Are you kidding me?? That’s what we all said—plenty of professional team ropers included—as we watched the 2021 Cowboy Christmas team roping tale play out. What do the master blasters who pulled off those blitzing 3-second record runs that stole the Fourth of July run stage have to say about it? We asked a few of them, and they answered.
Dustin Egusquiza and Travis Graves were the winningest team out there this Fourth. They won $30,464 a man with wins in Oakley City, Utah, and Livingston and Red Lodge, Montana. They also pocketed fat checks for placing at the rodeos in Killdeer, North Dakota; Greeley, Colorado*; and Cody, Wyoming. (*Dustin and TG tied the old 4.1-second record to split second, third and fourth at Greeley after Garrett Rogers and Jake Minor set a new one in 3.9 seconds, though the score was a little shorter there this year.)
Dustin took the lead in the world heading standings, and TG pulled within striking distance of heeling #1 Paden Bray. Oh, and their 3.3-second run in Oakley tied the world record they now co-own with Chad Masters and Jade Corkill (2009 National Finals Rodeo); Brock Hanson and Ryan Motes (Nacogdoches, Texas, 2012); Kaleb Driggers and Junior Nogueira (2017 NFR); and Clay Smith and Corkill (San Antonio 2021).
Dustin and TG’s 3.6 at Livingston also is a new arena record. Have I mentioned that when Clay and Jade were 3.3 at San Antonio earlier this year, Dustin and TG were 3.6 for second?
What? Is?? Up???
“Dustin’s starting a new era,” said TG, who’s seen all sorts of salty stuff in his 12-NFRs career. “No one’s ever seen anything like this. He’s figured out how to turn every steer extremely fast. That’s hard to do. At Oakley, he took one swing. He does it all the time, and gets the horns. He’s just unbelievable. It’s almost weird how he’s figured out how to get out of the barrier and have it on ’em so fast.
“Dustin is a heeler’s dream. It’s pretty hard to beat having steers turned for first every time. And he handles them, too. As a heeler, I’ve got to stay ready. People don’t understand just how fast he turns steers. It happens right now. Dustin’s also a great guy who’s great to be around. You can’t beat him.”
How does Dustin see it?
“I’m just trying to go as fast as I can at all times,” he said. “It’s just the way I was built, I guess. When the rodeos get really fast, like Oakley did, something goes off in my head and I can’t hang on to my rope. It’s like a reaction, where I want my rope to leave my hand as fast as possible after the chute opens.”
Egusquiza and Graves Break Cowboy Christmas Team Roping Record
And you keep a head horse working how, exactly?
“There really is no good way to do it,” Dustin said. “Once you start doing that on a horse, he knows it’s coming. The sorrel horse I’m riding now (Jack) is the same as the old sorrel horse I used to ride (Dude). When I cock my rope, he knows it’s coming fast, and he just lopes and ducks. If I hold my rope down, he stands up and gives me a little bit more. They can tell the difference after awhile.”
Smith and Corkill are constants in the today’s team roping conversation, too. On top of co-owning that world record, they just set the 3.7-second arena record at Belle Fourche, South Dakota over the Fourth to win that one by over half a second.
“It felt like a pretty decent run when we made it, but you never really know what even a good run will win anymore,” Smith said. “As fast as everything is now, it’s hard to know if a run like that will even place. All those steers were pretty strong over there at Belle Fourche, so it wasn’t like anyone drew better than everyone else. Those steers were fresh and running. That rodeo’s always been pretty good to me.
“The team roping at the rodeos has just gotten faster and faster. You always wonder how it can possibly get any tougher, then it does again. The toughest thing is when you show up now, instead of there being five or 10 teams with a good chance, there are 25. It’s kind of crazy how many teams are a threat now. You can make a good run and not win a dime. You can leave a slack somewhere winning first with one performance left, and you’re lucky to win fifth. The number of teams right now with the capability of making a winning run is amazing.”
Smith’s best advice to all you young guns?
“You can’t be afraid to miss or look stupid,” he said. “That’s just how it is if you want to win these days. When it comes to horses, it’s almost like you need one that will literally stand in there then lope and let you get a quick shot off, and another one for rodeos that are two and a short. At these places that are crazy fast, it actually takes less horsepower now than it used to.
“You either need one horse you can go fast on and another horse for the longer scores and averages, or you need a freak that can do both. That’s just how it is in the world of professional team roping today.”
Are the days of “roping smart” over?
“No run is safe,” Corkill said. “We roped little wild, fresh, black heifers at Vernal, the barrier was a foot over, we gave it all we had, and we were 4.5. Clay and I are winning it right now, but the way things are these days, we might win it and we might win nothing. We used to have an idea of what we were likely to win when we left a rodeo. Now, you basically have no clue if you’re going to win anything until a rodeo’s over.
“It’s hard to be 3—I don’t care what the conditions and cattle are—and 3.9 won fifth place at Oakley the other day. You have to make your very best run and max every steer out to stand a chance. There are a lot of no-times, but enough people are connecting to make it crazy fast. I’m trying to go as fast as I can, but in the end winning world championships is a marathon. I’m only trying to win first one time out here right now, because I want to win the race. It’s not about all the checkpoints along the way, it’s about crossing the finish line first.”