Nelson Wyatt and Tyler Worley set out in 2022 to qualify to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR); the duo realized in August that goal might be out of reach. Instead, they set sights on another finals, the Ram Texas Circuit Finals Rodeo in Waco, with a goal to get a win and set themselves up for a super 2023.
Turns out, Plan B was perfect. Wyatt and Worley rolled into the Ram Texas Circuit Finals Rodeo on October 11-14, 2022, won two go-rounds and the average en route to claiming the year-end titles.
When Wyatt and Worley teamed up for the 2022 ProRodeo season, they were hoping to add more Wrangler NFRs to their resumes: Wyatt went to rodeo’s championship event in 2020 with Levi Lord while Worley has a pair of Wrangler NFRs under his belt from 2019 and 2020.
However, the team struggled during the season and came to a crossroads around the first of August.
“I messed up a lot this winter, Nelson turned a lot of good steers and I just didn’t catch enough,” Worley, 29, said. “We made some fast runs here and there but we just never got tapped off.”
Despite the struggles in the World standings, they’d won $15,052 in April at the San Angelo Stock Show & Rodeo and were sitting good in the Texas Circuit standings.
Just one problem.
“We needed 11 more rodeos [to reach the required rodeo count],” Wyatt, 29, said. Worley had thought about heading to the northwest with another partner following Dodge City and the Spicer Gripp roping but floated the idea to Wyatt about coming home to try to make the Texas Circuit Finals Rodeo.
“I asked him, ‘do you think we can get to enough rodeos?’” Worley said, “We’d only been to four and needed 15. He said he’d been thinking the same and had already looked and he thought we could do it.”
With a new goal in focus, the team got hot thanks to some home cookin’ and a little regrouping. In their final 11 rodeos in Texas, they caught fire and Worley finished the regular season with a $3,000 lead while Wyatt was second, trailing Casey Tew by $5,638.
“I think we placed at like eight of the last 11 rodeos,” Wyatt noted. They won a round in Abilene, took second in Buffalo and fourth in New Braunfels in the last two weeks of the year.
“We caught almost all of them,” Worley noted with a laugh. “We hadn’t been catching all summer but we did exactly what we needed to do.”
Circuit Finals Strategy
“He [Worley] had a pretty good lead and honestly, I didn’t think I could win enough [to catch Tew] so we wanted to try to win the average,” Wyatt said. The year-end champ along with the average winners advance to the NFR Open next July so that was the carrot.
“We wanted to try to get to Colorado Springs and win as much as we could to set us up for the new year.”
“Obviously, I wanted to stay in the lead,” Worley said, “but we had Lightning [Aguilera] and Coleby [Payne] right behind us. Lightning can be so fast and Coleby just doesn’t mess up.”
Both Wyatt and Worley noted they took a play-by-ear approach, planning to watch the competition and try to adjust their strategy accordingly.
The competition quickly turned into a good ole fashioned, gun-slingin’ shoot-out between them and Aguilera and Payne. The latter stopped the clock in 4.6 seconds to win the opening round.
“We wanted to see what everyone else did and not do something too crazy but at the same time, we needed to win money in the rounds for him [Wyatt] to win the year-end,” Worley said.
In a softer first round, they stayed solid with a 5.8, good enough for money at fourth. In round two, a really good draw led to a round win at 4.3 seconds. Meanwhile, Payne slipped a leg, leaving Wyatt and Worley on top of the average at the halfway point.
Strategy took a quick vacation in round three.
“By the third round, I thought maybe I could win it [the year end]. We were the last team out and I got pretty aggressive,” Wyatt admitted with a laugh. The team won their second straight round with a 3.7-second run. “The guys were like, ‘why did you run at it like that?’”
“But I was trying to win as much as we could.”
“That wasn’t really our plan,” Worley said with a laugh. “We ended up with a really sharp steer. Nelson said, ‘I wasn’t planning on throwing right there but my horse already had it on his mind.’”
“Once he went, I had to do the same thing. It’s one of those deals where you don’t have the luxury of swinging over his back . . . you better throw there or you’re not getting a throw at all!”
Aguilera and Payne bounced back with a 3.9 to keep things interesting. Meanwhile, Tew and partner Will Woodfin, who’d placed in round two, took a no time.
Sealing the Deal
By the final night, Wyatt and Worley had a 3.6-second lead in the average and Worley’s year-end title looked secure.
“I didn’t look,” Worley said of doing the math. “I figure I have to catch before any of it matters.”
“I wanted to get a decent start and if it looked like we could try to win something, then do that,” Wyatt said. As the final team to rope, they watched Aguilera and Payne tie them for the fastest run of the rodeo with a 3.7. After that, however, the times were longer.
“We knew if we were clean, we’d win the average and get to Colorado Springs,” Wyatt said. With a safe start and a couple swings over the back, they pulled tight in 5.9 seconds. Not only did they secure the average win at 19.7 seconds, they also claimed the fourth-place check from the round, worth $499.
Tew and Woodfin kept the pressure on with a second-place check in the final round. But will a total of $8,974 won, Wyatt slid past Tew by a scant $344.
“I still didn’t think I had won it,” Wyatt said. “It was that fourth-place round check that did it.”
Both ropers clinched their first year-end circuit championships titles as well as putting nearly $9,000 towards the 2023 standings.
Aguilera and Payne’s 21.1 on four won second in the average, allowing Payne to finish as the reserve champion behind Worley so he will rope with Tew at the NFR Open next summer.
Wyatt and Worley have agreed to part ways for 2023; Worley will rejoin forces with Jeff Flenniken with whom he roped during his two NFR seasons. But they will have one last hurrah as a team at the NFR Open in July 2023.
“That deal is just too good not to go too,” Worley said.
“I don’t think we made Houston so this will be like our Houston,” Wyatt said.
Both cowboys noted the positive aspects of the move of the Texas Circuit Finals Rodeo from its traditional New Year’s dates to being part of the Heart o’Texas Fair & Rodeo.
“It was good that they added another round and more money. It was a really good circuit finals,” Wyatt said. “It was definitely an incentive for us, a good finals to make. The circuit did a good job at making it better. And to get to go to Colorado Springs is just a great bonus.”
“It was awesome; to be able to win that much money, especially after the summer we had,” Worley agreed. “To be able to go win $9,000 in mid-October when there’s really not much rodeo happening, ninety miles from the house? It’s a great jump start on next year not to mention the chance to go the NFR Open and potentially win $20,000.”