Cole Thomas of Meadville, Mississippi, is leading the Resistol Rookie Header of the Year race with $48,333, and outpacing his closest competitor by a hefty margin of $14,206.
Buoyed by an average championship at the 2022 Southeastern Circuit Finals, the 2023 Resistol Rookie Roundup and the 2023 St. Paul Rodeo, Thomas is making the most of his rookie year.
“I didn’t know how this year was going to go,” Thomas, 24, said. “I just knew I was going to go have fun with it and, if it worked, it worked; and if it didn’t, it didn’t.”
Needless to say, it’s working.
“The Resistol Rookie is the only thing I know of that you can only do once. There’s been a little bit of pressure—everywhere out here is new to me—but doing it has dang sure been great.”
Cole Thomas’ path to ProRodeo
Thomas explained that ProRodeo was always the place he wanted to rope when the time came. It became a motivator for him, reminding him that, if he improved, he could rope in the big leagues one day.
“I had a pretty normal rodeo-kid life,” Thomas said. “I grew up roping, junior rodeoed and high school rodeoed. Everything I’ve ever done has involved a horse, and I’ve always looked to get better.”
After high school, Thomas tried college on for size but it didn’t stick.
“There was always a horse to shoe and somewhere other than class to be.”
Around 2021, at 22-years-old, Thomas began getting serious about his ProRodeo plans.
“I started trying to find better horses—not ones I could just go rope on, but horses I felt like could handle the rodeo deal,” Thomas said. “I feel like timing is a big part of a rookie year. I feel like I am behind everybody at 24, but I wanted to make sure I had the horses and everything else I needed. I don’t think I was ready for this at 18.”
Circuit Finals ➡️ NFR Open ➡️ rodeo all summer?
In 2022, Thomas bought his permit and roped on the Southeastern Circuit, advancing to the Circuit Finals with high school friend Bryce Graves. The two of them knew there was no chance of catching year-end leaders Braxton and Brad Culpepper, so they went for the average title.
With a time of 16.4 seconds on three head, Thomas and Graves clinched the average championship, winning a total of $8,772 each.
“After the Circuit Finals, I was looking forward to the NFR Open, and I thought, ‘If I’m going out West for that, I may as well try to see what else I can get into while I am out there,’” Thomas explained.
And so started the winter and spring hustle. In April, Thomas and heeler Kaden Profili (who is currently leading the Resistol Rookie Heeler of the Year race) won the Resistol Rookie Roundup Championship in Fort Worth, Texas, giving both of them $3,656 in winnings.
In June, Thomas and heeler Clay Green picked up a meaningful win at the St. Paul Rodeo in Oregon with a time of 9.4 seconds on three head, worth $10,323 each.
“St. Paul was a highlight of the year because I’d grown up hearing about it,” Thomas said. “And getting to win St. Paul, it was every bit of what I expected.”
He couldn’t have done it without his horsepower, “Chino,” either—the bay he rode in the Circuit Finals, Resistol Rookie Roundup and St. Paul Rodeo.
No fancy buttons needed
Thomas purchased 12-year-old gelding Chino in 2021 from a Mississippi friend.
“He had quit roping and [Chino] was sitting in the pasture,” Thomas said. “I called him one day and asked him if he was using him, and he said no. He told me I could come and get him. He was a blessing. I got him pretty reasonable, and my roping has done really good since I’ve been riding him.”
According to Thomas, there is one thing he looks for when scouting a horse for ProRodeo: They’ve got to be “easy.”
“You need something that lets you win and stays out of your way. They need to score good, run and make it an easy run. I’ve not had a lot of fancy horses. I feel like I grew up riding what everybody didn’t want, so it’s easy for a horse to make me happy.”— Cole Thomas
The second horse in Thomas’ string is “Festus,” who he purchased right before the summer run began. While Thomas says the two horses are pretty equal across different setups, he finds himself riding Chino on shorter score and Festus on longer ones.
Next up for Thomas is the Horse Heaven Roundup Rodeo in Kennewick, Washington, and the Golden Spike Rodeo in Tremonton, Utah.