In the old days, the top team ropers, or wolves, would show up at local jackpots and take all the natives’ money. In some ways, that was the genesis of the United States Team Roping Association. Denny Gentry had the idea to handicap ropers so equally talented ropers would compete against each other.
The concept worked so well and the sport of team roping boomed so significantly, the tables have now turned.
Now, when the road warriors show up for a professional rodeo in any given city, the locals who come out of the woodwork to rope are every bit as tough as the guys going up and down the road.
For every team roper who makes the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo each December, there are probably a half dozen others who rope nearly as well. What separates the NFR qualifiers from the rest can be one of a number of factors: horsepower, seed money and desire to be on the road chief among them.
Clay White and John Chaves are the perfect examples. Neither man has ever qualified for more than the California Circuit Finals, they rarely cross state lines to enter a roping, heck, Chaves wasn’t even planning on buying his PRCA card, so his wife had to do it on the sly.
But nonetheless, the duo stepped up to win the Redding (Calif.) Rodeo—a Silver Tour Stop on the Wrangler Million Dollar Tour—by roping two steers in 12.1 seconds. The win was worth $4,296 per man, more than either had ever won at a ProRodeo.
White runs a large barley and cattle operation in Shandon, Calif., while Chaves takes care of his family’s cattle interests near Los Alamos, Calif.
“That’s all we rope, is right around here, just in the circuit,” White said. “We’ve got jobs and whatnot, we’re not doing it for a living, so we can’t venture too far out.” White had plans to rope in the circuit for the 2010 season, but couldn’t find a partner. It just so happened that his wife, Melanie, and Chaves’s wife, Marcey, were friends who had gone to college together at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. When Marcey found out Clay was looking for a partner, she went to work.
“Clay had been after me to rope for a year but my good horse was lame and I had another one that I had just got and I didn’t really know much about him. I wasn’t wanting to go on something unproven, but I came home one day and she told me she bought my card, so I just said, ‘Alright, whatever.’”
Out of that indifference, the partnership was born.
“John could make the Finals anytime he wanted to if he wanted to go, he just hates to travel,” said lifelong friend Luke Branquinho. “You can’t fault a guy for that. He ropes as good as anybody in my opinion. Clay White’s the same deal. He ropes good, but he’s got a big farm and he can’t afford to be gone. But they both rope plenty good enough to make it, just different lifestyles.”
First they entered Red Bluff and several other California rodeos with no success. Then, in Redding, things came together. The steers—the same ones used in Clovis (June 2010 SWR)—were fresh. The roping was a drawing contest, but as is the case in any rodeo event, you may draw the best animal in the pen, but you’ve still got to capitalize.
“The first round, we had a pretty decent steer and used him, thank goodness,” White said. “We were the last team out in slack and the round was still soft, in my opinion, looking at all the teams entered. So we just decided to be aggressive, but don’t hurry. I roped him around the neck. He had a little smaller horns, so I went for the neck. There’s no way to wave it off, let’s put it that way, and it worked out well for us.“
Their 5.7-second run placed them second in the first round.
In the second round, the duo didn’t do as well in the drawing contest.
“He wasn’t one of the faster ones, but he was wild on the end of the rope,” Chaves said of their second-round steer. “He kicked my horse a little bit. I took an extra swing to let him line out. The Minors had him and he wasn’t that good in the first round. He took some big old wild lunges around the corner.”
From the header’s perspective it was just as wild.
“Our second one was so fresh, he set back a little bit, acted like a muley, bellowed a little bit, kicked (John’s) horse and then shot out from under him. My guy likes them out in front of him, so I just tried to keep him out in front.”
Chaves shut the clock off in 6.4 seconds, good enough to place the team fourth in the round.
“We just really got up there and outdrew everyone,” Chaves said. “There were probably four or five teams that could have moved us, but lucky for us they might have stubbed their toe or something.” But that’s how teams win in ProRodeo. For White, the one stumbling block he faced for going down the road was always his horsepower. He just bought a new horse, however, from Chad Masters, who coincidentally finished second with Jade Corkill behind White and Chaves.
“A horse I got from Chad Masters is what I rode to win Redding,” White said. “I just bought him. He scores outstanding, for me that is the kicker. He really gets a hold of cattle a lot faster than my older horse does. That seems to help things out quite a bit.”
Chaves, too, was riding a new mount.
“I used this new one that I bought from a guy named Sonny Smith last year,” he said. “I just got to roping on him and he’s pretty good. His name is Sonny. He’s an 11-year-old gelding. I knew he was good, but I haven’t had him long enough to get with him. I didn’t want to go up there and rope against those guys on something that might or might not work. But it worked out and he’s really nice.”
The season is still young, so did a win at a Tour Rodeo change the team’s plan?
“I love roping and everything, I just hate being in the car,” Chaves said. “If I can go somewhere, like Redding, and get out and stay a few days, it’s not so bad. But to travel 20 hours to rope one steer is not for me.”
“We were thinking about skipping Reno,” White added, “But since it’s a Tour rodeo, we’ll probably go there and Salinas.”
But with that win and a little money from Reno and Salinas, there’s a slim chance that the duo could be in line for the Justin Boots Playoffs in Puyallup and, eventually, Omaha.
“There are plenty of guys out there that rope a lot better than we do and go a lot harder, but it’s always in the back of your mind,” White said.
Chaves added, “If we do end up qualifying for that, we’ll dang sure be there. If that happens, great, if not, that’s just the way it goes. But to be able to beat that caliber of ropers is something we practice for every day. I love it, it’s awesome.”
At the other end of the arena, Steven Dent won the bareback riding aboard Growney Brother’s Moulin Rouge for 84 points. The win was worth $5,045 and kept him a solid third in the world standings. The 2007 Saddle Bronc Riding World Champion, Taos Muncy, spurred Big Stone Rodeo’s Hombre for 85 points to win $4,104 in his signature event, while bull rider Cole Echols was 92 points on Growney Brothers’ Touch of Class to add $4,532 to his world standings total.
Lubbock, Texas, barrel racer Benette Barrington won the first round and placed seventh in the second en route to an average-winning time of 35.16 seconds on two runs. She won $3,207. California cowboy Russell Cardoza won the all-around title in Redding after amassing $4,237 team roping and tie-downroping.