While the Junior NFR in Las Vegas is a clean-slate final, the four young men profiled on these next pages are the ones who came out on top for the regular season—no small feat considering all that each roper and their families dedicated to chasing their gold-buckle dreams.
At just 14 years old, Calvin Taylor not only led the Open heading standings against high-school seniors, but is the highest-ranking qualifier switching ends at the FinalsÑand is the best-spoken of all the standings leaders.
The kid from El Paso will head for Sterlin English in the Open, a year after the pair placed at the 2017 Junior NFR. As of October, Taylor hadn’t yet decided who he’d heel for in the #10. But he said if his little brother Callahan happened to get qualified at the last minute, he planned to team with him. Callahan is 7. That’s right, 7 years old.
“He’s been spinning them for me,” said Calvin. “They just moved him to a 4. I wasn’t a 4 until I was 9!”
Actually, Calvin has grown 4 inches in the past year and improved from his 5/4.5 classifications to his current 6.5/straight-6.
“He was always kind of small, so we never let him get into the reaching and ducking yet,” said his dad, Calvin Sr. “If you’re not strong enough to be as fast as the big boys, you can beat them with consistency.”
“Little Calvin” has done just that aboard his two head horses (one for short setups and one for long scores) and two heel horses. His number-one head horse is likely Roany, a super-fast gelding that came off a ranch in Chihuahua, Mexico.
The Taylors live just 150 yards from the Rio Grande, about 15 miles outside El Paso.
“El Paso is a neat town,” Calvin said. “Folmers moved away before I got going, but Bode Baize taught me a lot. He comes over and ropes with us almost every day, and his dad, Wayne, has helped with my roping a bunch. He’s always coached me, and I’ve gotten horses from him that were really good.”
Calvin decided in 2018 to chase his Junior NFR dreams over competing at junior-high rodeos. Plus, Calvin Sr., is a World Series roping producer.
“I’m a jackpotter at heart,” said Little Calvin. “I do amateur-rodeo a pretty good amount, but I like jackpotting and grew up going to all the jackpots around town. I like going to World Series ropings, like the #14 and the USTRC Finals.”
He’s always been home-schooled, receiving instruction from his mom and his auntÑand getting plenty of roping tips from Calvin Sr. and John English.
“Mr. John hauled me this summer to Reno and a bunch of other ropings,” Calvin said. “He made it happen for me this year.”
There are seven Taylor kids, of which Calvin is the fourth. They board horses and raise corrientes, and so does Calvin’s sister’s family. So, the extended family has 200Ð300 fresh steers available at any given moment. They practice about four times a week, saddling eight to 12 head of horses each time.
In Las Vegas, the Junior NFR won’t be the only stop for Calvin Taylor. He’ll head for his dad in the #14 at the Finale.
Kayden Little, 17, has had a bittersweet season of team roping. He racked up literally double the points of any other Open heeler at qualifying events this season to lead the standings into the Junior NFR. However, he won’t be able to rope there.
The high school senior from Tatum, New Mexico, has ropedÑand played footballÑfor two years now with a torn ligament in his shoulder that happened during an ill-fated tackle. Surgery became inevitable and, as it turns out, his surgeon is only available during this year’s Junior NFR.
But at this age, the city kid with no arena is classified as a 9-heeler, so it’s easy to see a lot more success coming down the road.
“It’s a fun rodeo,” said Little, who went to Las Vegas last year and won the Junior NFR world championship in the 15-and-under division with Luke Williams.
The pair earned a boatload of cash and Little took home a saddle, buckle, and ton of other prizes, not to mention a trip to the American Semi-Finals (which he wasn’t able to attend).
“This year, I rope with Korbin Rice everywhere we can,” Little said of his favorite partner from Hobbs, New Mexico. “We’re sitting first in the high school rodeo region in Texas right now.”
The two were actually winning #12 ropings in the USTRC almost two years ago. And last year, Little heeled his way to the reserve NHSFR team roping championships in Rock Springs, Wyoming, with Maddy Deerman.
“I practice every opportunity I can get,” said Little, who tries to learn something from all of the professional heelers he watches, but especially from three-time world champ Jade Corkill.
All season, Little’s family members traveled to ropings to support himÑeven his grandmaÑdespite the fact that he’s the only one in his family who ropes. His dad grew up roping, and is now a school superintendent. Little’s mom is an occupational therapist and, while his little brother knows how to rope, he doesn’t do it much.
“He’s more talented at it than I am,” Kayden said.
As a kid, Little began riding every morning and started team roping at Taylor Pettigrew’s local ranch. He credits his 2018 success to “really good headers” and “really good horses” and said his mental strategy at ropings is to stay consistent throughout the day, knowing he has lots of opportunities.
“I try to have a short memory and move on to the next one if I miss one,” he said. “I learn from each mistake what to do differently, and try not to hold onto it.”
Little goes to high school via online classes, but is also getting dual credit with a local junior college, which requires a few hours at a high school lab. He’ll graduate in the spring.
“I’m just going to work hard and see what God has in store for me,” Little said.
“I don’t think I can turn pro yet,” he added. “Maybe one day if I get good enough. I’ve still got a lot of work to do. I’ve got to get horses and rigs and you have to have a headerÑthere’s a lot of stuff that goes into it.”
No heeler roped better at the Junior NFR #10 qualifying events than New Mexico’s John Hisel. That fact is a fitting tribute to late NFR average champ Rickey Green, whose schools Hisel attended in his formative years. Hisel led the standings this fall and is competing in his first Junior NFR this month in both the Open and the #10.
The 15-year-old began roping when he was 8 with the help of his dad, Glenn, and with tutelage from several other cowboys around his hometown of Clovis. The kid was only a 4.5 when the year started. He improved so fast and so much that, one by one, he jumped numbers and had to find new partners frequently to match with his handicap, which is now a 6.5.
“He’s just got a knack for it,” said his father. “He always has. We neighbor with the Goods; Charles was a world champion steer roper and his son, Gary, is a great roper. John would be out there roping and Charles would say, ‘That kid can handle a rope.’ He just has a knack.”
He also has good teeth. While the Hisels have a ranch outside Clovis, Glenn is also a dentist and John’s mom is a dental hygienist. Three of the four Hisel kids rope, and John being the baby means he’s had sibling support, too.
Luke and Catherine Hisel both rodeo for Eastern New Mexico State University, so they have headed a lot of steers for young John (Luke is also roping in Las Vegas in Finale XIII). The youngest Hisel began dallying when he was about 10, learning first with a breakaway on his head rope, then graduating to dallying on a Hot Heels as his dad pulled it forward. His love for heeling, however, made him switch ends, and stealing his dad’s heel horse sealed the switch.
Hisel, who said he most wants to emulate pro heeler Joseph Harrison, will heel for Braxton Hughes in the Open Junior NFR, and hadn’t decided on a partner in the #10 at press time. He was ranked in the top five of the Open heeling standings, as well, this fall.
“I’ve been working hard at being consistent in my roping,” said John, whose best horse he calls Frosty. “I’m constantly working on the same thing over and over again until I perfect it.”
Remarkably, his love of heeling was not affected when he lost the tip of his thumb as a 12-year-old.
“It never really spooked me,” he said matter-of-factly.
Hisel hadn’t even known he’d lost the end of the digit when it happened during a practice session, because it didn’t bleed much and was sliced clean off just past the first joint, instead of smashed.
“My sister found it in the arena and they put it on ice and took it to the hospital, but there was no chance of connecting it,” he recalled.
Hisel heels for Tarren Washburn from Corona, New Mexico, at the high school rodeos, but is a tried-and-true jackpot fan because he gets more runs and wins more money in those environments. Hisel’s rapid climb up the classification number ladder won’t slow down soon.
“I want to become a high-numbered heeler,” he said, “and get a good scholarship to college, so I can get an actual job when I get older; maybe become an agriculture lawyer.”
JoJo LeMond, isn’t a bad one to be in the box with for a kid who’s nodding his head at his first Junior NFR.
Caden Tinsley, 15, of Midland, Texas, has one brother in a family that always had horses, but when he started wanting to team rope, it helped that his dad was friends with Bret Beach. That’s who taught Tinsley to catch steers before he began working weekly with LeMond.
“Bret gave him a really good foundation,” said Caden’s dad, Jason Tinsley. “He lives in Boerne and JoJo lives in Andrews, so those two guys have helped him regularly. JoJo has taught him a lot at both ends, and about horsemanship and how to ride his horse.”
In LeMond’s million-dollar career, he’s nodded his own head over at the Thomas and Mack Center four times between 2008 and 2015, turning steers for the likes of world champs Cory Petska and Randon AdamsÑand placing in eight rounds with Junior Nogueira the year he stepped in for Jake Barnes. LeMond has also roped at the National Finals Steer Roping four times in the past five years, and was the reserve world champ last year.
About a year ago, Caden began riding a chestnut horse they call Little D that came from LeMond. And as soon as he began getting into team roping, Jason built an arena at the house, with some design help from LeMond.
“I grew up poor and this is an expensive sport,” Jason said. “To be able to give these boys a better life and get these boys where they need to be is great.”
Caden will rope horns in Las Vegas in both the Open and the #10 division, the standings of which he was leading last fall. He got a taste of the Junior NFR two years ago when he was in Las Vegas to watch the inaugural event.
“I always wanted to make it,” said Tinsley, a 5 header and 4.5 heeler who is home-schooled. “This year, I wanted to go in to the Junior NFR as number one, and win the world.”
Tinsley often ropes with Calvin Taylor, his high school rodeo partner, but in Las Vegas he will team with Tate Thompson in the #10 and Cash Duty in the Open. However, before that happens, he’ll back in with his mentor over at the South Point Hotel and Casino.
“Me and JoJo will rope in the #14 at the World Series of Team Roping Finale XIII,” Caden said. “I want to win that one, and win the #10 Junior NFR.”
Caden’s life plan is to take the reins alongside his brother of TDR Oilfield ServiceÑhis dad’s company.
“What I tell Caden is that roping is a hobby,” Jason said. “You’ve got to be financially stable to do that hobby. You make a living first and rope second.”