When Chris Francis and Cade Passig won the Bob Feist Invitational in 2018, roping fans across the country wondered what would happen if these two New Mexico boys ever gave rodeoing a shot.
A year later, fans will get their answer. Francis and Passig plan to go to as many ProRodeos as they can in 2019, armed with a team of horses and plans to fly back and forth to produce their World Series of Team Roping qualifiers through Mathews Land and Cattle.
"I have the utmost respect for all of the guys who make it, so I don't want anyone to think I'm sitting back running my mouth thinking I can do it," Francis said. "I'm just excited to get to go all year. I don't want to put too much pressure that this is my only chance. But our plan is definitely to go as much as we can."
"I try not to think about it too much," Passig added, talking over lunch in Lufkin, Texas. "There have been a few people who root for us and tell us that if we try it, we'll make it. It's time to put our money where our mouth is."
Coming off a small victory at the Jesse Andrus & Mike Hillman Memorial Rodeo in Roswell, New Mexico, where they roped their steer in 8.3 seconds, worth $922 a man, Francis and Passig are currently hitting the Texas Circuit rodeos of Corpus Christi, Lufkin and Jourdanton. They won sixth in the second round at Corpus Christi, worth $325, and get to run another at Lufkin tonight with a chance at average money there. They're outside the top 50 in the world at this point, with that last $325 from Corpus putting them with just over $7,000 won on the year. Aside from Roswell and Corpus, the rest of their winnings came from Prescott Valley, Arizona's Turquoise Circuit Finals, worth $6,059.67 a man. They've officialed 11 rodeos so far in 2019.
From here, the duo doesn't have a set plan or entering strategy yet, Francis said, and they still need to enlist the help of some experienced rodeo cowboys to figure out where they're going to enter and how they'll get there.
"I don't know enough to just say this is where we're going," Francis said. "I need to sit down with someone who has been out there. I'm not going to sit here and tell you I know. At this point, I don't have any idea who we'll even buddy with."
While strategy might still be up in the air, horse situation is relatively set for both men. The blue roan named Doc Holliday, on which Passig won the Feist, is out with a torn deep flexor tendon, but he's got a grade bay mare—14-year-old JWow—he's ridden at all of the rodeos this year and a dun gelding to jackpot on.
"This dun might be the best heel horse I've ever rode," Passig said of the 10-year-old he calls Player, registered as Sunsational Player by Playinwithafulldeck out of the Mr Sun Olena mare Peppys Sunsational. "He's not quite ready to rodeo on, but I'm going to jackpot on him and maybe ride him at a few rodeos with longer scores this summer. I rode him at the Cervi (where he and Francis won fourth), and I rode him at jackpots all year. He came from a kid in New Mexico named Hadlee Oder, and he just did a great job. He's 16, from Elida, New Mexico, and he's a cowboy. He ropes good and is just a great kid. He works at the ropings keeping the arena clear."
Francis' good one—13-year-old Dude—is down and out at the moment thanks to a broncy episode at home this month. But because of Canyon, Texas-based friend Rodey Wilson, he's not afoot.
"The other day I saddled Dude, and he broke in two," Francis said. "I thought 'heck, where can he really go?' He showed me. Right through the fence. Kenna is home doctoring him, and he'll be ready to go in a couple weeks. So I bought one a week ago from Rodey. It was either turn out or take a green horse, and now I've won something on him everywhere I've taken him."
The new horse—one Francis calls Pepto—no-saled at The Horse Sale at Rancho Rio in March, and Wilson had told Francis the horse, who Wilson ranch-rodeoed on and won a WRCA world title aboard, wouldn't run enough for his liking. But Francis kept after Wilson about the horse. Francis had a 70-year-old friend try the horse, and told that friend he thought the man needed him.
"That man called me and said, 'No, I think you need him,'" Francis said of the sorrel gelding named Boonsmal CD Olena by Boonsmal Cee Lena out of the CD Olena mare Little Belly Button. "So I tried him, and he bucked on the first three runs I made. But I made some changes, and I really liked him. Kent Youngblood helped me buy him. He's 10 years old, and Rodey has had him since he was 3. Rodey is one of the best hands with a horse and rope. He's an all-around good cowboy. I've always wanted to ride one of his, but there was always some little thing about each horse I didn't need. But I needed this one. He's not just eat up with speed, but he's a good horse."
Passig is looking forward to the rodeos in the Northwest like Ellensburg and Pendleton, and NFR or not, this fall is going to be a good one for the 24-year-old, who will marry fiancé Kersti Davis in October.
Francis' wife Kenna—one of the ropiest women going in her own right—will keep the home fires burning and stay home to help keep all of their ropings rolling, but will make it out on the road when she can.
"I'm pretty picky about the ropings," Francis, 41, said. "It's hard for me to trust anybody. Nobody will ever do it the way you want. So there will be rodeos Kenna will have to miss."
Francis guessed they'll be juggling 10 to 12 Mathews Land and Cattle World Series of Team Roping qualifiers with their rodeo schedule "and that's including the one in Vegas in December," Francis said. TRJ