Zane Murphy and Dusty Taylor accomplished a major goal Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023, when they won the 2023 Mountain States Circuit Finals in Loveland, Colorado. The win came as a first for both Murphy and Taylor, who have been roping together for three years.
Murphy, a Texan who appreciates the mild summers of the Mountain States Circuit as well as the opportunity to see his family, was excited the win happened with his good friend.
“Winning the average is something I’ve always wanted to do,” Murphy, 28, said. “Dusty and I have ran a lot of steers together and we’re good friends, so that makes the win even better. I’m definitely glad we got it done.”
Taylor, a Craig, Colorado, native who made the circuit finals only once before this win, said the win was a huge blessing because of the many advantages of roping at the NFR Open in July of next year.
“I think that’s where a lot of people can set up their year. If you do good over there, I think it helps your standings out that much more,” Taylor, 25, said. “Not everybody gets to rope at that rodeo, and you only have to rope against a few people. Granted, it’s people who rope really good, but the money’s incomparable to the rest of the rodeos.”
Murphy and Taylor were the third team out in Round 1 and had a “just get a time” mindset, but things didn’t go as planned when Taylor slipped a leg. They were a 10.8, which still tied them fourth in the round for $258 a man and kept them in the average race.
On their second steer, they kept the mindset of knocking one down with an emphasis on making a clean run.
“It wasn’t the worst thing [to happen] because a lot of people went out in the first round,” Taylor explained. “We knew we had a decent chance at the average still. We were towards the end of our set and just wanted to catch another one to see where we would end up—and that’s what we did. My header played it safe, and I played it safe.”
They were out of the money in Round 2, but with a 6.7-second run, they moved to third in the average with a 17.5 on two head. In the third round, they knew things needed to go well.
A good steer gave them a fighting chance, but a tricky, curled horn caused Murphy’s rope to hit awkwardly, initially not having slick horns. But he was patient in pulling his slack and his rope worked it out.
“I ended up turning him, Dusty roped him, and we just let the rest of the field try to beat us,” Murphy said. “Both second and high callback didn’t have any luck. It’s not really a glamorous story—we just caught all three steers and nobody else did.”
With a 6.7-second run,, they were 24.2 on three steers to win the average for $3,101 a man.
Murphy’s 7-year-old gelding Squirt has been with Murphy since he was a 2-year-old and he’s become part of the family. Murphy’s wife calls him her “firstborn child” and won her first check heeling on him just a week before the circuit finals.
“I figured he would be the best one to ride because he’s the most solid horse I have,” Murphy said. “He’s not going to mess up, and I have a lot of confidence on him. We won quite a bit on him this year between the amateur rodeos and the pro rodeos.”
Taylor’s equine counterpart, Taser, has also spent many years with him; he’s had her since she was just 3 years old. The now-9-year-old Paint mare has played a huge role in why Taylor stays on the rodeo road.
“She’s been my go-to since she was 4 years old,” Taylor said. “She’s a rock star. I love her. She’s honestly probably the only reason that I’m rodeoing, really. She’s so good that I kind of owe it to her to see how far we can go.”
Looking forward to 2024
Murphy and Taylor will continue roping together for the rest of the 2024 season. Not only do they plan on trying for another circuit finals and NFR Open qualification, but they also plan on getting outside the circuit a little.
“I think we’re going to try our luck at Odessa (Texas) and Uvalde (Texas),” Taylor said. “If the winter goes well, I don’t see why we wouldn’t try to rodeo a little bit more and see where we end up.”
And with their tickets punched to the NFR Open in July, even more doors are opening for the team.
“It’s hard when you’re not in the top 25 or 30 to get to go to those big-paying rodeos, or at least not have to go to a qualifier to get into them,” Murphy said. “Now we have our foot in the door for an opportunity to win a lot of money against only 24 or so teams. That’s what I’m the most excited about. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, but I’m glad we have a shot.”