There can be no conversation about roping and rodeo royals without talking about the Tryan family. In 1984, Dennis Tryan was the first team roper from Montana ever to qualify for the National Finals Rodeo. In 2003, Terri Kaye Kirkland, Clay and Travis Tryan became the first mother-sons combo to make the NFR cut. In 2010, Clay, Travis and Brady Tryan were the first three-brothers team roping trio to qualify for the Finals together. Cousin Chase Tryan has been to the Big Show, too. And here comes three-time Champ of the World Clay with another record. With the $39,000 he won with Jake Long at the 2021 BFI at the Lazy E Arena on March 14, Clay Tryan is now the Winningest BFI Roper of All Time with $256,111.
“It’s cool, because any list you’re at the top of is good,” said Montana native Tryan, who now lives in Texas and will turn 42 on May 7. “But being the best that day is all that really matters. And in 2021, Manny (Egusquiza) and Kory (Koontz) were the best on BFI day.”
Tryan and Long had a darn decent BFI 2021 day themselves. For second in Round 5, third in the Wrangler/Priefert Short Round and third in the average, each earned $39,000. That leapfrogged Tryan over previous all-time BFI earnings leader Rich Skelton. The BFI Big Three—and the only cowboys ever to clear the $200,000 hurdle in BFI cash—are now Tryan with $256,111; 2021 BFI Heeling Champ Koontz with $241,514; and Skelton with $221,406. Not coincidentally, Tryan, Koontz and Skelton are members of an elite club of three-time BFI winners.
“I’m always the guy who wants to try and do it again,” Tryan said. “When the day comes that I don’t have a chance to win anymore is when I hope to look back and think I was pretty good. For now, I’m living in the moment, so it’s on to the next one. Don’t get me wrong. There’s no way any record at the BFI isn’t cool. But I’d like to add to it for a few more years before I’m done, and start doing any looking back.”
It’s hard to believe Clay Tryan has already stacked up 18 NFR back numbers since his first trip to Vegas in 2001. He’s won two NFR average crowns—in 2004 with Michael Jones and 2014 with Jade Corkill—and three gold buckles dated 2005 (with Patrick Smith), 2013 and 2014 (both with Corkill). Tryan spends much more time looking forward than back, but he was willing to take a little stroll down BFI Memory Lane to talk about what stands out about the three days he won it all.
“When I won the BFI with Patrick in 2005, I just remember being sick all day,” Tryan said. “I threw up all night right before the roping. I don’t know if it was food poisoning or what, and nobody cares. But I remember thinking to myself, ‘Really? You have to be sick today?’ But I had a good feeling about that day. It was the first time I ever rode Thumper at the BFI, and I knew how good I was on him. I almost expected myself to win it. Inside my head it was like, ‘I better win this roping today.’
“The day I won the BFI with Walt (Woodard) in 2008, I remember the steers weren’t as good that year and everybody was having trouble catching. We didn’t rope that great of a roping, but it went our way. We weren’t really even going that fast, it was just our day.
“When Travis (Graves) and I won the BFI in 2012, I was riding Dew, and he was in the prime of his career. Horses still matter a lot at the BFI, and winning it twice on Thumper and once on Dew proves that. Those were really good horses. Good head horses do the work at those hard setups, like the BFI. If you just don’t be an idiot and mess up, they do the hard part. Ride a great head horse, rope sharp when you catch up and you will win.”
In addition to his three big wins, Tryan’s placed a lot at the BFI over the years.
“I’ve always roped pretty good there percentage-wise, but I hadn’t won anything significant since 2012 before 2021,” he said. “That’s a long time. As for why I’ve won pretty well there over the years, I think it’s because I’ve been pretty good at long scores in my lifetime, at places like Salinas and the BFI. I grew up roping that way, and when I first started, scores were long. Even at the amateur rodeos when I was really young, the score was two feet over the box.
“Another thing about the BFI besides the long score is that everybody’s only entered once. We go to so many ropings anymore where the score is short and you can enter more than once. When you’re only entered one time, you don’t take as many chances. If you mess up, you’re done.”
Smart and consistent are a couple of Clay Tryan’s trademark calling cards. They’ve also been key to his repeated trips to the BFI winner’s circle.
“The BFI is the original roping that started it all,” Tryan said. “The BFI was a big deal to my dad, it’s a big deal to me, and when my boys get a little older, it’ll be a big deal to them. The first time I ever saw my dad tear up was the first time I won the BFI. He’d placed there, but seeing me win it causing him to cry showed the magnitude and significance of this roping. The BFI has just always been The One.
“Bob Feist was ahead of his time. Back in the day, everybody read the Ropers Sports News, and everybody talked about the BFI. The first BFI was held 44 years ago. I wasn’t even born yet. But that roping got us to where we are in team roping today. So much of what we do as professional rodeo cowboys is break-even, at best. When you win a big chunk of money at a major roping like the BFI, you can actually get ahead, and buy that next horse or put a down payment on a piece of property. The first time I won the BFI was the biggest win I’d ever had in one day. The BFI has always been a big win.”