Over 10 days in the Thomas & Mack, the student became the master.
Tanner Tomlinson, just 22 at his first Finals, was heading perfection at the 2022 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, spinning 10 out of 10 steers—with no barriers—for two-time World Champion Patrick Smith, setting the NFR aggregate record at 53.00 on 10 head.
Smith—who won the aggregate at his first NFR in 2003 with Matt Tyler and again in 2008—couldn’t have been prouder of the young kid from South Texas who moved in with Smith’s family in Lipan and went from 2020 Resistol Rookie of the Year to elite level header in just just two short years.
“I already told him he’s going to have a hard time topping this,” Smith, 42, Lipan, Texas, said. “To come out here and just go 10 for 10—I never doubted in my mind he would do it—he’s said all year he promised when we got out here he’d turn all 10. And he did it.”
Though Smith has 20 years of life experience and perspective on Tomlinson, the junior member of the team was in fact able to appreciate the monumental significance of the week he’d put together.
“This is probably going to be my biggest moment in my entire life,” Tomlinson, 22, Angleton, Texas, said. “It’s just a blessing.”
Tomlinson and Smith had an outside chance at a world title if they won enough in the day money in Round 10 and their great friends Kaleb Driggers and Junior Nogueira faltered at last out. So when they ran that last steer—after having clinched the average title already as the only team to rope all nine in the ninth round—they had absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain. They needed to go fast, but they had 5.3 seconds to break Andrew Ward and Buddy Hawkins’ aggregate mark of 54.7.
“That’s a record that stood for many years by a couple of my heroes (Jake Barnes and Clay O’Brien Cooper), and then only last year was broken. It was never really a goal (of ours). Our goal was go fast enough to win the last round, and if we accomplished that, the record would go with it.”
When they roped, Tyler Wade and Trey Yates and Rhen Richard and Jeremy Buhler had already been 3.7. Tomlinson and Smith had the steer that Driggers hickeyed the nose on in Round 7, but he’d been good when JR Dees and Levi Lord had him in Round 4 and Clay Tryan and Jade Corkill ran him in Round 1.
“There were a few times this week I was a little nervous,” Tomlinson admitted. “But since we caught in Round 9, I was less nervous.”
Tomlinson threw more line than he’d thrown all week, and Smith heeled fast. They tied for the go-round, and when Driggers and Nogueira caught their steer in 6.2 seconds, Tomlinson and Smith were crowned average champs and the reserve world champions.
Smith had long been certain he’d ride his great 2022 AQHA/PRCA Horse of the Year Kadabra King, the 12-year-old gelding he’d ridden at most of the rodeos this season.
Tomlinson, however, wasn’t so certain. He had the chance to ride some other great horses, but he’d been practicing on the free-working grade gelding Blue of Coy Rahlmann’s. When it came down to making the call which horse he’d throw in the trailer to ride in Las Vegas, he decided on Blue. The big roan never took his throw away, but still let him be fast enough for two go-round wins (3.6 in Round 3 and 3.7 to split Round 10).
On to 2023
“I feel great,” Smith said after round ended. “I’m super happy for those guys. Kaleb and Junior, having the year they’ve had, and then being able to finish it off. I’ve been on both sides of this coin. I’ve been the guy that walked out of here with my head hanging low, and I’ve been on the other side when it went well. This is by far the best NFR I’ve ever had, and it lights a fire in both of us. I know my partner—now he’s got this one out of the way, I know the gold buckle is next. Hopefully I get to be a part of that too.”
“Hopefully he’s got one more year in him,” Tomlinson joked of his heeler, who, despite multiple business ventures and a family of kids bustling with activities, shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.
Thank goodness. Because team roping is better when Patrick Smith is in it.