The year-end title marks Van Aken’s fifth and Teller’s third. Compared to the prior year-end titles, the win didn’t come easily.
“If you’d have told us this year that we had a chance on Aug. 10, we would’ve laughed at you,” Van Aken, 31, said. “You have to do your job all the time and win, staying with your run.”
The championship also marks the second year-end title together for the team that’s roped on and off since 2015. In those years, they’ve developed a pretty solid recipe for success.
“A great partner, great horses and just catching,” Teller, 32, said. “Actually, this year we did really good at Cheyenne, so that helps when you can get a big check at the biggest circuit rodeo. So that dang sure helped us this year.”
A year unlike the others
Before the 2023 Cheyenne Frontier Days in July, Van Aken and Teller sat at the lower end of the circuit standings with just over $4,000 won.
“We didn’t catch very many there at the beginning,” Teller admits. “I wasn’t roping very good, and I’d missed a couple, and he’d miss a couple. Once we got that hit at Cheyenne, things kind of clicked and we started winning. It felt good again. We overcame some adversity it seemed like this year.”
They cashed in $8,100 at the Daddy of ‘Em All to give them the boost and momentum they needed to change their year around.
“We’ve roped good together and we’ve won good together—we just had to get out of each other’s way and kind of have some fun,” Van Aken said. “Just kind of believe that we can rope good enough.”
Their past accomplishments prove that they’re good enough, and they work at it to keep that true.
“We live somewhat close to each other, so we practice, and it makes traveling a little easier,” Teller said. “He’s a great guy and takes care of business. Our chemistry’s good and, every time we’ve roped, we seem to find success in it for sure.”
Van Aken and Teller entered the circuit finals second in the standings by just under $1,000. While they didn’t totally finish the circuit finals as they hoped, they both took home $3,877 to secure the circuit title.
“We placed in the first two rounds, and then we had a little bit of tough luck on our third one, but it was good,” Van Aken said. “It was really good for us.”
Van Aken switched between his sorrel mare, Esperanza, and his main mount, JB, a buckskin gelding.
“I bought him from a good friend of mine as a 5-year-old,” Van Aken said. “He hadn’t ever really headed on him or anything. He is 8 now, and he’s pretty good. He makes it pretty easy; he’s a pretty nice horse.”
Teller started the year on his bay gelding, Pepper, but jumped on his friend Clayton Symons’ grey gelding, Clorox, after the Fourth of July because things hadn’t been clicking.
“I owe Clayton a huge thanks,” Teller said. “It was pretty cool to have a friend like that. I called him and said I’m having hell and needed a horse, and he didn’t ask any questions and said to come get the grey. I started riding him and things turned around. We did good at Cheyenne, and things just kind of kept clicking from there.”
Van Aken and Teller will branch out of the circuit some in 2024, potentially entering Denver, Odessa, Rapid City, Tucson and some of the California spring rodeos. The rodeo they might be the most eager for in 2024, though? The NFR Open.
“That’s what makes our decision to go rodeo,” Van Aken said. “I used to downplay it a lot, like, ‘It’s just another rodeo,’ but we don’t get to go to Houston. And not that it pays that much, but it’s 24 teams—a guy can get out of there with a lot of money and, even if you don’t [out right] make [Puyallup], if you win that, you’ll still get in. It opens up some more doors for us. It’s kind of like our Houston or Fort Worth.”
The proximity of Colorado Springs makes it twice as nice, too.
“It’s always cool to go compete, but now it’s in Colorado Springs,” Teller said. I “It’s so close to my house—only two hours. The first two times I made it, it was in Kissimmee, Florida, so this is way better. But it’s awesome, especially with Clayton. We’re great friends.”