Rainbows and unicorns all season it was not. But, thanks to keeping a positive outlook and solid, consistent roping, Braxton and Brad Culpepper were able to persevere and take the year-end championships for the Southeastern Circuit at the conclusion of the 2022 RAM Southeastern Circuit Finals Rodeo, held Nov. 11–13, 2022, in Davie, Florida.
Of course, Brad Culpepper’s name already appears across the record books for the Southeastern Circuit and in ProRodeo, overall. On the national scene, Brad is a veteran of seven National Finals Rodeos and won back-to-back average championships in Las Vegas in 1998 and 1999 while roping with Jimmy Tanner—the only team to accomplish the repeat since Reg and Leo Camarillo went three-for-three in 1969–71.
In his home circuit, Brad already shared the record for most year-end championships with former partner Tanner at six each. The 2022 title broke the tie, giving Brad his seventh championship, more than any other team roper competing in the rodeos from Louisiana to Florida and north to Tennessee.
Brad also extended his record for the longest span between first and last circuit titles. After earning his first title in 1994 with Speed Williams, he grabbed the record mark with his sixth circuit championship in 2017 with Keven Daniel at 24 years. The most recent title extended that by five years.
For the younger Culpepper, 2022 marked a breakout season in his budding ProRodeo career.
“It’s pretty cool,” said Braxton, 21, the circuit’s Rookie of the Year in 2021. “I made the circuit finals last year and I think we were third going into it. I didn’t rope very good, so I was definitely wanting to redeem myself.”
Growing up the son of a legend, Braxton doesn’t remember a time that he didn’t plan to follow in his famous father’s footsteps.
“I always planned or wanted roping to be my job,” Braxton said. “In high school, I veered off a little, played sports like basketball, so we slowed down some, but we still went rodeoing on the weekends.”
The “slow-down,” however, had minimal impact on his roping.
“I’ve always practiced a lot,” he said, laughing.
Braxton and Brad kicked off their championship season with early rodeos in the fall of 2021 and went on a run, placing at the first five events to bank more than $3,000. The winnings from those rodeos allowed them the chance to compete at RodeoHouston.
“I remember going to watch Daddy rope there when I was a kid,” Braxton explained. “That was definitely a highlight for me to get to rope there for the first time.”
With the bulk of the Southeastern Circuit rodeos happening in the winter, it’s important to get off the blocks quickly and stay hot early, which the Culpeppers were able to do. They won rodeos in West Monroe, Louisiana; Magnolia, Arkansas; Andalusia, Alabama; and Attica, New York, amongst others.
“We had a big weekend where we placed at both Arcadia and Okeechobee,” Braxton noted of the Florida rodeos held in March. “Arcadia has quite a bit of money added. It’s one of our biggest rodeos, so it’s a big deal for our circuit.”
The Culpeppers were clicking along and had the lead by the Fourth of July. But adversity struck while the team was in Kansas for a co-sanctioned rodeo in August.
“We were in Mound City,” Braxton started. “We’d roped the night before and were winning the rodeo. The cops knocked on the door to our trailer early the next morning. Our horses had been in electric, portable pens and they got out and got in the road.”
The team’s best horses—Red Brick, Braxton’s head horse, and Belle, Brad’s heel horse—were killed when they were hit by a pickup in the early morning hours.
“That set us back,” Braxton said.
The team carried forward riding younger, more green horses.
“We spent the last two months trying to get these young ones more seasoned and ready for the finals rodeos.”
“They ended up doing good for us and I’m so proud of them for that,” he continued. “It was a rough deal.”
Still, the Culpeppers went into the Southeastern Circuit Finals Rodeo with a sizable lead and clinched the title after the second go in Davie.
“The first round we were one hole out, but we came back and were second in the second round,” Braxton noted.
They went 5.8 and 5.6 on the first two in a tough roping.
“They announced we won it before we roped the last day.”
The team roped their final steer in 10.7 seconds, landing fourth in the average for winnings of $2,820. For the year, they finished with $27,719 each.
With the whole family in tow, including Braxton’s mom Misty, and younger sisters Tresley and Doni, as well as his girlfriend Marley Gunter, Braxton was thrilled to get his first title.
“It’s kinda cool getting to do it with my dad, I’ve been wanting to do that for a while.”
Braxton appreciates the advantage of roping with a veteran in more ways than one.
“It works good, I don’t have to worry about anything,” he joked, adding that practice is easy when they wake up in the same place most days. “He handles all the entering and that makes it easier on me. One day when we aren’t roping together, it’s going to be hard for me.”
The elder Culpepper also insists on doing the lion’s share of driving.
“He’d rather drive, so that’s easy on me too!”
The team will next turn their sites to the International Finals Rodeo in January, where they are leading the world standings. Brad is the 2008 IPRA World Champion Heeler and the team hopes to win a title together.
Thanks to their circuit titles, the team has also earned a position in the NFR Open, the circuit system’s national championship event held in July with Pikes Peak or Bust in Colorado Springs, Colorado. With only the circuit finals rodeo winners and year-end champs invited to compete, plus a huge payout, the NFR Open is one of ProRodeo’s most prestigious events.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Braxton said. “I’ve always wanted to go. It’s a stepping stone to one day maybe go to the NFR.”
Braxton has that rodeo on his long-term goals.
“It might take a few more years to get our horses lined up and everything,” he said. “But I feel like I have an advantage over other guys my age because of my dad. I sure enough have someone to show me the ropes.”
For now, Braxton is savoring the super season and the chance at two more finals and two more year-end titles at the IFR and the Professional Cowboys Association Finals.
“It was a pretty good year,” he said.