Derrick Begay isn't just riding for his home state of Arizona when he buzzes into the Thomas & Mack each night behind the Grand Canyon State's flag each night of the 2018 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
What might go relatively unnoticed to television viewers and fans even in the best seats in the house is the fully-tooled, well-worn custom Ty Barton Saddle he's riding and the spade bit and romal reins on the bucking horse turned pickup and using horse he's on.
"Somebody's got to honor the working cowboys at home that nobody knows about, because they're just working every day," Begay said. "I'm not saying it's a dying heritage or profession. But kids look up to guys like me at home all the time for their saddles and their clothes and their horses, but most of the time it's the rodeo kids and the rodeo horses. But there are the cowboy kids, too."
Begay, who usually spends every chance he gets day working in the Arizona desert, chose each piece of gear to pay homage to the super punchers whom he looks up to and aspires to be like across the country.
Of all the horses in his herd and prospects that might need seasoned, Begay opted for Robert, the horse he picks up on at Professional Bull Rider (PBR) events and Indian rodeos.
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"He came from a man named Milo DeWitt," Begay said of the 12 or 13 year old grade gelding. "Milo's a true cowboy. He raises bucking horses and raises some saddle horses and trains a lot of horses and run some cows—like a real deal cowboy. He's a big-footed, feathery-legged kind of bigger horse. He's got a big, pretty, bald face on him. He's cowboy pretty, not show-horse pretty. He let me ride the horse for a little bit, let me pick up broncs on him, rope bulls on him and let me borrow him for the PBR Finals for a couple years. One day I asked if I could buy the horse, and he said he wouldn't sell him yet. I would borrow him still, and just a couple months ago, when I got done rodeoing, I was visiting with him, and I asked if he still had that horse. He said yeah, and I asked if he wanted to sell him yet. He said no, but then he called me back five minutes later and said yeah he'd sell him. I told him I'd buy him, but for the right price. He gave me a really good deal on the horse, so I ended up buying him."
The horse reflects the big-boned, big-footed nature of the horses it takes to work in the rough country Begay grew up in, and that helped in his selection for the NFR stage. Plus, Team Arizona runs into the Thomas & Mack early into the Grand Entry, meaning their horses get to go full-steam around the arena, so Begay knew he needed a horse that wouldn't get on the muscle by the rodeo's later rounds. Robert has been through the smoke and lights at the PBRs with Begay, so the excitement wouldn't rattle him.
On Robert's back is Begay's Ty Barton saddle, with its full-tooling, originally made for Begay's friend Joe Hall. Hall cowboyed for a living, and took great pride in his unique Barton saddle with a tree built by Keith Gurch out of Utah.
"Joe Hall, he designed that tree and everything," Barton said. "He had me make it with a 4-inch cantle, kind of narrow, with big swells like 15 inches wide."
But Hall passed away, and Barton got the saddle back. A few weeks ago, he called Begay and asked if he'd like to buy it. When Begay wins something this week, he'll be able to officially call the saddle his own.
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Begay didn't want to just honor the Arizona working cowboys, though. As he got ready to ride into the Grand Entry the first night, he spotted Utah's NFR pickup man Matt Twitchell on his horse in a spade bit and romal reins, and thought the setup would fit with his theme, too.
"Cowboys all over the country have their own culture, their own ways of doing things and things they wear and things they like," Begay said. "And it means something to me. And I wanted to show that every night, because I'm just a rodeo cowboy. But I want to tell show that I am with those guys and I admire them."