughters and wife Paula. He first moved to South Texas about 12 years ago and soon thereafter met Holcomb in the practice pen. Not only did the friendship offer a talented roping partnership, but Holcomb also helped him land a job in the oil and gas industry. More than a decade later they still try and practice together once every few weeks.
“I think we practiced two times the week before Hamilton. I think getting to practice together does make a difference. I have an idea of what he’s going to do in most situations. If the steer is stepping to the right or to the left, I generally know what’s on his mind and where he’s going to go.”
Stamps ropes both ends, but having trained a number of heel horses, including the horse he was riding for his Heartland victory, he’s admittedly more dominant on the back end. Stamps grew up roping and occasionally helping his dad, Gerry Stamps, who produced USTRC events in their home state of New Mexico. He’s thrilled to be sharing the sport with his own kids.
Now 11 and 6 years old respectively, Kayla and Kenzie are headed to their own junior rodeos among other activities. In fact, Kayla won her very first check in the team roping at a junior rodeo this summer.
“That’s part of the reason I was on the horse I was,” Stamps laughed. With all three of his girls running barrels in Waco the same weekend, he drew the short stick when it came to picking his mount. But the 4-year-old mare he’d been riding for Dan Braman of Refugio, Texas, couldn’t have done a lick better.
“I started her and she’s been with me her whole career to this point,” Stamps said. “She’s super easy, real smooth and real quiet. She’s staying with me through the end of the year now. Dan was nice enough to go ahead and leave her so I can ride her in Vegas.”
When it comes to the practice pen, Stamps is in the arena with his family about four nights a week, but they’re working on everything from goat tying to barrel racing. As a toddler, Kenzie was diagnosed with the extremely rare Stevens-Johnson Syndrome (SJS). While it doesn’t keep her from participating in the family’s rodeo and roping past time, they do have to take added precaution.
“We have to be super careful,” Stamps explained. “It’s made us aware of so many of the little things that people take for granted. A common cold, for example, is no big deal for most kids, but she would be in the hospital immediately. The heat bothers her real bad. But just looking at her you wouldn’t know any of it.”
The $21,030 #13 Heartland Finale payout was only the second World Series of Team Roping check Stamps had ever cashed. The first was from the #15 division the same weekend. The Stamps maintain a number of rental properties in their area and used the money to help purchase another.
“We’ve a got a few of them now,” Stamps said. “We’re just trying to set ourselves up for the future.”
The whole family plans to make the trip to Vegas for Stamps’ first WSTR Finale qualification where he’ll be heeling for Brandon Webb and Jeremy Mascorro in the #15 and heading for Danny Watson in the #12 division in addition to roping with Holcomb. Undoubtedly his #13 Heartland win in Hamilton will be reminisced for years to come.
“Randy got out good on all four and really set them up and made my job easy. We drew four excellent steers. You couldn’t have hand picked a better steer than any of the ones we had. It was one of those days you normally have at the little three for $20. It just happened at a real good time.”
#11 Heartland Finale
The 2013 Women’s Professional Rodeo Association Breakaway Roping World Champion, Hope Thomspon, traded in neck catches for slick horns at the #11 Heartland Finale winning $33,070 with partner Sid Cervantes.
It’s 7 a.m. in Abilene, Texas, and Hope Thompson is saddling the ten or so head horses on which she and Lari Dee Guy plan to rope on that day. Her day will be full of box work for some head horses, roping lessons for a woman in town from Australia and showing some prospects to a returning customer. Her fingers in gloves and her blond hair tucked up under a ball cap, Thompson is starting the day just as she has for the last four years that she has lived at the Guy Ranch.
When she came to live with Larry, Mary and Lari Dee Guy four years ago, Thompson had already racked up some big wins roping calves in the breakaway. But she’d barely ever thrown a head loop, and becoming Lari Dee’s assistant trainer mandated that she start—and fast. Lari Dee trains head horses for NFR team ropers like Trevor Brazile, South Point Hotel and Casino owners Michael and Paula Gaughan and World Series ropers like Todd Hughes. With anywhere between 10 and 20 head horses to ride at a time, Lari Dee counted on Thompson to pick up the slack, and the learning curve was steep. She needed to learn a whole new level of horsemanship and adjust some loop mechanics.
But judging by the results of the World Series’ Heartland #11 in Stephenville this October, Thompson has figured out this heading thing. She won $19,035 for winning both the main average with Sid Cervantes and the consolation average with Billy Haley, both by a solid two seconds.
“That’s the most I’ve ever won before,” Thompson said a week later, still in awe of her win. “I’ve never won that much roping calves, and I think the most I’ve won before was in Stephenville, too, at another World Series where I won about $6,000. I had just paid my entry fees for the US Finals, the World Series Finale, the UPRA Finals and a few more. And I was at the win or start borrowing money spot.”
Lari Dee has mentored Thompson throughout her venture into heading, and she rarely misses watching her rope. But on that cold day in Stephenville, Lari Dee had other plans.
“It’s cold and rainy because that northern front moved through,” Thompson explained, setting up the scene. “I’m getting ready to head to the roping, and LD says, ‘Hey do you want me to come watch?’ and I told her it really didn’t matter. She said, ‘Ok well I think I’m just going to watch football instead.’ As I’m walking out the door, she said, ‘Hey, I will be there to film the short round and take your picture when you win.’ And sure enough, she was.”
And Lari Dee’s help has extended far beyond the video camera for Thompson. As Thompson’s heading has improved over the last four years, so did her horsepower. She’s ridden some of Guy’s and Brazile’s best, but now she’s got one all her own with whom she clicks better than any horse before. This spring, Lari Dee got in a fancy but nervous 10-year-old mare that needed some tuning on the head side. Thompson got along with the mare they call Zina (registered as Tee Cakes Badger) so well, the day the owner came to pick her up, Thompson instead offered to buy the horse, and she’s been heading on her regularly since.
Thompson will ride Zina in Las Vegas at the World Series Finale, roping in the #13 with Cody McCluskey and the #11 with Jerry Corman. Thompson hasn’t had much luck there in the past, but with the horsepower and the confidence she’s gained in 2014, that could be about to change.
#9 Heartland Finale
Colorado’s Greg Cline and Oklahoma cowboy, Ralph Taton split $18,220 winning the Heartland #9.
When sultry storm clouds start to roll heavy across the barren plains of Southeastern Colorado, nobody complains—even if it means a little less time in the roping pen. Luckily, much of the nation’s midsection has seen more rainfall this season than they have in nearly a decade. Heartland #9 Champion Header, Greg Cline, can certainly attest.
Perhaps it was fate for the Colorado farmer that the rain was coming down heavy when he split $18,220 roping four steers in 40.73 seconds with Ralph Taton at the famed Lazy E Arena in Guthrie, Okla.
Cline’s family has been farming and ranching in Holly, Colo., for decades. A quiet little town nestled in the southeast corner of the state, just four miles from the Colorado-Kansas border, Holly boasts a population barely more than 1,000 and lying at 3,392 feet, it is the least-elevated town in Colorado.
During the formidable drought years the Clines, like many families, were forced to sell their cattle and let help go. It’s a story far too many are familiar with. Now, with some relief from the drought, this summer has been nothing but hard work day in and day out.
“We haven’t had any water the last five or six years,” Cline explained. “We didn’t need any help and now I can’t find any, so I’ve been doing it all myself—irrigating, farming and baling hay.”
Cline’s father, Ben, is his partner in the family operation. The elder Cline will be 81 this year, and he’s always eager to help.
When there’s farm work to do there’s not always as much time for play. Cline hasn’t “won a dime,” let alone qualify for the World Series Finale in two years. What’s worse, he recently suffered his first finger misfortune in 30 years of going to the horn, so when he and Taton came tight in the short round, Cline couldn’t get over to the entry office fast enough.
“I cut my pinky off the end of March and it took a while before I could catch one after that. We were at a little jackpot in Hugoton, Kan.,” Cline continued. “It can happen at anytime. I definitely didn’t want to take that glove off. When I did, it was just bone sticking out there. It was about six weeks before I was roping again.
“We do try to practice at least twice a week, sometimes three, unless we get pretty busy, which we’ve been. I really haven’t gotten to rope much until the last month.”
Cline’s saving grace, the roping machine he got last Christmas.
“I got a Heel-O-Matic for Christmas,” he said. “I love roping that. I heel it some, but I just head it mainly. I practice with a guy that’s about 20 miles away and sometimes I can’t get there. I have my wife pull it around with the three-wheeler and I just rope it a few times. For me, it’s helped my roping and it’s really helped my horses.”
This was only the second time Cline and Taton had roped together.
“I had a partner that roped with Ralph in all these things,” Cline said. “He moved away and one of Ralph’s other partners didn’t show up in Dodge City (the weekend prior to the Heartland Finale) so we roped together out there and I missed the second one.”
In need of redemption, they came back second-high call in Guthrie, but when their short round steer started to duck under Cline’s horse both thought they’d lost their chance.
“I thought I really got ahold of his head good and stuck his horn in his rib but then when he straightened out he came in behind me. I didn’t know what I could do. I just kind of kept him going and Ralph roped the crap out of him.” Cline recalled. “When he ducked in behind me I thought our chances were gone.”
Cline continues to rope, not just for the joy of competing against fellow ropers, but also against himself.
“The more you don’t do good, the more you want to do good. Also, I’m afraid if I ever quit I’ll never start again.”
With a chuckle Cline admits his secondary hobby is gambling. Greg, all we can say is when you get to Vegas don’t wager it all in one place!
Cowboy at Heart
“I would have sold out cheap when I turned it lose,” Ralph Taton said of his last loop in the Heartland #9 Finale. “Just as I went to turn lose he goes left under that head horse. I pushed it at him, but I roped two feet.
“I’ve been to three or four high dollar short rounds and missed some good steers and this was sweet. I’m starting to get a little complex about it,” he added with a laugh.
A cowboy through and through, Ralph Taton’s a familiar face to the industry. He’s cowboyed from Kansas to the Dakotas and competed most notably as a single steer roper, winning the Senior Steer Roping title in 2006. He has a small ranch in Faith, S.D., which his son, Hank, continues to run. His other son, Ora, is also a well-known single steer roper, who most recently won the Badlands Circuit Finals this year. Taton and his wife, Shirley, now reside in Beaver, Okla., returning to the Sooner State for the warmer climate and the opportunity to train more horses.
Taton has a very strict training method, based on real, rugged ranch work, and over the years has sent some phenomenally skilled equine athletes up the ranks.
“I’ve sent four or five horses to the NFR in the calf roping,” he said. “My horses are ranch horses. They are down to earth work horses.”
Take Welcome Bob, a horse Blaire Burk set the arena record on one of the first years the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo was in Las Vegas.
“I roped a buffalo off that horse as a 3-year-old,” Taton recalled. “I don’t hurt them, but I don’t treat them delicate. They get to be proud of their work.
“So many people talk about riding a horse,” Taton continued. “Too many people prima donna them. They want to ride them down to the mailbox. They need to drag a cottonwood log to the water gap; they need to bring in some old pregnant heifers at midnight; they need to be able to run to a foot rot steer. And on a light rein—don’t be mad at them. They need to be gone a few days farther than they thought they could go. They need to come back pleasantly tired, not exhausted and sweaty, just rode and done honest work. Does that get to my philosophy?” Adding with a grin, “It ain’t no different than a teenager.”
While Taton won the Heartland #9 heeling for Cline, he’s more comfortable as a header himself, and the lucrative win isn’t likely to change that.
“I’ve had some success this year heeling. Everyone thinks I heel better than I do,” Taton laughed. “I’m a scared heeler, meaning I don’ t have much confidence.”
Team roping is more an extension of his horse training methods and livelihood as a rancher than anything.
“I’ve dragged 1,000s of calves and spay heifers to the fire. That just spills over in to the arena. Now, I wouldn’t even call it a hobby. It’s a source of income. It’s been really good this summer.
“I think the success of my heeling has to do with the horse I’m riding. If I was to lose that horse, I’d go back to being that weak #3,” Taton added. “Crazy nice horse. We bought him at the sale barn. It’s just been a blessing. He came good and we made him a little better.”
The 14-year-old gelding Taton calls Listo, which means ‘ready’ in Spanish, really belongs to his grandson, Tyrel Taton, who is successfully carrying on the family tradition as a single steer roper—he won Guymon this year—and is likewise talented team roping.
“He makes me feel guilty (about the horse) once in awhile. He wants him back. I won’t give him back. We’re OK with that,” Taton laughed.
“I’ve had some weekends that were awful nice, but this, yes, this might be the biggest paying, single-win I’ve had,” said Taton of his Heartland #9 victory.