Next time you’re thinking about digging deeper into that bottomless rope bag of excuses, you really should shake Bubba Buckaloo’s hand first. Perhaps he’s honest in part because he couldn’t take a five-finger discount if we wanted to. Giving you a high five isn’t an option, either. Buckaloo lost his thumb not once, but twice as a young boy. But he’s never let the loss on his roping hand handicap him. In 2018, he roped at his first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo with Chase Tryan. After last night’s win at The American Semi-Finals in Fort Worth, Bubba and Tanner Braden will take on the team roping field and take their shot at $1 million when RFD-TV’s The American opens tonight at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
“I lost my thumb when I was 11 years old, and they put it back on,” said Bubba, who was 9.83 on two with Braden at Cowtown Coliseum for $2,569 a man. “Then I lost it again when I was 15, and they just left it off. I cut it off heeling both times. I’ll never know if I could have been better with a thumb. Roping without it is all I’ve ever known.”
Buckaloo holds that extra-soft Rattler Triton between his index and middle fingers.
“I started roping like that when I was 11,” said Bubba, who lives in Kingston, Oklahoma, with his wife, Josie. “When they put my thumb back on the first time, I couldn’t feel it. So I started holding it there between those two fingers. I heeled with it like that, then headed like that, too. When I was young, I roped both ends. My good friend Mike Bacon cut his thumb off before I did, and figured out how to hold his rope that way. He’s who showed me, and I’ve held my rope like that ever since.”
Buckaloo hasn’t just switched ends in his roping career—he’s switched ends with Braden.
“Tanner and I have been good friends forever,” Bubba said. “We high school rodeoed together. We didn’t rope together when we were younger, because he was a header, too, at that time. Actually, when we were really young and jackpotting together, Tanner headed for me. It’s pretty special to step onto this big stage at The American with such a good friend.”
There will be another Old Faithful in the mix on their team tonight. Buckaloo’s gray horse Silver, who’s 16 now, has been beneath him on every big stage of his career. When Bubba and Chase were 3.6 in Round 8 at the 2018 NFR, Silver made the run and took the victory lap. He was also Buckaloo’s four-footed partner the first time he made The American, in 2019 with Tryan.
“I ride Silver everywhere big,” Bubba said. “He’s one of the few horses that’s good in every situation. He’s really fast across the line. This is my fifth year riding him. I’ve ridden him so long that I know everything about him, and he really fits me.”
After roping with Joseph Harrison then Tryan in 2018, Buckaloo finished fifth in the world that year. He roped with Hunter Koch and Shay Carroll in 2019, and Bubba ended up 19th. Buckaloo roped with Cole Davison last year, and they stayed out on the rocky 2020 rodeo trail until after Dodge City in August.
He’s back in 2021. And Bubba knows how to shine when the spotlight’s hot. Tonight’s the night Buckaloo and Braden tackle step one in their $1 million quest at The American.
“Getting to rope at The American is a big deal,” Bubba said. “I’ve been broke my whole life, so a chance at that much money could be life changing. I’d dang sure like to win a piece of that million.”
Hi-Ho Silver, Away!