Brett Fleming wasn't taking any chances. Even though the cushion was large enough to sleep on, this was no time to nap.
Fleming already felt like Gumby, watching his lead shrink and expand with every throw of a rope. So when Chance Bernall went a long 28.73 seconds on his calf, Fleming steadied himself in the box with a simple game plan.
"I saw Chance's run,'' said the 32-year-old Fleming. "I just wanted to make sure I did everything right. Not hurry and not make any dumb mistakes because I was in a hurry."
Fleming had plenty of room for a bobble. The last tie-down roper out, Fleming now carried a lead of 17.56 seconds, which was a vast amount of time to work with considering he was 9.8 and 9.82 seconds his first two runs.
"I didn't want to go crazy,'' he reiterated. "Just make it clean and make sure the calf is tied down."
Fleming did as planned, putting his calf down in 10.7 seconds and in the process, becoming Montana's Ultimate Roper for 2008. Along with the coveted title, Fleming was awarded a $1,000 hand-crafted buckle. He also pocketed more than $3,000.
The event, which featured top cowboys from Montana and the region, was held May 30-31 at the Bill and Anita Jones Equestrian Center, which is part of the sprawling Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch for troubled youth in Billings. The Montana's Ultimate Roper competition capped off a two-day Roper's Rally.
The Montana Ultimate Roper event has cowboys heading, heeling and tie-down roping. After two full go-rounds of competition, the top 10 advance to the championship round.
This year's top 10 included defending champion Matt Robertson of Augusta, Mont., who was the PRCA team roping heeler rookie of the year and Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifier in 2001, along with Beau Franzen, a former NFR qualifier in steer wrestling. Franzen is currently among the top five in the world steer wrestling standings. Also among the top 10 were Cody Tew, who won the national intercollegiate team roping title in 2007 with Robertson and Delon Parker, who qualified for the Canadian Finals Rodeo last year in team roping.
The event is the brainchild of Jeannie and Bill Benson, of Laurel, Mont., both with deep rodeo roots. Bill Benson is a regional roper, while Jeannie Benson is the editor of a regional rodeo publication.
"We want to keep this to Montana and area ropers," said Jeannie Benson. "Bill was watching the 'World's Greatest Roper' event from Guthrie (Okla.) and said we should have something like this. We've just tweaked it a little bit to fit what we need. We're trying to grow this through word of mouth."
Fleming placed second overall in the first two rounds and entered the championship round with a healthy lead of 11.58 seconds overall Bernall.
That evaporated quickly when Fleming and partner Sid Sporer went 21.29 in the first round of team roping. Fleming's lead was down to 5.14 seconds.
"I had a really good steer, I just let him get out too far," said Fleming, who lives in Worden, Mont., and works as a welder and trains horses. "I made it (the title chase) closer than it needed to be. With events like this, you need to keep your concentration. You can't let one bad event bother you. You just have to go back to the box and go on to the next one."
Fleming tapped some family ties when it was his turn heeling.
"I asked my dad," said Fleming with a big smile about having his father Phillip to turn the steers for him. "I know that put a little pressure on him…but I didn't have to ask him too hard."
The Flemings responded with a time of 6.74 seconds. "To do that with my dad, that makes it pretty special," Fleming said.
Fleming came right back with his title tie-down roping run. A three-time Montana Pro Rodeo Circuit tie-down roping champion, he had no problems with his final loop of the day.
"To win this means a lot," said Fleming, who is also a former Montana Pro Rodeo Circuit all-around champion. "This is a great event, with guys doing all three events. With something like this, you have to be fairly good at all three. I'll be here next year."